To those of us of a certain age, Strider is a name likely to evoke some fond gaming memories. Capcom’s arcade classic made the transition, in many forms and states of completeness, to a multitude of home gaming systems but the one I personally knew the best also happened to be the one that is widely accepted as the best – the Megadrive version.
That version was close to the arcade original and this also seems to be the basis for this 2014 remake from Capcom’s Osaka studio and Double Helix – a developer who made Killer Instinct for the Xbox One and were recently bought by Amazon.
The premise is fairly simple – you’re Hiryu, the youngest ever graduate into the Strider organisation of ninja-like assassins. You’ve been sent, on your bird-like glider, to the dystopian city-state of Kazakh in order to assassinate Grandmaster Meio and bring to an end his oppressive regime. You start the game with your trusty Cypher sword and a very limited set of abilities, but as you move onwards to your ultimate goal – a journey that lasts around five or six hours, although there’s a trophy for doing it in under four – Hiryu unlocks new abilities and more powerful or useful weapons.
This remake takes a few cues from the NES version too, in that there are “metroidvania” elements in the way you can explore the world map and gain access to new areas by unlocking new abilities. You’ll begin by gaining access to Hiryu’s iconic slide attack but there are also heavier sword attacks, charged attacks and various technologically-assisted attacks to be unlocked too. You can also add to your health bar, energy bar and recharge time, and unlock concept art and levels to play in the game’s challenge modes of play, outside the traditional story mode.
Those two new game modes are Beacon Run and Survival Mode. The first is a simple timed dash from point to point through an environment you encountered during the story mode, while Survival Mode is a wave-based attempt to survive increasingly difficult foes.
While the game starts out with a limited move-set, the difficulty of the foes you face are measured against this and you can simply charge into any situation mashing the button to swing your sword. As you level up your abilities, which are doled out at a pace considerate to the repetitive nature of the action, your enemies become harder to defeat and you’ll need to vary your attacks accordingly.
Except that there are health pickups everywhere and defeated enemies offer a little bit of restoration to your health and energy meters too, so although you’ll need to approach some situations accordingly, the game is never overly difficult, so long as you’re exploring a reasonable amount to find the upgrades – something that the original was well known for. One notable exception is the end sequence, where the enemies did seem to spike in difficulty and pose a real danger for the first time in the game. Perhaps that was an indication that I should have explored a little more and upgraded my own weaponry and health systems before facing the final stages of the game.
Something else the original is fondly remembered for is its boss battles. These crop up at a decent clip, and the most memorable from the arcade version are still there. There’s the giant robotic Chinese dragon and the mechanical ape-like enemies that have their own difficulty progression as you progress through each of the game’s four main areas. They’re very much faithful to the game’s roots too, being largely attack-pattern based examples that teach you when to wait, when to evade and when to attack.
During gameplay, it’s a great looking game too. The scarlet trail of Hiryu’s neon scarf and the glowing edge of his blade – different colours corresponding to the different earned abilities like bullet-deflect, fire and freezing – pop from the dark and oppressive backgrounds of Kazakh. The brightly coloured attacks and the more sparsely graduated shading of the resulting smoke create an interesting art style that’s a kind of mix of the arcade game beginnings for Strider and its Manga origins.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t entirely migrate to the elements of the game that aren’t playable. The unskippable cutscenes (which are often, frustratingly, just after a checkpoint) are clumsy, basic and poorly voiced, with character models and animations that look a little rough around the edges. Likewise, the user interface is not particularly successful at marrying the arcade simplicity and large-text stylings from its arcade influences to the bold outlines and drawn-backgrounds of its Manga influences – although it should perhaps be commended for trying.
There’s also a slight misstep in the way the game’s maps are handled. Rather than rely on one large-scale map as many similar games might, Kazakh is broken up into four distinct areas. Each area is only accessible via a long corridor or a trip on the game’s fast travel system, which is a kind of train line system whereby you catch a lift on a robotic eagle or panther from one stop to the next, rather than choosing your own destination. This means that backtracking to access previously unreachable areas – the door you can now phase-shift through or the spinning gateway you’re now able to freeze, for example – is less fluid and enjoyable as it could have been.
Strider is an enjoyable game but it’s not one that particularly stands out against others of its type. It is cleverly designed, as this style of game must be, but not so much that it earns the right to sit alongside the genre’s ageing greats like Symphony of the Night and it’s not quite up to the complex replayability of modern classics like Shadow Complex. It’s a decent game that generally looks very nice and will while away a few hours, but you won’t be rushing to tell your friends about it and you might not want to return after completing it.
Version tested: PS4