At first glance, you'd be forgiven for writing off the new Strider as yet another lackluster attempt to capitalize on a bolt of lightning which refuses to be bottled. Strider spin-offs and sequels over the years have, at times, been good; but none has ever reached the vaunted heights of that phenomenal arcade original.
The new Strider — developed by Double Helix as an inexpensive downloadable cross-platform title — stumbles right out of the gate by appearing to be little more than a retread of the arcade game. Sure, it's shiny and futuristic-looking. Yet right away you can see it lacks both the exquisite detail and variety of its source material as well as that game's urgent pacing and constant sense of surprise. Yet while those observations turn out to hold true for the entirety of game (roughly six to eight hours of play, depending on how thorough you choose to be), writing this off as a mere watered-down rehash isn't entirely fair. It takes its time getting there, but eventually this new Strider forges its own identity and even holds its own as a worthy successor to a beloved classic.
Make no mistake; you won't find a hint of the mad-eyed invention that gave the original such impact no matter how closely you look. This Strider does its striding quite timidly, in the footsteps of others. While this proves in some ways to be its downfall, by the end it manages to become a strength as well.
Though in many ways Strider does play the part of remake, it's not a slavish recreation of the coin-op. You can check the map screen from the very beginning and see that fact in action: The entirety of the adventure plays out in Kazakh City, ultimately culminating in a fight against Meio, the otherworldly villain of the old arcade game. The globe-trotting element that defined Strider in the arcades, on NES, and even in its official sequel have been thrown out, replaced with a non-linear platform adventure in the Metroid style. And there you see the hook that truly defines Strider in 2014: The game embraces the totality of the Strider concept, incorporating nods to the character's complete history. (Well, except for "Journey Into Darkness" — so far as I can tell, poor Strider Hinjo doesn't even show up as an unlockable skin for Hiryu.)
It's in this "grand unification" approach that Strider finds itself. Double Helix has basically deconstructed every canonical chapter of the series to date and recompiled them into a single adventure that incorporates elements of all that have come before. The setting leans most heavily on the first stage of the coin-op, while the interconnected exploratory approach unfolds like a proper realization of the promising-but-rough non-linear NES adventure. Hiryu's skills and overall feel draw heavily from his appearance in 1999's Strider 2, up to and including a setting for the Cypher plasma blade that works exactly like Boost Mode. There's even some spiritual influence from Hiryu's Marvel vs. Capcom appearances with skills reminiscent of fighting-games, like air recoveries and a "reflect" option for Cypher that lets you destroy foes with their own bullets, but only if you get the timing right (a la Street Fighter III's parrying).
For fans of the series, Strider should be a trainspotter's delight. Here you'll spot a nod to the Zain project from the manga; there you'll recognize an area riffing on the Antarctic research base from Strider 2; here you'll tap your foot to electronic remixes of familiar tunes. Oft-forgotten details of the original game, like the panther and eagle power-ups, find key roles here. On the other hand, this familiarity does underscore just how recycled everything feels. There are very few original ideas in the entire game; mostly you're just rehashing the enemies and scenarios you faced in the arcade game. Giant gorilla? Check. Chinese acrobat warriors? Check? Solo the Bounty Hunter? Yep. Taking down the Balrog airship? Of course. Dealing with crazy reversed-gravity sequences as you destroy Gravity Cores? Indeed. Epic fight with Meio in outer space? Well, obviously.
All of this is not necessarily terrible, especially if you think of Strider as a reboot for the series, but the game draws on a limited selection of existing content (don't expect to see much in the way of the other games' more exotic locales like Egypt, the Amazon, Scotland, etc.) and simply churns through it over and over again for several hours. You fight the same handful of repetitive enemies for hours on end, and they rarely change aside from acquiring slightly more annoying defenses. A big part of what made the original Strider so entertaining was its rapid-fire variety; of course, that worked for a game designed to eat quarters every few minutes, whereas home consoles require a different approach. But I'd have killed to have had something more interesting to deal with with that same selection of robot troopers, flying drones, and hulking robots. Some Amazons? A dinosaur? Even those ridiculous hockey guys from Strider 2 would have livened things up.
Sure, it's an inexpensive digital release, and it clearly was made on a modest budget, but Strider often feels rushed. I don't just mean in its repetition of content; it really needed another month of two of polish. Hiryu has a huge range of skills, but the controls often feel fussy, and he'll frequently stick to a wall at the least opportune time. Maybe it's just because I was playing on Xbox One (whose analog sticks seem to have the same imprecision and centering calibration issues as Xbox 360's), but more likely it's a fundamental game issue. It reminds me of the section in Mega Man X5 which reprised the laser trap sequence from Mega Man 2; that challenge turned out to be vastly more difficult when your protagonist could stick to walls, and you'll experience exactly the same phenomenon here. Maybe it's just a Capcom thing.
