PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating
DEVELOPER: Tecmo (port by Salio)
GENRE: Arcade platformer
RELEASE DATE: 03/25/88 – (JP)
Argos no Juujiken translates to “Cross-Sword of Argos,” but Western gamers will know Argos better by its Christian name, Rygar. But hold on a darn tootin’. I’m not talking about the beloved action/adventure Rygar for NES. I’m talking about the original arcade game, the straightforward put-one-hoof-in-front-of-the-other platformer that hardly anyone’s played. Tecmo’s NES platformer added RPG elements like experience and magic, and by doing so, they accidentally created the definitive version of Rygar. The Master System got a more-or-less straight port of arcade Rygar by a mysterious developer named Salio, ’cause why devote effort to a system that’s failing anyway? As per usual, pity the poor Master System.
You play as Rygar, wielder of the Disk-Armor, otherwise known as a heavy shield on a long piece of rope. Rygar walks from left to right in what appears to be a series of ancient Grecian caverns, smacking down gargoyles, meatball cyclops, chameleons, and other possibly innocent bystanders. His hits are deadly, always: one hit from the Disk-Armor and enemies explode into the dark of the caverns. But Rygar is just as vulnerable as those he attacks. One hit will cause him to die as well.
And thus, with one-hit kills and a difficulty as unforgiving as Rygar himself, Argos no Juujiken is unfair – as most arcade platformers in the 80s were. The difference between Argos and other platformers is that, generally speaking, one could get better at the latter with time, patience, and quarters upon quarters. I’m not sure that’s possible with Argos. The enemies deployed are belligerent and numerous, and they appear at random.
Yes, randomly generated enemies are as annoying as they sound. Imagine in Ninja Gaiden II if the obnoxious birds showed up wherever they felt like: the moment you started level 1 – but not all the time – or while you were fighting a boss – but not all the time. Not only that, but the birds appeared two or three at a time, depending on the game’s whims. Thankfully, this does not happen: Ninja Gaiden II clings to reason with firm enemy placement. This doesn’t make Ninja Gaiden II easier, but it does make the game beatable with time. In Argos, you have no such luxury. The one luxury you do have – unlimited continues – feels like an acknowledgement that, yes, the game is too hard, but we didn’t know how to balance the difficulty, so please accept these unlimited continues as our peace offering. No dice, Salio.
Thanks to the unlimited continues, Argos no Juujiken is not unbeatable, but the road is long and fraught with piles of Rygar corpses. There are five power-ups that can be found in floating holders across each level, but a couple of them don’t seem to do anything other than possibly expand the size of your Disk-Armor’s; “possibly,” because I couldn’t tell what they actually did. One extends the length of the Disk-Armor, while another increases your jumping ability. These power-ups are nice and all, but once you die, they disappear, making them more or less worthless.
Playing Argos no Juujiken is akin to voluntarily walking on miles of broken glass. Walk quickly and you might push through the pain, but you’ll end up with two bloody nubs for feet. Walk slowly and the pain will be more severe, but your feet – nay, your soul – might still be intact by the end of the ordeal. I don’t demand quick progression from my action games, but it would be nice to feel as though I’m playing a hero, instead of a weak fool that happens to have a strong weapon. Thanks to the randomized clusters of enemies, going slow is the only way to go. Try to beat the game in a timely fashion i.e. not one step at a time, and Argos sends out more enemies to slow your progress. That ’80s movie was right: the gods must be crazy.
Yeah, Argos is stupid hard for no reason, but here’s the larger issue: Rygar for the NES had already been out for a year by the time Argos was released. A year was more than enough time for Salio to take notice of Tecmo’s improvements and adjust their port accordingly. But no. Argos no Juujiken makes poor Rygar suffer the fate of a thousand deaths just to get through his monotonous adventure. Pity Rygar’s unavoidable fate. Pity the mysterious Salio, who only made Argos and a port of Solomon’s Key before vanishing into a game dev abyss. And pity the Master System’s few faithful Japanese fans, whose loyalty to Sega’s console was often rewarded with mediocre region-specific games like Argos. You held on to the bitter end and were rewarded with dust, but hey, at least Phantasy Star was fun, right?