Fast action but low stakes in ‘Strider’

Jon Mercer
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PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC

I recall, way back in 2008 and 2009, how now-defunct Swedish game developer Grin was knee deep in remaking Capcom’s late ’80s NES smash-hit “Bionic Commando.” Rumours began to spread that they had been tapped for relaunches of both Sega’s “Streets of Rage” and another slice of Capcom fried gold from the decade of decadence in the form of “Strider.”

A screenshot from the game “Strider.” — Submitted image

As we all know, while “Bionic Commando ReArmed” was a success, three of Grin’s Triple-A releases — the full on “Bionic Commando,” “Wanted: Weapons of Fate” and “Terminator: Salvation” — fizzled out with critics and gamers alike, leading to the studio’s closure.

Now, five years past those little slivers of hope, Capcom Osaka and Double Helix Games have teamed up for an HD relaunch of the Strider brand across Sony and Microsoft’s home consoles, as well as PC.

It’s been two and a half decades since Strider Hiryu carved up the arcades and the Sega Genesis. Is his blade still sharp?

Forty-eight years after an alien overlord seized control of the USSR-esque nation of Kazakh, the Strider organization (a futuristic clan of Ninja warriors) has decided to remove him from power through use of Hiryu — their mightiest agent.

Standing in his way are robotic terrors, bounty hunters, elite guards and lethal assassins.

While the setting and story are directly drawn from the arcade classic, “Strider” draws inspiration from the curiosity that was the 1989 NES port, or perhaps more accurately, feels heavily influenced by “Metroid” or “Shadow Complex.”

Players are let loose in a massive game world, that is still split into manageable levels thanks to most of the game being blocked off until Strider Hiryu learns new abilities or gains new weapons. These are usually doled out through boss encounters.

Gamers start the adventure with a fairly potent laser sword, a ridiculously acrobatic leap, and the ability to attach to and scale surfaces. This repertoire expands to include four additional types of sword damage, air dashes, dive attacks, throwing knives, robotic animal companions, and the ability to reflect laser fire with timed sword strokes.

My biggest gripe with “Strider” is that the game is well into its final third before these abilities become useful, and the difficulty ascends to anything more than remedial.

You see, for the bulk of “Strider’s” running time, the game doesn’t ask for anything more strenuous than standing toe to toe with enemies and mashing the attack button. The action has no weight to it — Hiryu absorbs enemy gunfire by the barrow load, and scores life replenishing little blue crosses just as quickly.

It’s not until late in the game that bosses demand more than a war of attrition, or the platforming is anything at all demanding. However, in that final act, when traversal demands clever use of the Ice sword, along with the air dash — when Hiryu’s double jump becomes a necessity — “Strider” transmogrifies itself into an action platformer that demands your attention. It’s wonderful stuff that makes the barren opening two thirds truly pitiful by association.

This is an unfortunate turn of events, because there is a lot about “Strider” to get excited about if you’re a fan of action games. It hits the ground running (literally), and gets down to the nitty gritty of slicing Soviet robot soldiers in half in less time than a heartbeat.

But not enough is done with its upgrades and new abilities until gamers are right on the steps of Grandmaster Meio’s throne room. The initial thrill of new attacks wears off as enemies don’t require their usage, relegating them to opening doors and vents.

For the most part, “Strider” looks and sounds great. The character models are simple, yet colourful and full of cool little additions, such as Hiryu’s scarf (which is made of plasma in the remake) changing colours to match his equipped weapons.

I do wish the levels themselves had a little more variety in their look, but in a game that is only supposed to be five hours, I can deal with the heavy blues and use of bloom lighting. The soundtrack is pretty good, and the dialogue is at the very least worthy of Saturday morning cartoons.

Gamers would do well to toy with “Strider’s” sound mix, as i found on default, just about everything is drowned under the trademark “sching” of his rapid-fire sword slashing. It was really cool to hear a nice mix of music from both the arcade game and the under appreciated NES game being remixed.

Capcom and Double Helix almost had something memorable with “Strider.” It opens and closes powerfully, with lightning fast, fun swordplay and platforming. But the middle act drags significantly, and not enough is done with Strider Hiryu’s gained powers and attacks to justify the “Metroidvania” game design until the game is all but over.

I hope it performs well, as there are seeds planted of an excellent action title, and just about all of its problems could be fixed with a well focused sequel. Now, somebody get started on a proper remake of “Shatterhand.”

Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC (PS4 version reviewed).

Developer: Double Helix Games and Capcom Osaka.

Publisher: Capcom.

Release Date: Feb. 18.

Rated: T for Teen.

Email Jon Mercer


Organizations: Microsoft, Strider organization

Geographic location: Osaka

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