A couple quick observations on the next-gen reboot of Strider, which is due out early next year: I think it's going to be a very good action game, but there's no evidence to suggest that it will be a "true" Metroidvania, at least not in the traditional sense.
I say this having played Strider twice now, once at TGS, and once at a private demo. In both instances, I was shown a game that was exceptionally heavy on combat and twitchy traversal sequences, with virtually no exploration to speak of. In his original preview, Jeremy described it as a "futuristic murder-flavored Sonic the Hedgehog," and I pretty much agree.
With that said, I want to stress that none of this is what I would call a "bad" thing. I'm rather glad that this next-gen reboot of Strider is out to forge its own identity; and to its credit, it looks great and its action is crisp and exciting. But if people are expecting, I don't know, Symphony of the Night with ninjas and robots, I think they should probably be managing their expectations a bit.
In a nutshell, the difference is that a Metroidvania places all of its emphasis on offering an interesting world to explore, with combat being a secondary consideration. In Strider, it's exactly the opposite.
The difference is apparent even in the way that the world is rendered. The worlds of Super Metroid and Symphony of the Night are richly realized, with areas like Norfair positively brimming with atmosphere. By comparison, Strider's Research Lab area primarily consists of a series of conveyor belts and laser barriers. It's an approach designed to put Strider, as well as foes like a giant mecha gorilla called Mechapon, at the forefront of the action, because they are the real stars, not the world around them.
It reminds me of the discussion about the "RPG elements" that have infused seemingly every game from Grand Theft Auto V to BioShock Infinite. You could say that Strider will likely have "Metroidvania elements," despite being more of an action platformer than anything else. It will have five areas to play through and plenty of powers to unlock, with some backtracking definitely being required, but the main focus is absolutely on the combat.
And you know, when it comes down to it, the combat is pretty good. By around two-thirds of the way through the game, Strider has a pretty substantial arsenal of abilities, including a robot panther and eagle (the latter which will cut through a line of enemies like a hot knife through butter), elemental blades, throwing stars, and a midair dash jump. In his preview, Jeremy wondered if the quick pace at which Strider acquires powers in the early going would make overburdened with abilities, but that doesn't seem to be the case. None of the powers I used felt superfluous; just the opposite, actually. I was smoothly switching between of them almost constantly, holding L1 to access my robots and the d-pad to flip between my blade powers. It was all rather elegant, and given how hard Strider can be in practice, that's a good thing.
Strider's abilities are such that no single enemy is ever truly overwhelming, but it does a good job of mixing things up and providing a selection of foes who must be dealt with in different ways. A charged sword strike will handle shielded foes, for example, while the eagle is better for carving through a host of biomechanical zombies. All the time, you're leaping around, desperate to keep the relatively fragile Strider alive. Health is relatively infrequent in this game, and before you know it, you will probably find yourself on the verge of death.
The platforming can also be pretty tough. The level I saw started on a series of conveyor belts, in which I had to make liberal use of Strider's midair dash to make it across various chasms. The I found myself dropping through a series of platforms, carefully using my double jump and midair dash to navigate the tightly packed laser barriers on the way down. Midway through the level, I fought a spider mech, which was dispatched relatively quickly by using Link-style downward sword stabs. But not long after, I found myself fighting off waves of enemies, forced to use every strike I could think of to survive foes with heavy shields, biomechanical zombies that tried to overwhelm with sheer numbers, and yet another spider bot.
At the end of the level was the aforementioned Mechapon -- a robot gorilla roughly three times Strider's size that proves to be a rather nasty opponent. Being so huge, it's actually rather hard to avoid its attacks as it leaps through the air and pounds the ground with an electrical charge -- a true quick dodge button would be nice in that regard, but alas, no such luck. Try to climb the walls to escape, and it will start shooting projectiles. In addition to being big and fast, it's also unpredictable, often varying up its pattern with little to no advance warning. Put it this way: I doubt many people will take Mechapon down on their first try.
For what it's worth, I've enjoyed Strider both times that I've had occasion to play it. Both Strider and his foes look really sharp in 1080p, and the fact that it moves at a silky 60 frames per second really adds to the speed and excitement of the combat -- though alas, the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions will only be running at 30 frames per second. It's shaping up to be a fine action game that marries the disparate elements of the NES and arcade versions, which I suspect has been the point of the exercise all along.
As for it being a full-blooded Metroidvania, well, I suppose there's still time for Strider to surprise me with a deep sense of world-building and exploration. If it doesn't though, I won't be too upset, because Double Helix and Capcom seem to have hit on a formula that works for a series that has stubbornly resisted modernization over the years, which is reason enough to be excited for Strider, no matter what form it ultimately ends up taking.
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