Most people are probably more familiar with classic ’80s era arcade games through their ports, for many that means the NES version, but for me it was almost always the ZX Spectrum one.
Rygar on the Spectrum was kind of average, competently done, slightly odd, but not great fun. The only real magic to be found was the opening backstory:
Yeah, it’s cheesy and the grammar is iffy, but I still think that’s pretty evocative and a cut above the generic “chosen one, big weapon, evil wizard, yadda-yadda” which cropped up in some of the console versions’ manuals.
Whenever I see it, I try to pin-point what appeals to me about it and without attempting a full exegesis here are a few things (I’ve intentionally preserved FULL CAPS):
- “MANY DOMINATORS HAVE RULED…” – those who hold dominion over others exist as a class, not a specific identified race/species/grouping/foe;
- “…TIME WAS THE GREATEST ENEMY” – the force that disposed of them was implacable, unrelenting, opposed to all. Time is not the enemy of “DOMINATORS”, it is the enemy of everything. The last-but-one enemy, if you like.
OK, so far, so portentous. Yawn! Here’s where the magic happens, with the final three “AND…” lines:
- “AND IT DEFEATS…” – With the switch to present tense Time is reified, now a force still active in the world. Both “WAS” and “IS”. A little like a haiku pivoting on the second line;
- “AND NOW NEW DOMINATORS” – a word feels elided here to good effect, e.g. “[A]RISE”. The reader/player is presented with a group who exist only to dominate and be inevitably vanquished;
- “AND THEIRS BEGINS…” the ever-shorter, accelerating-“AND” lines throw us from the backstory to the urgent now of ROUND 1, where newly REIGN-ing DOMINATORS await.
Granted, it’s still merely a cheesy Fantasy trope or three sewn together, but I do like how it’s executed. Note also that in victory Rygar is doomed to fall in the same way as those former dominators he supplants. Time will find a way.
Here’s the original coin-op machine’s version of the text, mostly readable against a rather attractive backdrop. Still ALL CAPS. Note the slightly different wording however!
- “TIME” is identified specifically as the once enemy of “DOMINATORS”, although it is reasonable to assume it continues to oppose all things, for the text’s purposes it “WAS THEIR … ENEMY”;
- The sentence continues, without the change from past to present tense seen in the version above, and the impetus is lost. Oh, hey Bob, by the way, time was their greatest enemy and it defeated their reign;
- The urgent three “AND” sentences are reduced to one-and-a-half as “…A NEW DOMINATOR’S REIGN BEGINS”.
So, I’m obviously going to be partial to the version I’m most accustomed to, but this really does lack something. What it has over the Spectrum version though, is that it explicitly identifies Rygar himself as a “NEW DOMINATOR”. Or a replicant, one of the two.
Still with me? Great! Here’s a final version of the Rygar intro blurb, taken this time from the arcade game’s Service Instruction Manual which is a charming document with a Jack Kirby approach to exclamation points when describing such new features as not being sent back to the start of a level upon death!!
- The standard capitalisation shows something interesting, none of the terms one might expect to be capitalised for effect in a piece like this (“Earth”, “Time”, “Dominators”) actually are;
- Whilst otherwise matching the in-game text, the third line is notably different. Note “time, their greatest enemy”, i.e. it remains so to dominators all. Time “ultimately defeated” their collective reign, excluding the cut-and-thrust, sudden reversals or unexpected diskarmor attacks and preserving only the drawn out declines of history.
That’s almost I’ve got to say on the subject. The differences between the two latter versions are most likely explicable as differing translations, I think. The first version, which at first blush appears to be primarily concerned with squeezing the text onto the screen, looks to me like an intentional rewrite to punch up the narrative. Props presumably go to Antony R Lill, who’s credited by WoS with coding the Spectrum version.
Finally, here’s fun. The NES manual is interesting, not least the page illustrating “ANIMALIZED MEN WRIGGLING EERILY” (shades of Jack Kirby’s Kamandi comics again). This guy’s got to be my favourite though:
“He will attack Rygar by dropping eggs of a snow grouse”. Look at him! If anyone would, it’s him.