Game Corner: Strider (2014; Xbox One)

GameCorner
Strider2K14Logo

Released: February 2014
Developer: Double Helix Games and Capcom Osaka Studio
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and Xbox 360

The Background:
Capcom’s fast-paced, slash-‘em-up Strider (Capcom, 1989) first debuted as an arcade game; notable for its frenetic hack-and-slash action, the series saw numerous ports and sequels released to home consoles throughout the years, with main protagonist Strider Hiryu often cropping up in other Capcom titles. Thanks to Strider’s popularity, Capcom decided to produce a reboot of the series back in 2014; rather than being a linear experience, this Strider expanded on the length of the game through “Metroidvania” elements such as backtracking and upgrades to Strider’s abilities. I’ve known about Strider Hiryu for a long time, primarily due to his inclusion in Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes (Capcom/Backbone Entertainment, 2000), and this version of Strider caught my eye back in the day on the PlayStation 3 thanks to its futuristic, neon aesthetic and frenzied action but it’s only recently that I actually got around to playing the title.

The Plot:
Ostensibly a remake and reimagining of the original arcade game, its ports, and its sequels, top assassin Strider Hiryu is sent to Kazakh City to assassinate Grandmaster Meio, who has established a dictatorial rule over the city and its inhabitants with his robots and cyborg operatives.

Gameplay:
Strider is a 2.5D action/platformer with minor role-playing elements. Players control Strider Hiryu, a visually stunning character who dashes at high speeds through a dystopian city, leaping across rooftops, sliding through air ducts, and attacking Grandmaster Meio’s robotic minions with his plasma sword, Cypher.

Strider2K14Combat
Strider slashes enemies apart with his plasma sword.

As Strider barges ahead at full speed, he can slash away at his foes with quick swipes of the Cypher; he can also charge an attack to break through enemy shields and, in time, gains the ability to throw kunai blades at his enemies and activate switches from a distance. Strider also uses these blades to clamber up walls and across ceilings and can acquire additional technology (known as “Options) to reach previously-inaccessible areas of the game. This means that, as you acquire new abilities and upgrade Strider’s arsenal, you’ll have to do a fair amount of backtracking not just to fulfil new objectives but also to find the game’s many hidden power-ups, unlockables, and upgrades to Strider’s health, energy, and weapons.

Strider2K14Explore
Strider’s abilities allow him to access new areas.

However, the amount of backtracking is actually quite limited if you just want to finish the game’s primary story mode; you’re mainly tasked with using Strider’s new abilities to take the long way round to your next objective, after which you’ll be able to take a shorter route back to the next objective. Wash, rinse, repeat. As Strider dispatches his enemies, he powers up the meter for his Cypher blade and the abilities offered by the “Option” power-ups. There are numerous checkpoints and save points scattered throughout the game’s large and inter-connected map, which is broken down into different areas and environments, but Strider can also replenish his health by breaking capsules that are generously scattered in each area.

Strider2K14Acrobatics
Strider’s acrobatics make him a difficult target.

It pays to use the game’s simple-but-effective mini map to explore a bit, though, to find upgrades to Strider’s health bar as, while the common foot soldiers you encounter are dispatched easily enough, you’ll soon come up against more troublesome enemies, mechs, robots, bosses, and hazards that will drain your health to nothing in no time flat. By the time you storm Grandmaster Meio’s citadel, you’ll be required to make full use of all of Strider’s abilities to overcome the enemies and environments you come across.

Strider2K14Plasma
You’ll need to cycle through Strider’s different plasmas to defeat certain enemies.

This often requires you to cycle through the different Cypher plasmas with a press of the directional pad in order to combat certain enemies and get past certain obstacles. While, at its core, the game is extremely fun, fast-paced hack-and-slash action, there’s quite a bit of platforming involved; luckily, you’ll soon upgrade to a double jump and a mid-air dash which makes these much easier but, while I found falling to my death a common occurrence (generally thanks to being blasted out of the air), there’s nothing too taxing or unfair here thanks to Strider’s superhuman flexibility and the range of options available to him.

