Strider is one of Capcom’s oldest and unfortunately, most under-appreciated franchises. There have only been three games released in the series’ 25 year history, but thanks to a little TLC and elbow grease from the folks at Double Helix and Osaka Studios, fans have a fantastic reboot to enjoy.
In a dystopian future filled with evil robots, alien viruses, and wicked plasma swords, the poor citizens of Kazakh City are under the villainous rule of Grandmaster Meio. The Strider Organization sends in their best assassin Strider Hiryu to put an end to his monstrous reign of terror. Fans of the 1989 classic may notice that the story is actually a retelling of the original game on NES.
Something you’ll immediately notice while playing Strider is an overwhelming sense of freedom. While the game locks players to a 2D plane, it eliminates the linear stage progression and allows them to openly explore the various locations of Kazakh City. Your climbing pick gives you the ability to scale walls and hang from ceilings and as you progress through the game, you’ll collect a series of upgrades that will introduce new skills, abilities and enhancements to maximize your assassin’s efficiency. You’ll end up revisiting many locations with certain areas that can only be accessed once you’ve found the proper skill and if you’re a fan of collectibles, get ready to backtrack like nobody’s business. The term Metroidvania is thrown around pretty loosely these days, but anyone fond of that style will find a great deal to love and if any game deserves that classification, it’s this one.
The most powerful weapon in Strider Hiryu’s arsenal is his deadly Cypher; a futuristic plasma blade that is basically a lightsabre katana. There are four different color-coded Cypher types to collect and each one drastically changes the way your weapon reacts to enemies and the environment. The Magnetic Cypher for example, fires two boomerang style projectiles every time Strider uses his weapon. It can also be used to open doors with magnetic locks. Every single Cypher upgrade functions as a combat enhancement and as a key. If you come to a blue door with a terrifying swirling mechanism, all you need to do is bust out your Cold Cypher and attack the door to freeze it open. You’ll even fight certain bosses and enemies that can only be damaged by a specific Cypher type. Learning how and when to change your attack types adds an incredible amount of depth to the combat.
Controlling Strider is one of the most rewarding aspects of the game. You always feel in control. Every button press and every input action response is quick and precise. I never lost a fight or fell from a ledge because of poor coding in the game, I fell because of my own inadequacies as a player. Jump-slashing and slide-slashing into a series of combos was some of the most fun I’ve had with a 2D game in a long time. Being able to attack in any direction and literally as fast as you can the press the button, kept slicing through hundreds of enemies feeling fresh and enjoyable.
The great combat and exploration is only complimented by sharp and exciting visuals. Your Cypher attacks are bright and nearly explode from the screen every time you strike and enemy projectiles are quite colorful and entertaining. Even though many of the environments are devoid of organic life, the incredible amount of depth and detail almost makes it feel as though they are a living entity in their own regard. As with many futuristic games focusing on technology, the locations and level design can seem a little repetitive, but overall Strider keeps things interesting.
Strider pays tribute to the 16-bit glory days with a collection of outrageous and over-the-top boss fights. The very first boss encounter occurs within about ten minutes of gameplay and has you riding on the back of an enormous mecha-dragon. Many of the bosses are your typical giant robot fights, but other encounters include a giant mutant millipede, a group of sisters with the name “Pooh,” and a completely insane and satisfying final boss which I don’t want to spoil for those still playing or planning to play. Crushing these super powered enemies always ended in a hilarious or explosive death sequence and I was consistently excited for my next encounter.[youtube http://youtu.be/gvlxde8DlPw]
Those looking for a challenge should seriously consider starting the game on “hard” mode. I completed the game on “normal” with almost no challenge. The game was actually incredibly simple, minus the occasional boss fight, but even the bosses were destroyed in a depressing amount of time. The standard enemies fall like dominoes to the power of your Cypher and once you’ve acquired all the upgrades, you’re basically unstoppable. The Challenge Modes offer more of a… well, challenge. Many of the Survival and Beacon Run stages are incredibly difficult and a few of them should only be attempted by true ninja masters. Having these extra modes adds a great level of replayability and caters to the more hardcore audience. The only thing really missing is a Boss Rush mode… That would be perfection.
Strider is a phenomenal success in many regards. It takes the fantastic framework of the original game and shapes it into something that can be enjoyed by modern audiences. Double Helix and Osaka Studios deliver not only a great reboot, but a great game that stands as a triumph on it’s own. If you’ve had the itch for some Metroidvania action lately, there isn’t a better choice for current consoles, well besides playing Symphony of the Night on XBLA anyway.