Strider is the latest attempt from both Capcom and developer Double Helix to bring back a classic game franchise that is nostalgic to many. Double Helix themselves have some experience with this too, as they were responsible for the resurrection of Killer Instinct last year. However, I’ll admit that despite knowing of Strider, I never got around to playing the classic arcade and NES titles the character is best remembered for. After playing this latest entry though, I’d say that I’m definitely more interested in trying them out now.
Strider offers plenty of appealing style, tight controls necessary to go along with its frenetic action and a neat, Metroid-like exploration approach. I do have some problems with some elements of the way it presents itself and lays out its world, but there’s enough to appreciate here that they do little to ruin what is an enjoyable experience overall.
Taking place in the snowy, dystopian Kazakh City, the game follows the titular ninja assassin Strider, on a mission to…well, accomplish something or other. One of my bigger complaints with the game is how it handles its storytelling. The best way to sum it up is that it feels like the game can’t decide if it wants to have a concrete plot or take the old-school minimalist approach.
The intro is literally a fifteen-second cutscene of Strider swooping into the city on a hang glider and immediately commencing battle with the local troops, but it’s a long time before his motivation becomes even remotely clear. While there are certainly some traditional cutscenes sprinkled throughout the game, not only can the voice acting get overly cheesy, but the characters don’t even have any facial emotions or lip sync to complement their dialog, something I can’t remember seeing since the days of the PlayStation 2.
I didn’t get the impression that this was a budgetary restraint either, mainly due to how nice the rest of the game looks artistically (the environments in particular). The multi-layered backgrounds are vivid and creative in their appearance, with the only gripe I have towards them being the fact that their general aesthetic doesn’t change much throughout the game in terms of environmental styles.
As for the actual gameplay, this is a pure old-school sidescroller through and through. You run, jump and slash with Strider’s trusty blade through numerous maps and hordes of enemies. While Strider starts out rather barebones in terms of what else he can do, you’ll find yourself gradually earning one new ability after another, typically after each of the game’s numerous and entertaining boss battles.
These abilities range from standard slides and double jumps to the ability to deflect projectiles back at enemies with a well-timed sword swing, charge up sword attacks, set fire to enemies, throw different kinds of projectile knives and use various powerful super attacks that drain a rechargeable energy meter.
Make no mistake: by the game’s midpoint, even before you’re done getting new abilities, Strider will make you feel like a badass. Mowing through different enemy types with your various attacks never ceases to feel satisfying and thankfully, it doesn’t feel too easy, either. You can, however, still be overwhelmed by drones (typically by their sheer number of units and projectiles) if you’re not careful, and some bosses might take several attempts before you get their attack patterns down.
It’s worth noting that from what I understand, the original Strider games were fairly linear. This one diverts from that approach a bit by being what many would call a “Metroidvania” game, a reference to most titles in the Metroid series and most Castlevania entries. If you haven’t heard of it, the idea is that the whole game takes place across one big sprawling map that has multiple routes and secrets to find. The catch is that many of these alternate routes and hidden items are initially inaccessible, and require you to return later on when you have whatever ability is necessary to reach them.
This approach works in Strider, but at the same time, it feels a little more linear. I attribute this to two factors, the first being that at all times your map has a waypoint on it telling you where to go to advance the story, and you can’t help but feel motivated to follow that path. The other is that for a good portion of the game, before you unlock certain abilities, you have to do a healthy amount of backtracking if you want to go back for earlier secrets. Strider offers a pretty big world to explore for a downloadable title, and the downside is that you might spend a lot of time retracing your steps. At least the rewards, which are typically various upgrades for your health, ability meter and recharge speed, among other things, are often genuinely helpful.
It’s worth noting that I played the PlayStation 4 version of Strider. This is what you might call a “split-gen” game, as despite also being on the Xbox One and PC, it also launched on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. I can’t vouch for the latter two as far as their look or graphical performance, but the PS4 version runs flawlessly in 1080p at a solid 60 frames per second. The only real downside is that, in my opinion, little was done to make it look truly next-gen. Things are certainly pretty and shiny, but character models and environments never look like something you couldn’t see on the previous generation of consoles. At least the solid art design helps to make up for that.
Despite some quibbles with its plot and early reliance on backtracking, Strider is a lot of fun and is one of the more satisfying games that I’ve played in a while simply because of how genuinely agile and powerful it makes you feel. There’s a solid action game to be found here, and fans of sidescrolling action titles and/or the Metroidvania sub-genre will find a quality experience if they’re willing to try it out.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game.
A few minor presentation and traversal issues aside, Strider is a fun throwback with solid controls and style to spare.