It’s been quite a long time since I paid much homage to Strider Hiryu.
I first stumbled across Strider while taking a break from playing the arcade version of Ninja Gaiden in an arcade in Johnson City, Tennessee when I was about eight or nine years old. My aunt used to take me to the arcade and then to the movies sometimes on the weekends, so it was there that I got hooked on a whole lot of franchises I currently love now. Strider was no exception to the rule. Slashing, dashing, and jumping frantically, I remember Strider oozing with style but being one of the hardest arcade platformers I’d ever played as a kid. I remember getting the home version on NES and being extremely disappointed that it wasn’t quite as flashy as the arcade, but I was like 10 and had no idea about cartridge memory or hardware limitations. Fast forward years later and I revisited Strider on a CPS emulator running on my custom firmware running PSP and I was just as hooked as I was when I first laid eyes on the flashy cyber ninja.
Now, for a lot of people, they’ve likely never played a game Strider Hiryu was in until he was included on the roster in the Marvel vs Capcom fighting games. Some remember the arcade, more remember the NES version, and some even remember Strider Returns on the Sega Genesis. He became extremely popular and gained a cult following as younger gamers went back to revisit long lost games to see where this cyborg animal accompanied badass came from. Strider is a member of an elite clan that’s trying to essentially stop the “government” (read: Alien Overlord and his troops) from ruling the world, and it mostly takes place in the country of Kazakh. Strider has a fairly ridiculous history, and the story is extremely cheesy, but coming from the late 80′s, it’s pretty much expected. In this new incantation of Strider, Hiryu is the only surviving member of the Striders, and, as usual, it’s up to you to save the world once again.
In typical Strider fashion, Hiryu comes flying in on his hang glider, and you’re very quickly thrust right into the action. Double Helix’s version of Strider plays as a nearly perfect melding of fast-paced side-scrolling arcade action with multiple area exploration. Basically, if you were to take the original arcade game, speed it up, and then combine it with the 2009 “Metroidvania” 2.5D side-scrolling action exploration game Shadow Complex, you’d get Double Helix’s Strider. The result is an incredibly satisfying experience that’s well worth its $15 asking price, and it could be the best Xbox One downloadable game right next to Double Helix’s re-imagining of 1994′s fighter Killer Instinct. Seriously, this game is awesome.
Strider is played out in what I like to call a “neo-industrial” setting. It’s very cyberpunk, but less about computers and more about futuristic military bases and set pieces designed with lots of steel and machinery. As you’d expect with “Metroidvania” type games, Strider starts out armed with only his cypher and his climbing hook. As you progress, you’ll unlock new abilities for Strider, allowing him to charge his blade for wider strikes, slide, and eventually even reflect bullets by swiping his cypher at them. This design leaves you apt to explore, as you’ll undoubtedly ignore where you’re supposed to go and explore every nook and cranny until you can’t possible continue before moving on to the next intended checkpoint. While I wanted to complain about parts of the wall or ceiling that Strider can’t hook to, after further evaluation, it’s simply in place to keep you from getting to places you wouldn’t be able to do anything in without the later upgrades, so it’s actually not a bad design choice, since it prevents wasting time.
Strider is simply a pure joy to play. It’s fast, edgy, beautiful, and sharp. The graphics shine, and there are noticeable “next gen” features, such as reflections in ice or the sheer amount of laser shots on the screen at once. Bullets that burst into flames look amazing, and there’s enough color to keep your eyeballs dancing for the five to ten hours it’ll take you to play through the game.
While I adore Strider, it’s not without a few flaws that keep it from reaching its true potential. Boss characters are often reused, to the point of annoyance in some sections, and there are a few times where you’ll meet a boss and stomp them, and then, on a later encounter, they seem to be nearly invincible. Another annoyance is the dialogue bar that pops up along the bottom of the screen when someone speaks. The voice acting is top notch, but nearly as absurd as the story itself, so it’s clear that the voice actors were having a great time doing the lines. The ridiculous stereotypical Russian accent made me laugh out loud several times. However, as good as the voice acting is, that dialogue bar is a pain in the ass because it’s almost a solid color. This meant the dialogue bar blocked enemies as it would be lit up with an orange, and I’d drop into a room full of soldiers wearing a yellow armor suit. A few times I had to just hop around and pray I didn’t die to gunfire before they shut up.
Another slight bit of disappointment is the lack of scenery change. The original Strider arcade game had Kazakh, but it also had Siberia and the moon, so I was hoping for a little more level variation. The repeated scenery feels a bit copy and pasted in certain sections, but to be quite honest, Strider moves and controls so smoothly, any scenery or repeated enemy boredom is pretty much glazed over simply by just running around.
Double Helix had a bit of a bad rap, as they were constantly subjected to making awful movie tie-in games, but it’s very clear to see why Amazon bought their studio. Killer Instinct was an incredible rebirth, and Strider continues their recent hot streak. Hopefully Capcom lets them make a sequel and they can improve the few flaws that keep Strider from being perfect.
Extremely smooth gameplay. Controls are extremely responsive and combat and movement feel incredibly good. Climbing and multi-directional attacks work well.
Dialogue bar blocks the action. Repeated scenery and enemies can get a little tedious.