The last time anyone saw a game starring Strider Hiryu, it was the 1999 arcade release of Strider 2, which was ported a year later to the original Sony PlayStation. Before that, it was in 1989 with the debut NES and arcade game, the latter of which was ported to the Sega Genesis a year later. (Like Capcom, we will ignore the 1992 sequel on the Genesis.) Though his popularity nowadays can be attributed to his appearances in the Marvel vs. Capcom fighting series, some argue the tight gameplay and fast action in the original games made him a timeless action character. Nevertheless, we finally get a new game starring Capcom's futuristic ninja in the form of Strider, a reboot of sorts developed by Double Helix, of recent Killer Instinct fame. Some are worried that a second game in the series by a Western developer would yield the same results. Judging by how Strider turned out on the new consoles, those fears can be put to rest.
As a reboot, the story is pretty similar to that of the first game. In an alternate dystopian future, a being known as Grandmaster Meio has achieved world domination and rules with an iron fist. Citizens live in constant fear due to martial law and robotic soldiers patrolling the streets. There's a group of assassins known as Striders that are sworn to kill the Grandmaster and restore freedom to the world. Enter Strider Hiryu, the youngest of the Striders who also happens to have achieved one of their highest ranks. Earlier Striders have been sent in and killed, so it is up to Hiryu to take down Meio.
Truth be told, the importance of the story is rather minimal. The instruction book gives you more plot than the title's opening moments. Cut scenes and dialogue are in the game, but they seem like set dressing instead of anything of importance. The focus is on action, and while that may seem like a dig to most games, for a series that has prided itself on action above all, this is a compliment and a testament to Double Helix.
Much like the original arcade game, Strider immediately jumps into combat and gives you the impression that this is a similar, straightforward action game with lots of cool moments presented at a non-stop pace. The second you disembark your glider, you'll slash lots of robotic soldiers and drones. The quick pace of combat means you'll be leaping from platform to platform, but enemies are always present, so there's barely a moment when you're not using your Cypher to slash things in your way. The path to the end of a level is clear, but the game encourages you to explore off the main path, mostly to get an essential power-up. By the end of the stage, you'll face off against an armored dragon similar to what you fought in Strider 2.
Take down the armored dragon, and the game starts to take a few cues from similar adventure games like Metroid, as it goes from a pure action title to an action-adventure game. The levels grow in size to the point where you need a map to direct you to the objectives. Secrets include artwork, background information, and health increases, but the game often presents roadblocks that require special powers to open. The slide and charged slash are your most used abilities, but the range of power-ups grows beyond what was available in the older games. The robotic allies from the previous games are now weapons you can summon, and when you obtain one, Cypher length extensions are permanent. Kunais give you ranged attacks, and your Cypher, which has gained multi-directional attacks, can deflect bullets with well-timed shots. A few elemental augmentations also come into play, where you can gather enemies with magnetization or freeze them with ice slashes. Those looking to experiment will find plenty to do.
The transformation of the game from pure action to action-adventure does not mean that the frantic pace of the opening level is abandoned. Though the stages offer a few areas where traps are more prevalent than adversaries, the action from section to section is constant. There's a deliberate pattern of health upgrades leading you to encounters where enemies swarm in, and quickly dispatching them is the only way to survive. The enemies aren't the poor shots of yesteryear, but your acrobatic abilities and attack moves make you feel like a skilled warrior, making the scenes look like a masterpiece of combat.
This is especially prevalent during the many boss encounters. Much like the opening fight with the armored dragon, Strider likes to throw out lots of encounters with bosses to address nostalgia. Fights with armored soldiers, the bounty hunter Solo, and the Pooh sisters occur more than once, and each encounter is tougher than the last. Fights with the giant robotic raptor and gorilla also make appearances, and while each encounter requires you to do some old-school pattern recognition, they also give you ample time to answer their attacks with your own, making the fights a nice balance of give and take. The battles also aren't overly long, so combat against tough bosses doesn't devolve into a slower affair.
The balance of combat and adventure is the game's greatest strength. The combination manages to channel the frantic nature of the arcade title, and while it doesn't have lots of spectacle set pieces to help transition the battles, like the cliff run in the original game's second stage, the constant presence of enemies more than makes up for it. The adventure framework recalls the NES game to provide some more depth, and the amount of secrets will please those who want more from the game. Much like Bionic Commando: ReArmed, Strider mines nostalgia well enough and improves the experience while keeping it familiar for fans of the original.
There are still a few things that could have been changed for the better. Even though a few of the boss fights take some skill, especially in the latter half of the game, most of the encounters are rather easy. They're still enjoyable encounters, but the emphasis on creating a fun experience versus a challenging one seems to have hit an imbalance in these fights, unless you start at the highest difficulty level. Checkpoints are very generous, so death isn't something to fret over, but the lack of skippable cut scenes, especially for boss encounters, means you'll be forced to hear the same skit countless times if you're having trouble with a particular boss. Finally, there's no way to simply beat the game and use your newfound abilities to scour the area for the rest of the secret unlockables you've missed. You either have to start retracing your steps from the last checkpoint or start a new game and hope to get everything in one go.
Graphically, the game is excellent. The characters look great, with each one easily identifiable on sight and sporting a bright neon color palette that stands out nicely against the stark grays and metallic buildings in the backdrop. Animations are great both in and out of combat, save for the lack of mouth movement when characters are speaking, and particle effects are abundant at all times, whether it's from gunfire or various plasma explosions that take on an almost cel-shaded quality. The use of 3-D in a 2-D presentation means the background showcases some depth. Reflections on the floors are clean, and the background elements — citizens, scientists and soldiers — give it some activity that few games use. With everything running at a solid 60 fps throughout, this is a looker of a game.
The audio in the title is similarly good. While mostly original tracks, the music has enough callouts to some of the more memorable tunes from the original that older fans will grin once they hear it. The effects follow that same path, with the familiar Cypher slashes meshing well with the modern gunfire and metallic clangs. Voice work is where the game differs a bit, as it uses a pure English soundtrack instead of a mix of various languages. The somewhat stereotypical accents are in full effect, but they complement the game, and the effect really shines when you hear lots of soldiers barking out orders to one another before attacking you. Some of the dialogue plays a bit too often, such as the army commander relaying the same warnings of curfew and labor to the citizens of the city, but overall, this is a nice audio package.
Strider is a great example of how you can reboot an old arcade game with modern sensibilities and still keep it true to its roots. The fast action is sharp and responsive, and it mixes nicely with the grand setting. The adventure comes in at just the right length, and the various battles, while easy for series veterans, still excite in how they play out — though it would have been nice to have skippable cut scenes. Fans of the series and action-adventure gamers will have a blast with this title.
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