Graphics and Sound:
Strider is a bit of an oxymoron; it’s a visually stunning and appealing videogame thanks to its largely anime-inspired, Blade Runner (Scott, 1982) aesthetic; the game’s dystopian city is rugged, lived in, and interspersed with neon lights and dynamic lightning choices that often bathe environments in darkness broken only by flashing lights.

Strider2K14Levels
Environments are not particularly diverse…

Yet, at the same time, the majority of the areas you visit are largely uninspired; the majority of the game is spent exploring and traversing Kazakh City, which means a lot of rooftops and street-level action which, while impressive, gets old pretty quickly. The game moves at a fast pace, though, so you’ll soon be making your way through seemingly endless, nearly identical high-tech corridors and buildings, then fighting through the semi-steampunk sewers and industrial areas of the city, before the game finally breaks up the monotony of its environments with an all-too-brief section that takes place in the skies above the city.

Strider2K14Variety
While Strider looks great, most of his enemies are quite bland.

Similarly, while Strider looks absolutely fantastic and moves and animates like greased lightning, most of the enemies he encounters are a massively uninspiring lot. Once the bigger mechs and robots start becoming more commonplace, things get a bit more interesting but fighting these enemies can be a chore as you’ll have to cycle through all of Strider’s different abilities and weapons to take them down.

Strider2K14Cutscenes
A few sparsely animated custscenes relate the game’s plot, such as it is.

I was likewise unimpressed with the game’s soundtrack; Strider mostly uses ambiant sound and subdued melodies when you’re playing the game and these are often drowned out by the sound effects of Strider’s attacks, so I can’t say the soundtrack really left much of an impression on me. The game features a few cutscenes to relate its story and, while they’re not especially impressive in the way they’re animated, the voice acting is fantastically over the top and cheesy, which really works with the game’s tech-noir aesthetic.

Enemies and Bosses:
Strider will cut his way through a whole slew of Grandmaster Meio’s cyborg minions in his quest to liberate Kazakh City. Most of these will be dispatched in just a few swings of Strider’s Cypher blade but, eventually, even these will become more troublesome as you progress further through the city. All too soon, enemies start holding up shields to block your attacks, take pot shots at you with sniper rifles, and bust out the heavier machinery (such as explosive bolts that stick to you and energy staffs).

Strider2K14Robots
The robotic enemies present a greater threat.

Some of the more annoying enemies include ones that incessantly teleport across the area and ones that can freeze Strider in energy-draining blocks of ice. Strider will also dismantle a wide variety of robots and mechs as he explores Kazakh City; some simply float about and shoot at you, others are turrets attached to walls and ceilings, but the more troublesome robots are the larger variants that cause massive damage to Strider and take a lot of his skills to put down.

Strider2K14Gorilla
Yeah, a mechanical gorilla. Perfectly normal.

You’ll also come up against a decent variety of bosses in this game; you’ll battle Ouroboros, a large mechanical dragon, a couple of times (the first sees Strider running across the machine’s back amidst high winds, electrical blasts, and a slew of enemies, while the second sees Strider confined to some city ruins and contending with the Ouroboros’ ice attacks), Mecha Pon (a gigantic mechanical gorilla) in one of the game’s penultimate battles, and take part in series of faster-paced battles against the Wind Sisters. Just as you’ll be tested against gauntlets of enemies later in the game, so to will you eventually have to engage all of the Wind Sisters at once but, by that point, your abilities should be more than up to the challenge.

