Theoretically, I should’ve become acquainted with Strider long ago. Somehow, though, that never happened. And that means Capcom’s brand new version serves as my introduction to the character. Featuring the usually enjoyable (at least when done properly) Metroidvania style of gameplay, Strider quickly proves it doesn’t require a nostalgic vibe to succeed in the modern gaming world.
Early on you’re quite limited in what you can do both offensively and defensively. Basic slashes and single jumps make up most of your arsenal, but that’s short lived. Soon you’re adding a slide attack and a downward slash, and eventually you’ll be doing things like summoning an energy panther, throwing blades and imbuing your Cypher with various plasma properties to exploit enemy weaknesses.
Attacking, for the most part, is quite smooth. Switching between your blade’s elements is easily done with the d-pad, and unleashing the more powerful moves (which temporarily takes away blocks from your energy meter) involves an easy-to-remember combination of shoulder and face buttons. Aiming your kunai with the right stick could be a little more precise, but it’s a small matter.
Not nearly as endearing are the platforming and exploration elements. Your character, Hiryu, uses a pair of sickles to cling to most surfaces. While this seems convenient, there are plenty of times where you’ll stick to walls you wanted nothing to do with. Springing off of walls isn’t very responsive, either, and I found that I’d usually need to consciously plan out jumping sequences and make deliberate motions with the analog sticks rather than just reacting on the fly.
Available on both sets of Xbox and PlayStation consoles, Strider didn’t do a lot to impress on the PS3. On the plus side, the animations are very fluid and slick, and they make you feel like a bad ass when you soar through the air, come crashing down with a violent strike and dispatch a group of foes. There’s a near-criminal lack of variety, though, especially from the backgrounds as everywhere you go feels a lot like somewhere you’ve already been; and though there’s something to be said for continuity, it would’ve been nice to have more memorable locales (especially in a game that demands back tracking).
There’s sporadic voice acting in the game, though I’d be hard pressed to recite a single line of it as nothing that’s happening resonates. The music and sound effects are effective in amplifying the action, though odds are you’ll forget its tunes the moment you stop playing.
You are Strider Hiryu, and you are an assassin. You’ve been sent into the futuristic metropolis of Kazakh City to battle (read: kill) the insidious Grandmaster Meio. He won’t be going gently into that good night, however, which means you’ll need to wade through hundreds of faceless baddies and a number of mini bosses to reach him. Generally, the challenge level of Strider on the default difficulty skews a little on the easy side as only a handful of mini bosses ever really pushed me.
In fact, most of my struggles came with the game’s platforming. Now, these aren’t the kind of struggles that result in in-game deaths — getting hit by an environmental obstacle merely sends you back a few paces and removes a smidgen of life from your gauge — but rather they’re the kind that make you want to fire your controller across the room. And unfortunately, moments like that happen too frequently.
I lost track of the number of times I took an awkward spill because my jump didn’t play out as I had planned or (even worse) some expertly aimed projectile from an enemy off screen connected and sent me tumbling down. That phenomenon occurs in combat as well, where enemies will time up their hits to keep knocking you down and stopping your weapon charge in the process. It’s particularly bad with those that can freeze you. It just felt very cheap every single time it happened, and were it not for the liberal amount of health to be found throughout it could’ve been a serious problem.
Luckily, those issues don’t derail the many things that Strider does right. During the roughly six hours it takes to finish the game you’ll collect new weapons and abilities that allow you to access previously unreachable areas. The Metroidvania style is clearly a tried-and-true approach, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that it’s well executed the vast majority of the time.
Beyond the scripted acquisitions there are also loads of other upgrades and collectables to be found by backtracking and exploring. Your health and energy (exhausted when using special moves and throwing your ranged kunai) meters are the biggest prizes along with quicker recharge times, better range and more projectiles. Other items include races that can be run outside the main game.
I enjoyed most of the time I spent with Strider, but there were some definite frustrations and dicey design choices made along the way. If you’re a fan of Metroidvania games, though, Strider is a very easy title to recommend.