It’s risky bringing retro back to modernity. While Capcom is no amateur at rejuvenating old series, Strider is a bit more obscure and harder to handle than a better known franchise like Street Fighter or Resident Evil.
The paradox of Strider Hiryu himself is that he’s been around forever but has only starred in a handful of games, including this self-titled 2014 installment. Despite his smaller library of games, Strider has gone on to make cameos in dozens of games, most notably the Marvel vs. Capcom series. In a sense, he is the Boba Fett of videogames; earning most of his screen time and stardom due to excellent character design.
That being said, there’s no doubt that the Strider games have made their mark on history. But how does this new entry from Double Helix hold up? Does Strider finally belong in the spotlight, or is this spotlight twenty years too late?
Now I will admit, up until this entry and my basic knowledge of the character, I had not experienced a Strider game before. So I’m happy to say that I enjoyed the overall experience. I just feel that, because I wasn’t already a fan, I was not in the target demographic for this game.
The game pits the hardened ninja, Strider Hiryu, against an endless onslaught of choppable, vaguely-robotic enemies. Strider is sent to rid the dystopian city, Kazakh, of its cartoonishly corrupt overseers. There is something that resembles a plot, but it essentially boils down to Strider being good and everyone else being bad and in need of slicing.
While the story is simple, I enjoyed the lack of pretense and retro handling of the plot. This is a game that doesn’t stop to tell you what’s happening. The first scene is Strider hand-gliding into action, and from there, you pretty much get the idea. More games should let the setting and actions of characters tell the story rather than spoon-feeding exposition.
Like its predecessors, Strider is a side-scrolling hack and slash echoing gameplay elements from yesteryear and from classics like Metroid, Mega Man and Metal Slug. With a thumping electronica soundtrack, the game retains a visceral kinetic pace that will keep you running through the game with deep-rooted determination. Since this game is out for a number of systems, I recommend playing this game on whatever system you deem the fastest. And even if you choose to go the PC route (which I did) see about getting a controller. Something about a keyboard just doesn’t feel right with everything else being so retro and arcade-like.
As the game progresses you unlock a number of different abilities such as deflecting bullets, double-jumping, and summoning a fire hawk. The abilities are all simple enough and don’t complicate the gameplay. In fact, Strider does a great job of having all of your abilities have a distinct use; the game will keep you excited to see which ability you will get next.
To me, the combat truly shines with the boss fights. Each enemy is introduced with a Tarantino-style screenshot, freezing the action and displaying the character’s name with a multicolored backdrop. Though it was my first time meeting some of these characters, I could totally see a fan getting excited in seeing some of these retro creatures back in action.
While the combat against token enemies is usually a breeze, the boss fights return to the era of unforgiving retro difficulty. Many of these fights will have you trying them over and over again, gritting your teeth as you and your combatant retain one last speck of health. The boss characters also feature a nice variety of combatants; you’ll fight a robot gorilla, a group of kung-fu beauties, a cocky assassin and a final “true form” boss fight that echoes the demonically angelic enemies featured in the Final Fantasy series.
Yet while the bosses are wonderfully varied, the other foes you encounter are all essentially the same. Another big disappointment for me was the lack of different environments. While the dystopian setting is nice (and eventually, you reach space) the only real diversity is how crappy the weather is. From what I’ve seen of the older Strider games, the levels seemed wonderfully varied. Strider does put a value on exploration, but being that the environments got bland about halfway through, I never had a strong interest in exploring the landscape. In a game that flaunts its speed, it would’ve been nice to change up the scenery. Otherwise, I feel like I’m not really exploring anything new.
Ultimately, Strider is a very fun experience that’s definitely worth a shot. The gameplay is a nice return to the simple gratification found in the 8 and 16-bit eras, and the presentation has a lovely amount of detail despite the lack of variety in the environments.
Strider might not break any boundaries but it certainly proves that Strider’s popularity is warranted and not solely based on nostalgia and cool design.
I doubt this is the best Strider game, but as a new fan of the series, I’m glad he’s back.