Strider2K14FinalBoss
The final boss is an eldritch nightmare…and in space…

At the end of the game, Strider faces off with Grandmaster Meio in a two-stage final boss battle. The first is a relatively run of the mill affair against the Grandmaster as he teleports around the arena firing energy bolts and lighting at you but, once he is defeated, you’ll be transported into the upper atmosphere to battler Meio’s true final form, Meio Prime, a gigantic Biblical monstrosity that would make Sephiroth blush in its pretentiousness. Yet, for all its bluster, Meio Prime is easily dispatched provided you can avoid its flailing tentacles and dodge its electrical bolts, which are easily its more annoying and hard-hitting attacks.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As mentioned, Strider can upgrade his Cypher Blade after defeating certain bosses. He begins the game with the standard red plasma, which allows him to hack-and-slash his enemies, but this is eventually upgraded to deal a downward blow, reflect blaster bolts, set enemies on fire, encase them in ice, or toss out homing blades, each time giving the plasma a new hue (blue, yellow, and purple). Strider can also charged his kunai with these different plasma types of the Cypher blade to also set enemies ablaze or freeze them on the spot.

Strider2K14Options
The “Options” allow Strider to perform more powerful attacks.

The “Options” Strider gains not only allow him to reach new areas of the game but also allow him to perform more powerful techniques in battle; performing these drains Strider’s power meter but, as this automatically replenishes with time and when you defeat enemies, it’s not often you have to worry about running out of energy (and this bar can be increased when you find hidden upgrades). The most useful of these techniques is easily Option C, which sees a robotic hawk deal massive damage to enemies and was super useful for whittling down the health bar of troublesome bosses.

Strider2K14Secrets
Unlock and customise new costumes for Strider.

As you explore your environment, you’ll find further upgrade pods to increase Strider’s health and energy bars, throw more kunai, unlock additional costumes for Strider, and unlock concept art and levels for the game’s “Challenge” mode. These aren’t too difficult to stumble across but the game’s map will let you know if there are any in the immediate vicinity; the one downside, however, is that if you fail to find them all before you enter Meio’s citadel, you will have to start a new save file from the beginning to find them as you’re unable to replay a completed save file.

Additional Features:
Strider has three difficulty levels to choose from and, if you want to unlock all of the game’s Achievements, you’ll have to take on and best the game’s highest difficulty. Speaking of Achievements, there are a handful of relatively easy ones to unlock here; mostly, these are unmissable but there are a few that require a bit more effort from you (such as defeating twenty consecutive enemies without being hit, or twenty enemies with Strider’s Panther ability).

Strider2K14Challenges
Take on the game’s “Challenge” modes and upload your best score to the leaderboard.

In addition, the game features two “Challenge” modes: “Beacon Run”, which sees Strider racing to checkpoints as quickly as possible, and “Survival”, in which Strider must survive against wave-upon-wave of enemies. As you pick up secret items in the game, you’ll unlock these modes and additional maps for each mode and, upon successful completion, you can upload your score and time to the online leaderboards.

Strider2K14Conclusion

The Summary:
Strider is simple, fast-paced fun; Strider controls like a dream and the game’s hack-and-slash combat is smooth as silk. The environments and common enemies may be bland but the game is still, visually, very appealing; Strider’s world feels very lived in and layered rather than just being a typical, desolate dystopian future and, while he’s not especially layered in terms of his personality, at least Strider looks and plays very well. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot here to come back to; the game feels long when you’re playing it, mainly due to the fact that you’re largely navigating a bustling, multi-layered city, but it’s hard to get a sense of progression when a lot of the areas look the same. Even with some of Strider’s later time-saving abilities, it definitely feels as though the developers chose to artificially extend the game’s playtime by having you run from one area to the next and always take the longest route to your next objective. Additionally, while some boss battles are grandiose, others are not; some are frustratingly annoying, while others are over in an instant. The lack of consistency drags the game down a bit and not being able to replay a completed save to find everything you missed was a real annoyance for me but, despite some of its flaws, it was a fun, entertaining sprint to play through and I could see myself revisiting Strider in the near future to find everything I missed the first time through.

2 Stars

Did you ever play this version of Strider? What did you think of the game’s unique aesthetic and attempt to reboot the Strider franchise? What is your favourite Strider videogame, or appearance of Strider Hiryu? Whatever you think about Strider, feel free to drop a comment below.

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