Let's begin by establishing a few basic facts.
First, Strider was amazing. I mean Capcom's original arcade game from 1989, of course. The weird NES game brought some good ideas to the table, but they never quite gelled. And most of the home ports were pretty bad. But the arcade game? Brilliant.
Secondly, there's never been a great Strider sequel. Tiertex's Journey Into Darkness was only interesting in that it helped establish a trend of disappointing sequels with "Into Darkness" in their subtitle. Strider 2 suffered from technical limitations and the general lack of a market for arcade-style action games that existed in 2000. Even Strider designer Yotsui Koichi's own attempts to follow up on the series -- Cannon Dancer and Moon Diver -- didn't quite hit the mark.
Finally, Double Helix does not have a good track record as a development studio. In fact, they've yet to crack the boundary between "mediocre" and "good" with a single title on Metacritic.
These, of course, are all known quantities. And yet, as a fan of Strider, I really want Double Helix's Strider sequel (or is it a reboot?) Strider Hiryu to be good. I love the arcade game, and I wish the NES game had lived up to its potential. Double Helix's project looks to combine the two, meaning it could (in an ideal universe where wishes come true) turn out to be the first truly great follow-up to a nearly 25-year-old arcade game.
So, when I stumbled onto a Strider demo kiosk at Capcom's Tokyo Game Show booth moments after the show opened, I decided to kick off this year's event by going hands-on with the game. And despite a poor first impression, it turned out to be... pretty good, actually.
Let's talk about that first impression, though. I approached Strider Hiryu like I have every previous game in the series: Aggressively but methodically, taking my time and striking down enemies one by one. This, as it turns out, is the incorrect approach. Strider Hiryu moves a lot faster than the older games, and you need to play it almost like a futuristic murder-flavored Sonic the Hedgehog. (No, I don't mean Shadow the Hedgehog.) Protagonist Hiryu runs at breakneck speed, taking out enemy soldiers who lie in wait for him. If you don't strike them down the second you see them, they'll have a chance to take aim and gun you down. So, the only solution is to keep moving.
That doesn't necessarily mean you should just run and slash, though that works pretty well. Hiryu begins the game -- or at least the TGS demo -- with the ability to perform a double jump, a wall cling, an overhand ceiling walk, a rising slash attack, and a diving strike. So right from the outset, you can pretty much wreak merry hell on your foes.
Unlike the arcade Strider (and more in keeping with the NES game), Strider Hiryu's levels aren't entirely linear. There's a definite sequence to progression, but areas have multiple paths and a number of rooms containing new skills are tucked away. In a matter of 10 minutes, I'd added a sliding kick attack, a 50% life upgrade, the ability to reflect bullets, and a charged slash attack to Hiryu's repertoire.
"Wow," you might say, "Hiryu sounds like a whirling swirling machine of death." And that is correct. So, the game compensates by throwing tough enemies at you straight away. Right around the time you gain the charged attack, you face off against one of villain Meio's elite guards, a boss who warps around the room, slashes you with a massive sickle, and occasionally leaps into the air to perform a ground-pounding attack that sends off a massive energy wave along the ground. It's a tough encounter, forcing you to stay on your toes and use your entire bag of tricks to avoid going down quickly -- Strider may be deadly, but he's alarmingly fragile.
Should you manage to defeat the elite guard, a short while later you encounter one as a standard foe. And then two at the same time, who have the terrifying ability to juggle poor Hiryu like a rag doll.
So, Strider Hiryu gives you an impressive bag of tricks, but it demands pretty high-level play right off the bat. It's light on explanations and simply tosses you into the deep end for a sink-or-swim experience. Although the screen can become somewhat ridiculous with the sheer amount of flashy light nonsense happening every time Hiryu performs any action whatsoever, I never found it disorienting or felt I was at a significant disadvantage. My only control frustration came in the battle against the two guards at once, which takes place in a confined area -- Hiryu kept sticking to the ceiling as I tried to maneuver. But otherwise, the action feels quite solid.
Really, the question I have is just how the game could possibly continue its breakneck pace; if this adventure is meant to last more than an hour or so, Hiryu's either going to run out of power-ups to collect or else become so encumbered with skills he'll be practically impossible to control. I'm also not convinced the supposed "Metroidvania" elements have any significance or if they've just been tacked on for the sake of a bullet point.
But hey, it's a Strider sequel by Double Helix, and it actually seems pretty solid. I'm willing to chalk this one up as a minor victory already.
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