For the most part, Strider suffers from minor flaws that could have been corrected with just a small amount of additional play-testing. Navigating around the vast, interconnected city feels like a huge chore once you've unlocked the whole thing. Enemy placement often comes across as amateurish, and you'll frequently take damage from soldiers lurking unseen behind foreground elements or from areas in which evading one trap will unavoidable put you in the line of fire for another. Adding to the irritation is the fact that Hiryu doesn't enjoy a single frame of mercy invincibility when damaged, and it's entirely possible to be juggled and stun-locked when you unwittingly drop into a throng of soldiers (they often respawn without warning while you're exploring a single large room or zone). Their machine guns can take from you from full health to zero while you're helpless to even move.
These little things add up over time, and they never cease to be irritating. Still, when Strider works, it works well. It makes pretty good use of the Metroid spirit, with new weapons not only empowering Hiryu in combat but also also unlocking new areas of the game. (And if you doubt Metroid's influence here, consider how you use the D-pad to switch to differently colored blade types to use against specific enemies — that's some straight-up Metroid Prime right there.) Best of all are the boss encounters, which are big, flashy, and often very difficult showdowns that demand you learn a variety of patterns and attacks. I mentioned Mega Man X before, and some of these battles would work perfectly as bosses in that series.
That's pretty much Strider in a nutshell: A blend of old and new influences that doesn't always gel but works well enough. Perhaps most importantly, Double Helix has absolutely nailed the protagonist's kinetic feel and given him new abilities to boot. While the world and adventure around Hiryu don't always live up to his excellence, this incarnation of the character would make a great foundation for future games... assuming Capcom has the wherewithal to build this reboot into a proper franchise.
Strider '14 eases you into its action by doing a quite uncanny impersonation of Strider '89. Crisp new graphics and familiar controls capture the feel of the old quite admirably, and initially this bodes very well. As you make progress, new gameplay aspects begin to be mixed in, and what at first seemed like a spiffy new arcade version of Strider becomes more akin to an action adventure. At first I loved this direction — the new Strider was looking every bit the remake I was hoping for. But as I continued further, I began to feel this blend of new and old doesn't always work.
A classic example of this is Hiryu himself. He still has his dynamic movement and feel from the coin-op, but in the context of this new Strider, he feels a little leaden. Like he’s an '80s-feeling character in a '10s-playing game. Sometimes during set pieces, or when trying to navigate tight areas under a lot of gunfire, he’ll catch onto something and hang, or not drop off a wall quickly enough — with costly consequences. It’s almost like he’s not agile and responsive enough. This is compounded by the fact that he has an interesting array of modern-day tricks he can now pick up and perform. But with his basic movement needing a little more polish, the end result is an all-singing, but rather clumsily-dancing Hiryu who lacks the finesse he needs to truly shine. It’s not bad by any means, but you just get the feeling that with a little more work, he could have been a joy to control.
Another thing that doesn’t quite work is that while it’s fun swinging and bouncing around Kazakh City, it does get somewhat repetitive. Enemy characters, robots, and even screen layouts become all too familiar. Like the controls, Strider's environment feels like it needs more development time. All the components are there, but they're just not used to their full potential - and there's definitely the need for some additional enemies to help mix things up.
It's clear that Strider has the potential for greatness, but unfortunately it falls short. It's a rough diamond crying out for a bit more polish. But even so, it's still well worth a whirl — especially if you’re a lover of the original game. It won't blow you away, but it'll entertain you - even if it might also occasionally infuriate you.
- Visuals: Slick and futuristic, but ultimately monotonous. Bad enough the whole thing takes place in one locale, but the different areas of Kazakh City lack character.
- Sound: Spot-on; the remixes remind me of Bionic Commando: Rearmed's awesome soundtrack, and the effects perfectly blend the new and the familiar.
- Interface: A bit clumsy; some of Hiryu's controls feel counterintuitive, and his tendency to cling to walls at inopportune moments is just the worst. But once you have the ability to streak through the air as a whirling blade of death, you might not care.
- Lasting Appeal: Strider may be too slight and too repetitive to merit a replay. Sure, there's lots to find... but will you care? Worse, not only is there no New Game +, the game actually locks you into the final sequence once you get to the end.
Sadly, Strider falls somewhat short of the original. Despite its failings, though, it manages to be the best Strider game since that old coin-op. With a little more polish and creativity, this could be the start of something great.