I have a bit of a funny relationship with the Strider games – it’s an old series, and hasn’t had a new entry since Strider 2 in 2000. While I’ve never beaten either of the games, Strider Hiryu has still been a fairly prominent figure in my gaming history – I have a good friend who loves the games, and I’ve seen them both beaten multiple times. And then we have the Marvel vs Capcom series, where Hiryu has been one of my favourite fighters for the last decade or so.
So when I heard that a new Strider game was coming to PSN, Xbox Live and PC, I was thrilled. I couldn’t wait to play a modern take on the Strider gameplay, and was doubly hyped when Capcom announced that the game would have a non-linear metroidvania style, with upgrades that allow you to access new abilities and explore new locations as you progress – there’s something of a drought of those types of games lately – with Castlevania focusing on the Lords of Shadow series, and Metroid being somewhat quiet since the fairly unloved Other M released in 2010.
So, onto the game itself. The premise is that in an alternate future of our own world, the planet has been taken over by the rule of the evil Grandmaster Meio, an oppressive dictator with seemingly omnipotent powers. Only one man is believed to have the capabilities to take him down – Hiryu, the highest ranked Strider alive.
The game begins with Hiryu landing on the outskirts of Kazakh City, where Grandmaster Meio presides. Hiryu starts off with most of his normal abilities familiar to old fans – his lightning quick strikes from his Cypher blade, his acrobatic jumping ability, and his sickle that allows him to scale walls and hang from ceilings. It’s not long before he also unlocks the abilities to slide through small gaps, and a double-jump.
Of course, Strider is lightning-quick, with the ability to run at fast speeds, and can slash rapidly even while moving and jumping, making him quite the powerhouse. However, this is countered by often crazy amounts of bullets coming his way, which can be tricky to outmaneuver. I actually found that the game felt quite unforgiving to start – with Hiryu having no HP upgrades and limited tools, it could be very tough to get through any areas unscathed. That’s not to say the game becomes easy later on - Strider never was the most forgiving of games.
Because Strider is a fast-mover, the areas are often quite vast. This can be good for some great views at times, but I did feel that the game occasionally felt a little barren because of its size. And due to his very broad range of explorative abilities, the Metroidvania aspect isn’t as interesting as it could have been – most things that stop you progressing are simply doors that you can’t open until you’ve got the corresponding ability, rather than unlocking many new methods of traversing the environment.
As you progress, you unlock various “Options”, which are support units that Strider can summon temporarily at the cost of some energy. These will be familiar to older players, as the returning Options are the satellite, panther and hawk – each giving you a new way to deal damage, as well as acting as a way to activate new mechanisms or pass certain obstacles. I was glad to see these return, though I was a little disappointed that they looked more like holograms than their normal robotic versions.
To be honest, I felt that progression could be quite tedious and repetitive. While dispatching enemies with the Cypher felt awesome to start, limited enemy variety made it feel a bit of a slog – especially since you aren’t rewarded with anything notable such as EXP or weapon refills. And there seem to be two types of enemy – those that you can dispatch with ease, and those that take a beating and will probably deal you a good chunk of damage before you manage to take them down – but maybe that’s just me. I did feel that some enemies take notably longer to take down than in the classic games, though, which slowed the pace at times.
The enemy designs were also a little bland, most of them (at least as far as I got during my review) were either basic armed troops, or heavy robots. While I can perhaps appreciate the more “realistic” tone, I did miss some of the more crazy opponents featured in the older games, such as robotic dinosaurs and other mechanical foes.
The bosses on the other hand, were a highlight. There’s a good mix of returning bosses from the classic games, and brand new ones. The fights are quite satisfying and usually quite well-balanced – though I didn’t enjoy the “Pooh” sisters (yes, that’s what they are called) as I didn’t enjoy the fights, and they return on multiple occasions. However, the larger bosses were definitely fun.
While the game took a bit of time to get going, I was happier once I started getting some of the later upgrades that mix up your options a little more. I won’t go into detail on most of them as I don’t like to spoil these things, but for instance the first Cypher mode you unlock is “Reflect”, which allows you to deflect enemy bullets and even reflect them back if you time it right.
I think Capcom have done a good job at modernizing the Strider concept in terms of the game’s visuals and Hiryu’s gameplay, but I just couldn’t help feeling that the game lacked *something* that I couldn’t put my finger on. It often felt all too clear that I was being given inconsequential targets to chase down (such as switches) to make me run around areas more than necessary. This probably isn’t helped by the fact that the plot is quite basic. Sure, it’s true to the classics, but I was hoping to get a little more depth. There *is* dialogue, but most of it is fairly simple without much emotion behind it. I couldn’t help feeling that the game could have been a lot more with a solid script adding some more motivation to complete my objective.
+ The return of Strider in a new game, sticking to the 2D gameplay
+ Nice visuals that fit the gameplay perfectly
+ Good variety of upgrades to find and unlock
+ Fun boss fights
- Metroidvania gameplay is a mixed bag, adding some tedious backtracking and can feel a little forced
- Combat against regular enemies can be repetitive
- Story could have been a lot better
Strider achieves what it sets out to do – it revives the game in a modern format, with a non-linear exploration take on progression. There’s a lot of references to the classics for the fans, and a good selection of new features for fans and new players alike. The visuals look great and control feels fluid, but at times it can feel a bit tedious, especially before getting to some of the more interesting upgrades. Still, for £11.99 it’s got a definite bang for your buck, even more so if you’re on the fence and want to wait for a sale.