Even though he has only starred in a few old school action games, there's a reason why so many people continue to love Strider Hiryu. It's not for his witty banter or diverse fashion sense, but rather because this futuristic ninja has one of the coolest weapons in video game history. It also doesn't hurt that he's incredibly agile; able to quickly climb, slide and dangle off of nearly every ledge and wall. And while many games have attempted to recreate the magic of Strider, few get the formula right.
Now, a quarter-century after the release of the arcade hit, Capcom is finally bringing Strider Hiryu out of retirement. Thanks to California-based Double Helix Games (who also recently rebooted the Killer Instinct franchise), one of my favorite characters is getting the next-generation treatment he deserves.
For better or worse, this new Strider feels like a checklist of everybody's favorite moments from the original 16-bit game. Our hero, a sword-wielding ninja with a long flowing scarf, swoops into Kazakh City to beat up Grandmaster Meio's robot army. Along the way we'll meet up with a giant mechanical gorilla, three Chun Li lookalikes and one very angry flying serpent. The premise, locations and bosses may look familiar, but the developers have done a good job of fleshing out the story and wrapping these disparate pieces into one somewhat coherent narrative.
Instead of being a straight-up action game like the arcade classic, this 21st century Strider shares some of the Metroid/Castlevania-style elements found in the far less exciting 8-bit NES game. Each of the various stages is connected, allowing players to revisit the different parts of Kazakh City. This is important, as Strider Hiryu is constantly earning abilities that open up new parts of the world.
While none of Strider's upgrades are especially original, they do go a long way to turning our hero into an unstoppable killing machine. Sure there's the double jump and slide, but Hiryu is also able to freeze enemies, throw a variety of projectiles, command several mechanical animals and even teleport in any direction. Although some of the new abilities are tied to defeating specific types of enemies, I never got bored of going back and using my super-powered moves to pick on Grandmaster Meio's most basic robot guards.
Even without the different types of weapons and special abilities, Strider Hiryu remains one of the most compelling action heroes working today. It's the sword, which he swings so fast that the human eye can barely see it. It leaves a quick outline, cutting through enemies with one satisfying flash of light. This time around players can aim the sword, as well as use it to launch enemies into the air to set up combos. These additions are smart and help add some depth to the combat, though it's hard to beat Strider's awesome sword.
While most remember Strider as being a straight-forward action game, the truth is that the original arcade title had a lot more going on than people remember. One stage may be all about climbing, while the next has our hero jumping between flying machines. Some of the stages even added new wrinkles to the gameplay, such as portions that see the player literally walking on the ceiling and orbiting a floating sphere. I was happy to see that this brand new Strider not only recreated these moments, but also found ways of making them relevant to the overall story.
When it comes down to it, I'm impressed that Double Helix managed to figure out how to draw a through line between all these weird story beats. This is, after all, a game with a huge mechanical gorilla, a large flying battle ship, gravity defying spheres and strong overtones to Soviet-era Russia. And did I mention that the three Chun Li lookalikes are finally explained? The story may not make a ton of sense, but I give credit to the developers for finding a way of working all these pieces into one very zany quest.
Unfortunately, sometimes the game is a little too zany for its own good. The supporting cast ranges from purposely cheesy to just plain bad. It doesn't help that Strider Hiryu often spouts cringe-inducing lines. There are a few great moments that help fill in the story, but there are far too many cut scenes dedicated to annoying characters whose only purpose is to send Strider on a fetch quest.
Speaking of fetch quests, I found the missions and open world structure ultimately stifled the arcade game's urgency. Instead of constantly moving forward, much of this new Strider involves backtracking and fighting through the same areas multiple times. To the game's credit, it does keep the action fresh by constantly offering upgrades and new abilities, but there's something about this sub-genre of game that doesn't feel as consistently exciting as that 16-bit arcade classic.
The connected world also limits the variety of backgrounds Strider experiences. Players will see a lot of Kazakh City, along with a prison, laboratory, subway station, airship and more. Each of these areas has a unique look and new types of enemies, but most are indoors and start to run together after a while. Thankfully, Strider mixes things up with moments of anti-gravity and other fun quirks, but I was disappointed that the actual stages weren't as diverse as the arcade game. Some of my favorite stages from the original were the snow-covered mountains and jungles filled with robot dinosaurs, but neither of these areas are explored in this new Strider. Instead we get hours of drab indoor locales.
Thankfully, the combat and play mechanics are strong enough to make up for many of these disappointments. It's also a lot of fun to explore the world, and Hiryu's many abilities make reaching tough areas a snap. This new game makes good use out of Strider's ability to climb walls and hang from ledges. Best of all, there are a lot of upgrades and collectables that make searching each stage worthwhile.
Although I complain about the indoor stages, I was impressed by Strider's overall look. Hiryu's sword has never looked shinier, creating sparks and other lighting effects as it rips through the robot fiends. The backgrounds are full of believable details and Kazakh City has never looked better. There are also a number of impressive boss fights, including one on the top of a flying serpent and another involving those floating spheres I talked about earlier. There's nothing about this game that couldn't be done on the PlayStation 3, but it certainly looks sharp on Sony's next-generation console.
While I will likely always prefer the original arcade game, this brand new Strider is a great start to what will hopefully be an ongoing series. I would love to see a sequel dig up those robot dinosaurs and finally make sense of Journey from Darkness: Strider Returns, the unofficial Genesis follow-up by Tiertex. This reboot is not perfect, but it's great to have Strider Hiryu back in action. He's been missed.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
It's questionable how accurate this is, but this is all that's known about Cyril Lachel: A struggling writer by trade, Cyril has been living off a diet of bad games, and a highly suspect amount of propaganda. Highly cynical, Cyril has taken to question what companies say and do, falling ever further into a form of delusional madness. With the help of quality games, and some greener pastures on the horizon, this back-to-basics newsman has returned to provide news so early in the morning that only insomniacs are awake.