I’m itching for a fight.
And I get one as soon as I land; a laser bolt zips past my ear, singes my hair. Now I’m pissed; the veins in my neck bulge. Instantly, I’m streaking along a clanking catwalk faster than a panther at full bore, slicing and dicing guards into heavy crags of bolts and circuits along the way. I’m panting, not from exertion, but from excitement.
I effortlessly jump from one building to the next, over the viscous voids beneath each abysmal fissure stretching between each gaudy gold roof. I dodge a drone that ambles about the sky above my head, then another. And suddenly, there’s a band of the vexing buggers parading after me across the smoggy cityscape... Dumb but dangerous bees swooping in at random to vex my progress.
So I turn. I slash. Immediately, the gaggle explodes into a blisteringly inky vapor of soot and fire.
I slide under a heavily guarded laser wall; automated turrets swing around, blast searing laser bolts longer than my body in my direction, and I dodge. Guards ardently fire after me as I scramble away, and the air is filled with a vivid red phantasm of laser bolts exploding behind me. I forge forward unscathed.
All I have is my sword, but it’s all I need. This worn ninja’s gi fits more than right...
This isn’t Strider's first mission into enemy territory ...
Since his 1989 coin-op debut, the flashy rogue has been exceedingly popular with fans and newcomers alike. He’s seen several heralded iterations at both the arcade and home, and he’s made more than his fair share of cameo appearances (the most obvious the massively popular Marvel v. Capcom series). But even through all that, he's not truly been given his own chance to shine.
But that's all (finally) changed.
Double Helix’s 2014 reimagining of the action icon attempts to resurrect the hero with an outing that infuses classic Strider gameplay with deep exploration and a cell shaded aesthetic of which even Gearbox would be jealous. Look under the occasionally unbalanced hood of this mecha-panther, and you’ll find a sometimes kitschy, yet faithfully adherent arcade-style brawler the pop-cultural phenomenon is best known for.
Feeling Like A Kid Again
As Strider’s synth beat intro breaks in, I'm immediately hit in the face with 80’s panache and a Kung-Fu action vibe. My first inclination is that I’m about to play the Ninja Turtles game I never knew existed. And in some ways, Strider is evocative of that Turtles in Time feeling, of blazing down dense enemy rife corridors and rumbling over precarious rooftops rampant with marauding mobs and skydiving goons.
For the first time in nearly 20 years, close quarters bashing and gashing has never been so bad for bad guys and good for good guys (and hella' fun for the player).
And hands down, Strider is at its best when it lets you hack n’ slash.
All of the moves and abilities that've become synonymous with Hiryu over the years are here. The mecha-panther and savage slash are back; the robo-hawk and elastic double jump are here again. All of these classic callbacks give Strider familiarity among a parade of new age flash, such as upgradeable enhancements and Cypher attacks (both of which, I might add, are welcome editions that add depth to Strider's action).
What's more, Hiryu is as powerful and mesmerizingly agile as ever. Watching him clamber up vertical walls and scamper across ceilings upside down like a terrible spider is exhilarating. Slicing foes in half with one strike empowers. And although mechanical fidelity falters at times, using the left-thumb stick to guide Hiryu’s signature Cypher in a full 360 degrees while swinging as fast as you can press the attack button feels so good. Those titanium blurs followed by those blue, sputtering sparks and flamboyant explosions make all the flaws almost disappear.
But the most egregious lapses in Strider’s form come in its platforming. Don’t get me wrong: there are some great platforming sections here, such as those found in the beautifully unforgettable Temple stage, one that most certainly could and should have been in any Prince of Persia or Super Metroid game. Nonetheless, Strider’s platform hopping and impressive wall scaling is hit or miss on the majority. Couple this with less than pinpoint movement mechanics and you’ve set yourself up for more than a few controller throws and choice words.
These infuriating instances don’t completely rear their Draconian maws until somewhere about two-thirds through Hiryu’s journey, when claustrophobic level design and heightened mob awareness coalesce into a maelstrom of frustration. But the warning signs are scattered throughout: cheap boss battles made problematic by a dearth of health power-ups; unfair re-spawn points that don’t always remember player progress; and irksome obstacles that require more luck than dexterity to navigate.
I should have known better than to attribute my inability to articulately disengage from walls to my obvious inept platforming skills when I first started playing. And instead of attributing my copious deaths in one particularly frustrating level as a ham-fisted attempt at masochism, I should have recognized it was Strider failing to grasp what it had so accurately done in its past: be great in all departments.
But even with its flaws, Strider stands tall as a testament to what reboots should strive to achieve: equal parts nostalgia and enrichment. It’s a city full of secrets, unlockables, and Metroid-vania like labyrinths stuffed with treasures and treacherous enemies, too. Throw in a challenging time-trial mode and survival arena, and Strider keeps giving days after you’ve finished the roughly six-hour campaign.
Did I mention there’s a trophy reference to Star Wars? Be still my giddy heart...