When I was 8 years old, my step-brother brought home a copy of Strider for his Sega Genesis. It was one of those rare times where we actually got along in any capacity growing up. We didn’t live together and being a Nintendo kid, I didn’t own Sega’s home console. We spent hours playing as the Strider Hiryu slicing and climbing our way through one of the most awesome and futuristic worlds I had ever seen. Again, as a Nintendo kid, I was stuck in the Mushroom Kingdom for most of my childhood so the world of Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic blew my mind. Now, in 2014, I wondered if my nostalgia was enough to keep me interested. I’m mostly happy to say, it kind of is.
Players once again control Strider Hiryu as he battles through the Soviet-style Russian city called Kazakh City in an effort to thwart the Grandmaster Meio. In his journey, Strider encounters numerous dispensable enemies and a handful of intense boss fights that call back to the glory days of an era. What the game also calls back to is fighting the same boss multiple times which some may find fun and nostalgic. I, however, did not as it often made for some cringe worthy dialogue and a boss fight with bad guys I could care less about. The narrative is definitely not Strider’s strong suite, and sometimes it’s apparent that Double Helix Games is very much aware of this weakness. I often found that there is a line dividing nostalgia and god-awful that the writers couldn't quite straddle. Overall, the story is quite forgettable in almost every sense of the word.
The world of Strider is a pretty good looking one from afar. Where it's lacking is when the camera pans in close to get shots of the characters and some of the textures have a look that harks back to 2007. It was a little odd that when zoomed in on Strider (see pictures below), I could actually see jagged pixels. This is something that is far from expected from most current games let alone on a next-gen console. Even more concerning were major framerate drops on medium to heavy action scenes. At one junction of the game, the game dropped to what must have been below 20 frames as the game just sort of chugged along for about 45 seconds. It was shocking and, to be frank, unacceptable.
Where the story and graphics fail, the gameplay exceeds making Strider one of the most fun and rewarding 5 hour experiences I've had in recent years. Defeating bosses unlocks new abilities with most giving players access to other areas that were previously locked. Killing one boss gives Strider a Plasma Catapult allowing him to dash mid-air, but also gives access to plasma doors. In addition to the standard modes for each weapon, pressing on the directional pad gives the weapons different attributes imbuing the iconic Cypher blade and throwing darts with ice, fire, or range. It’s a balancing act that is done amazingly well and always made me feel rewarded. In fact, there are so many different combinations that my hands became a blazing flurry of insanity as I would switch from ice to fire and back again to disperse of my foes. It is honestly one of the most rewarding gameplay experiences I’ve had in a very long time.
Another great feature that I simply could not get enough of were the “spirit animals” -- my nickname, not Double Helix’s – which give Strider his pick of an eagle or a panther that can either attack foes or help him reach new areas. It only further added to my feeling of progress and excitement as an eagle carried me to my destination or fulfilled my childhood dream of surfing on the back of a panther.
Not everything is perfect in game design however as some very odd decisions distract from the experience. Whenever an enemy, NPC, or Strider have something to say, a very large attempt-at-stylish banner goes across the screen on both the top and bottom. It covers large parts of the screen and, on a couple of occasions, caused very poor starts to boss battles. I found myself screaming an absurd amount of obscenities more times than anybody should have to just because the developer wants me to see some thrown together dialogue.
One other major gripe I had with Strider that needs attention is the difficulty spike on the last level. Without going into spoilers whatsoever, when the game asks if you’re sure about continuing to the final stage, heed its warning for the trek ahead is a perilous one. The tower has a lack of useful checkpoints, difficult enemies who never existed before, enemy “closets” where baddies spawn endlessly, and more. It was infuriating to the point that I also considered never picking it back up again but, alas, I have a job to do.
While Nostalgia started me on my journey back to Kazakh, the gameplay kept me there through the frustration and annoyances that were ever present for my 5-hour romp. The Sega and arcade Strider adventure was awesome to a bright-eyed 8 year old, but my tastes have evolved into one that is less tolerable of obvious annoyances that are prevalent throughout. I can recommend playing through the entirety of the campaign but my strongest recommendation is to wait until there is a sale.