Tecmo, the company that created Rygar, did an interesting thing with their NES-era advertising. Both Rygar and Ninja Gaiden were advertised as being “THE #1 ARCADE SMASH!!” Regardless of how true the claim of the popularity of the arcade versions of these games actually was, neither NES game bore much resemblance to the arcade originals. Ninja Gaiden, in particular, had “Ryu goes to America to avenge his father” as just about the only thing the two versions had in common.
Rygar, released in 1987, is a bit more similar to its arcade counterpart, at least at first. You play as Rygar, a deceased warrior of the land of Argus. You’ve been resurrected to defeat the evil King Ligar and open the Door of Peace in the land of Argool (If Wikipedia can be trusted, Argool and Argus are one and the same in the Japanese version). To do this, you use your Diskarmor, essentially a shield on a chain, to try and collect 6 items that, combined, will allow you access to Ligar’s castle for the final confrontation.
The first area of Rygar looks similar to the arcade version. From there, though, the games branch out. The arcade version is a side-scrolling action game. The NES version has more open-ended gameplay, and features both side-scrolling and overhead views. The NES version also incorporates a primitive form of RPG elements in its gameplay. In the game, there are two stats, Tone and Last. Tone is your attack power, and Last is your defense. Killing enemies raises both of these. Additionally, once your Last passes certain points, you gain more life containers, up to a maximum of twelve.
Challenge-wise, the game does give you unlimited continues, but each continue, much like the original Legend of Zelda, starts you off with only 3 life containers full, regardless of how many you actually have. You also lose any Mind Points you may have storing up to use one of the three special abilities–Power Up (Actually a range increase), Attack & Assail (Temporarily makes your attack hit everything on the screen), and Recover (A one-time complete health refill).
The game’s main challenge, though, comes from the fact that there’s no save system of any kind–it’s All The Way In One Long Play. While this doesn’t hurt the game as much as it does, say, Blaster Master (This game is shorter than Blaster Master, for one, and the individual areas themselves aren’t nearly as mazelike as Blaster Master, for another), it is something that can annoy someone who isn’t quite sure where to go next–or worse, is sure where to go, but doesn’t want to spend time grinding for stats after being unable to defeat a boss. Unfortunately, from a console-gaming standpoint, the game is rather well-programmed in the sense that you actually have to collect all of the items to beat the game, unlike, say, Ocarina of Time.
Overall, though, Rygar is a fun experience, and despite the lack of a save system, is an underrated game on the NES. Years later, it spawned a couple sequels–Rygar the Legendary Adventure on the Playstation 2 (A fun, if Devil May Cry-esque 3D action adventure), and Rygar: The Battle of Argus for Wii (Evidently a port of the PS2 game), indicating it belatedly got its due as an influential blend of genres that’s worth playing and going through at least once.