Red Herb Review: Strider


I’ll come clean; I don’t know much about Strider. My familiarity with the character begins and ends at his inclusion to the rosters of Capcom’s Vs. titles. I’d always confuse him for Shinobi, if we’re being perfectly honest. Can you blame me? Not that there were many chances for me to get acquainted with Strider Hiryu before now. The last installment came out fourteen years ago.

But a crash course on the series isn’t needed with admission. Whether you’re fresh to the series, such as myself, or if you’re reuniting with Hiryu once again, it won’t stop you from enjoying this fast-paced, satisfying – if not filling – slice of side-scrolling Metroidvania action.image

As if you’re just getting your turn after waiting in line at your local arcade to play it, Strider tosses you into the shit the moment you hit start, wasting next to no time on exposition. You’re a ninja assassin, it’s the future, and you’ve gotta off Grandmaster Meio and anyone bold or stupid enough to stand in your way… which is everyone.

Hiryu begins the game with his trusty Cypher – a plasma blade capable of dicing enemy cyborgs into metal ribbons in a hail of sparks. You can mash the attack button to swipe the blade faster, and you can direct its attack with the left stick. At the offset, it almost feels as if the game was intended to be played on a arcade stick replete with a hexagonal gate. This changes, of course, as you come across new gear, but kudos to Double Helix for the nod to Strider’s arcade legacy.

You face waves of gun-toting cyborgs, missile launching drones, mace-firing Hulkbuster-like mechs, wall-mounted turrets, and a host of cartoonish assassins ready to turn your ass in. Plus, giant screen-filling robots. The game stops holding your hand pretty early on, forcing you to manage rooms chocked full of any odd assortment of cybernetic bastards, while you attempt not to soak up too much damage. Hiryu’s a true acrobat, though. He can slide past enemies, jump, eventually double jump, and pretty much climb any surface. Maneuverability reminds me of Mega Man X in all the best ways. Still, being a ninja assassin ain’t no walk in the park, and I found myself exploding into nothingness more than a few times. Some areas require deft evasion. Some require you to go on the offensive and fast. Other areas simply ask you remember to juke the revolving saw blades adorning the wall.image

Side-scrolling hack n’ slash, yes. Linear? Not in the least. Strider is true to the Metroidvania stamp of approval by offering up sprawling environments to platform, hang off, and slide over. A beacon always lets you know where your next objective is, but fine rewards await those straying from the beaten path. Upgrades to your health and energy bar are tucked behind a myriad of nooks and crannies, and even new threads (indicated by a cute little Strider sprite) are to be had.

Hiryu’s equipment is also expanded as you clear areas and fell bosses. You’ll earn throwing kunai, a temporary shield, and both an ethereal eagle and translucent panther to hurl at your enemies (they also open up new parts of the map, because why wouldn’t cyber animal friends be able to do that?).

My favorite pickups are the additional Cypher modes you can switch between. Your normal sword deflects bullets, but the Cold Cypher can freeze a bad guy right where they stand. The Magnetic Cyber allows you to send your sword flying like a projectile. And the Explosive Cyber… Well, it lives up to its name like a champ, doling out an incredible amount of damage. You can swap between swords on the fly thanks to the D-Pad, and you’ll need to; you run into plenty of enemies that are immune to three outta four of your blades and the game switches up which of them come at you, sometimes throwing several varieties after you at once.

Not everything about Strider’s revival is as glowing as his holographic scarf, though. As much as I loved taking on a mammoth gorilla and a robotic dragon – which I loved a lot, it should be said – boss fights shirk the “right weapon” discipline and merely rely on your memorization of their rigid attack patterns, which almost always are spat out in an exact order. It stiffens the whole affair.image

And, while I respect the decision to place all emphasis on gameplay, what little story there is is dreadful. Villains spout goat cheese dialogue so corny that it’d make even the ‘80’s cringe. Once you finally get to the great poobah himself, Grandmaster Meio, you’ll be extra motivated to kill him after hearing his monologue on “imperfection” and “morality” and whatever other 8-bit era tropes that smashing the Start button won’t skip over.

Everything else about the game is stylishly revamped for modern digestion. It makes no sense why they would stop at storytelling – the one area of evolution games have made tremendous strides in since Hiryu’s last outing way back on the PlayStation 1. It makes Strider feel like an old cartridge game where you have to skim the lazily translated exposition written into the manual to figure out what the hell is going on.

Another bone of contention involves spotty physics play. Certain segments of the game have you navigating through rooms where gravity is upended. But of course, you’re to fight some baddies while the world’s topsy-turvy. Not a problem, except he controls don’t catch up with your movements, especially when you’re running along these circular gravity balls to scale the environment. Pushing left on the stick equates to you pushing down. Pushing right has you wheeling left. It’s weird, but the game doesn’t throw too many of these moments at you… Until the goddamn last boss fight where its implementation is screamingly frustrating. Neat idea, poor execution.

These problems ultimately amount to only a few thorns on a rose of a reboot. I don’t know how much it lives up to Strider’s legacy, but it’s undoubtedly one of the strongest entries to the Metroidvania genre of free-roam, 2D action I’ve ever played, and that’s an easy genre to screw the pooch on (right, Mirror of Fate?). For being over a decade out of practice, Hiryu’s return is slick, stylish, and a Cypher’s length more fun than its $15 asking price. It’s a nice, tall, digital glass of water to get you through gaming’s early year dry season.image

Sound: Nice touches like a deliberately retro score, degraded slightly in homage to classic Strider.

Visuals: Sleek, stylized future combined with old fashioned Russian architecture. Some details are undefined, like certain character models, making the game look like an upscaling from handheld to HD port. Cool flourishes abound, like visible scan lines (an appreciable nod to the series’ roots).

Playability: Imagine if Shadow Complex collided with Castlevania. Speedy hack n’ slash action spliced with exploratory, even tranquil, breaks in the action. Snappy, responsive controls; engaging, if uninspired, platforming.

Replay Value: There’s plenty to find and plenty to miss in a playthrough. The campaign isn’t overly long, so you may find yourself giving it another go on a harder difficulty. Certain Achievements even encourage it, like one that tasks you with beating the game in under four hours. Additional challenge modes – a wave attack mode and a speedrun trial – await those that want to test their A-Rank Strider status.

Strider [2014]

Developed by: Double Helix Games, Capcom Osaka

Published by: Capcom

Available on: PC/PS3/PS4 [reviewed]/Xbox 360/Xbox One

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