After decades of lurking in the shadows, Strider Hiryu finally returns to his side scrolling roots. Luckily he has been keeping his ninja skillz fresh with appearances in a number of Capcom series’ but this marks his first standalone game since the Sega Genesis in 1992. After some production turmoil, Double Helix picked up the Cypher and brought us 2014’s re-imagining of the series. It is a bit of a hybrid of Strider titles past. It brings together the action platforming, locales, and characters seen in the coin-op original with the exploratory nature of its console siblings. I remember spending many frustrating hours playing Strider on the NES and Genesis, so when I heard it was being re-imagined I was stoked.
Unfortunately Double Helix didn’t just bring the good over from the coin-op original, they brought the non-existent story. The only thing I can tell you about Strider is his name is Hiryu, he likes blue, and he doesn’t seem to care much for neo-Russian Kazakh…. and of course he’s a bad ass, albeit not the stealthiest of ninjas. I think him and Ryu from the NES Ninja Gaidens are competing for the least subtle ninja on the planet. Other than that, I have no clue why he has such animosity towards Grandmaster Meio and his army of minions. With an army that includes an angelic bounty hunter named Solo and the trio of Pooh sisters, Double Helix should have been able weave a narrative Strider deserves. The lack of a story when designing a quarter gobbler is one thing, but with a 10 hour console experience it’s borderline inexcusable.
Nostalgia kicks into high gear the minute Hiryu hits the ground running at his signature 45 degree angle. The controls are crisp and responsive and Hiryu is capable of swinging his Cypher as fast as you can press the button, which is surprisingly fulfilling at first. Is does not take long to realize why Hiryu is considered a Super-A ninja. Hiryu is also equipped with climbing sickles right out of the gate giving him the ability to scale walls and “crawl” along the ceilings. While I like the sickles they can lead to some clunky platforming from time to time. There is one instance in particular when you are being chased down an obstacle filled hallway and more than once Hiryu decided to cling to a wall or ceiling which lead to him being chopped up by the pursuing lasers. Lucky for my Dualshock4 these moments were not too often, but there were enough for it to be an issue.
I have to admit one of the things I was really looking forward to was growing the Cypher blade to obnoxious proportions like in the Genesis game. Sadly this does not happen this time around. You still find upgrades scattered around the map, but instead of viagra pellets for your Cypher, you find different plasma types that change it’s properties. One plasma type grants an explosivity to your sword that will engulf your enemies in flames after you land a big hit. Another will encase them in a shell of ice after a couple quick jabs. The last plasma type is labeled as magnetic but I am not quite sure why because it feels about as “magnetic” as Wolverine’s adamantium claws. It allows you to shoot some purple “boomerangs” from your Cypher and some how that makes you the master of magnetism. Early on you unlock the ability to charge your swing which will give you a power attack that can be used in tandem with each of the plasma types.
On top of the Cypher upgrades you also find 3 special attacks. They are the “options” from the old games. Once again you are able to summon the flaming bird, the robotic lion and what can only be described as floating R2-D2 heads. You will also find a throwing weapon in the Kunai, which has a smattering of upgrades littered around the map waiting to be discovered. The three options and the Kunai all drain energy from the energy bar so make sure to pace yourself when using them. The power ups in Strider were well paced and I did feel rewarded exploring the map. I do have to add one caveat to that though, I REALLY wish it would auto-save collected items instead of making me scour areas to reclaim booty after dying.
Sadly the different areas of the map feel a bit bland, and by a bit I mean extraordinarily. I understand that the entire game takes place in the same city, but honestly is there no such thing as an interior designer in Neo- Russia? In other words, “This town needs an enima!” Moving from area to area didn’t feel much different with only a couple of exceptions being the anti-gravity area (which is fantastic) and an airship. Each area is draped in drab dull coloring with mostly unimpressive lighting. The visuals aren’t bad per say, it just gives gamers no visual rewards for exhaustively running back and forth in Kazakh. That being said the anti-gravity stage is one of the better stages I can remember in a 2D platformer. The experience is as jarring as I imagine it might be to experience anti gravity, but it plays perfectly in the game. All the sudden the floor is the ceiling and vis versa. On top of the game being thrown on it’s head, Grandmaster Meio actually splurged on some neon to liven up the joint. It’s the only real gem in a sea of sand.
Double Helix seemed to have have a rough go at deciding how difficult they wanted to make the game. One moment you’ll slice through grunts like a hot knife through butter. Next you’ll encounter a corridor with flame-throwing turrets that melt your life-bar like a blue flame on a marshmallow. On top of that most of the boss fights are more or less a test of how fast you can mash the attack button. Very few boss fights offer little more than a race to see who can deplete their opponent’s health bar faster, and I don’t mean that in a good way. I’m all for a tough showdown with Tong Pooh, but I wish it felt more like a battle of ninja-skillz instead of a dexterity test for my right thumb. Another facepalm with the boss fights is the inane pre-fight chatter that cannot be skipped if you die. If you are going to make me watch the same pre-fight banter you could have at least consulted with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin or The Rock to keep it mildly interesting.
Despite my laundry list of headaches I did mostly enjoy my time with this version of Strider. The silky gameplay was enough to carry this Strider through the ongoing battle. While I can say this will not go down as my favorite game, I am walking away with a renewed hope that we may yet see one of Capcom’s most beloved characters get a story worthy of his Super-A ninja skillz.
*Review based on PS4 version, also available on Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, and PC