Credit must go to Capcom for even undertaking this project to bring back Strider from the 8 & 16 bit retro warehouse. In a world where multiplayer, social media, and interconnectivity are king, returning to an arcade classic and bringing it into the HD era, whilst not compromising its core gameplay principles, is certainly a risk, but one that should be applauded. First released in 1989, the original was met with a large amount of plaudits and popularity. Yet despite this, Strider and its extremely popular protagonist have slipped somewhat in obscurity. Nevertheless, thanks to fan support Capcom have brought back Strider Hiryu one more time.
Retelling the story of the original arcade classic, Strider is now set in the year of Meio 2048, where the Grandmaster Meio rules over all of Earth with an iron fist, from the capital of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. However, there are people who stand against the Grandmaster, and this is where Hiryu comes in, the youngest Special A Strider, from a group of high-tech mercenaries who utilise the skills of Ninjas. Nevertheless, right from the off the story is pushed to the background somewhat, in favour of focusing on gameplay. This does though require the player to add a little bit of imagination to the plot.
Gameplay and the structure is where Strider shines. Utilising the foundations of the original title, Capcom and Double Helix have added vast amounts of exploration and a power up system, both of which are highly reminiscent of classics such as Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, throwing this game squarely into the fittingly titled Metroidvania sub-genre. Throughout the game players will find themselves slowly gaining access to new abilities which will encourage you to explore more and more of Kazakh City. Here the game does an excellent job of pacing, meaning that you will feel yourself getting stronger alongside Hiryu, giving you time to familiarise yourself with each new power, and preventing the player from becoming overwhelmed. Despite this move to an exploration focus, there are still some fantastic platforming parts on offer. Especially when you research the mad scientist’s laboratory, which involves clever use of lasers, and an antigravity element very reminiscent of the Death Egg Zone in Sonic 3 & Knuckles.
As stated the core action of the game maintains the heart of the original title, and when combined with the intuitive control system really creates some impressive fluid flowing 2D action. The main weapon that you’ll start the game with is the trusty Cipher which acts as your sword. Having only the solitary weapon does make the opening of the game feel a little repetitive, and could see a lot of players give up on Strider. However, this soon changes once you start accessing the other abilities. All in all, the game’s pacing, alongside its easy to understand and intuitive controls, really speak to the retro mindset, putting enjoyable gameplay at the forefront.
There are some gameplay issues though, one of which is the awkward save system. Strider employs both a checkpoint and a save system, checkpoints are common and very useful for respawning. However, save data is not actually being recorded when you hit a checkpoint, with this reserved for rooms specially placed throughout the world where you can save and refill your health. Another issue is the lack of a new game plus option. This means that if you want to collect everything you’ll have to do it one playthrough, and on top of that all of your added health and skills are lost on restarting the game. This is something simple that really shouldn’t be absent from a game in this genre, and does mean that replay value takes a hit. The game can also seem to have high difficulty spikes. You’ll find yourself sometimes too easily making your way throughout the world, only to be obliterated by the boss.
Yet it should be said this doesn’t detract at all from the enjoyment of the game, with each boss having a distinct strategy, just like the good old days. On the plus, boss battles are also a time when the game shows off more of its complexity, sometimes becoming gleefully chaotic. One such battle involves a three on one, and looks extremely complicated, and spectacular, from both a player and a spectator viewpoint.
It’s not just boss battles where the game’s style flourishes. Graphically Strider looks superb, especially Hiryu himself. This stylish presentation though is aided by the simplicity of the game, which obviously draws more focus onto the presentation. This isn’t restricted to Hiryu though, with both the foreground and background animations really bringing the game to life, invoking the feel of a graphic novel. The soundtrack is also just as stylish. The soundtrack involves a variety of different tracks, many of which have a high pace and tempo, distinctly giving an 80s inspired futuristic feel. As such, the presentation distinctly brings back memories of gaming’s past with a modern twist.
There are a wealth of extras on offer scattered within the game too. These add to the replay value, and range from concept art, to power ups, to alternate costumes and new modes. The most interesting of these extras is possibly the story intel, and alternate costumes that reveal the fates of Striders that came before you. These specifically, flesh out the story for those who do want a little more from this area.
Despite being a game that grows into itself, Strider is a game with exceptional gameplay, and a spirit that truly captures the heart of retro, making you not want to stop playing. Strider is exactly what you’d want from a game made through the lens of updating a retro game for the modern age, whilst not losing what made it popular in the first place. From the throwback to the USSR within the plot, to the penultimate boss fight which seems to have come straight out of Return of the Jedi, everything here is inspired by earlier days. Ultimately, if you’re fan of 8 & 16 bit gaming, and want a throwback to simpler days when gaming was pushed to the forefront over everything else, then you certainly need to give Strider a go.