Rygar: The Battle of Argus feels like it belongs in a museum. It's a dusty-looking 3D action game that was originally released more than 6 years ago for the PlayStation 2. In that time, Ninja Gaiden and God of War, among other games, have elevated the genre to new heights. Compared to more recent releases, many elements of Rygar feel outdated now. The combat is far too simplistic, relying more on button mashing than strategic movement and defense, and the story is almost laughable, presenting a predictable tale of good versus evil with overdramatic music and high-school-drama-club-caliber voice acting. However, there is still a solid experience beneath the layers of sediment. The level design is varied and exhilarating, quickly whisking you from Icarus' fortress in the sky to the fiery bowels of Hades, and the bosses are truly nasty-looking. Rygar feels like a relic from a forgotten era, but the joy of decapitating minotaurs is a pastime that never gets old.
The story in Rygar is convoluted and pointless. Rygar may be the one stricken with amnesia, but you'll be the one who is hard pressed to remember the various plot points. It isn't really explained how Cleopatra somehow got mixed up in this tale of Greek mythology, why you have to fight Icarus, or why Harmonia spontaneously bursts into song. The characters are all bland archetypes, filling their roles of hero, villain, or distressed damsel without personality. The story thankfully stays in the background, popping onscreen only before big battles, and it can be skipped without missing a thing. Nevertheless, slaying a cyclops would have been even more engaging if you were given worthwhile motivation.
The level design makes up for the awful story segments. You'll travel all over the Mediterranean, from the Colosseum to Tartarus and many other fantastical lands, so you don't have to worry about slogging through the same bland environments over and over. The levels have some light platforming and puzzle interludes, making you open locked doors with a specific type of element or shove large blocks out of the way, but the relative ease of the puzzles means that you won't be stumped by one section for long. There is some backtracking later in the game when you unlock new abilities, but this is handled in a very streamlined manner. When you warp back to a previous land, you are immediately presented with an obstacle that you couldn't get past previously, so instead of going over the same ground repeatedly, you are able to explore new sections almost continually. The intelligently laid-out levels keep the game moving at a brisk pace, letting you see a steady stream of new creatures and environments.
Your main weapon in Rygar is the diskarmor, which is pretty much a spiked shield on a string. Combat feels like a stripped-down version of God of War because of the similarities between the main weapons in both games. Rygar's diskarmor feels an awful lot like Kratos' blades of chaos, letting you attack enemies from both far away and up close, as well as toss them around caverns. You're given three different types of diskarmors, of varying speed and power, and each have a bunch of different combos to play around with. However, the focus is clearly on offense, and this makes the combat feel overly simplistic. Your only two defensive moves are a block, which is ineffective against many attacks, and a slide, which is used more for getting into small places than for battle evasion. Without fancy acrobatic dodges or clever counters, the combat relies too heavily on barbaric button mashing. Even though the combat is still fun, it lacks the weight of the better games in the genre.
The biggest addition in the Wii version is Gladiator mode. This strips away the cool bosses and varied level design of the main campaign and simply places Rygar on a small platform against a never-ending stream of enemies. What is interesting about this mode is how your attacks are handled. In the main game, you rely mostly on traditional controls, using motion-based moves only for more powerful combos that you unlock late in the game. In Gladiator mode, all of your attacks require motion, which becomes tedious before long. Furthermore, the combat engine in Rygar isn't diverse enough to warrant a separate gameplay mode. Mindlessly hacking away at giant centipedes and centaurs is entertaining only for a few minutes before the bland repetition sets in.
The visuals are the most glaring evidence that this game is virtually unchanged from the PlayStation 2 version released toward the beginning of the last generation of consoles. This game looks musty and old. The enemies and even the main characters lack detail, and the cool environments are overrun with poorly detailed textures and shoddy lighting. Even amid all of the lousy technology, though, there are some truly memorable boss battles. These are creepy, repulsive monstrosities, and it is a pleasure to pelt them with your diskarmor. It's a shame that the graphics are largely unchanged from the original game, given that the disturbing bosses and moody environments are so well designed.
Make no mistake about it: Rygar: The Battle of Argus is a six-year-old game, and time has made many of its components feel outdated. But even though the story is a joke and the combat focuses too much on the offensive side of things, there is still a fun experience here. Dueling minotaurs and other mythical beats is still fun, and the clever level design makes exploration engaging. This game does belong in a museum, but it can still be fun to play around with the exhibits from time to time.