There once was a game called Strider. Filled with fantastic side-scrolling action and a bad-ass hero with a singularly powerful weapon and skill set, the game gave countless hours of challenging enjoyment to kids everywhere. Yeah, don’t forget that back in the day, gaming was primarily a child’s hobby. Things may have changed on the demographic front but the fact remains: Strider is still awesome. And despite a few minor disappointments, this new effort from Double Helix Games has the old-school greatness where it counts.
Although playing the game on the PlayStation 4 is a wonderfully smooth experience, I’m not all that crazy about the visual presentation. Don’t get me wrong; the animations are superb, the special effects are top-tier, and some of the enemy designs are pretty damn slick. However, I just don’t like the environment all that much. I’m not a fan of the heavily mechanized future on display in Strider. I find it oppressive and boring. I do admit that it’s more of a subjective complaint, but I would’ve liked to see more vibrant, attractive backdrops. Still, the technical elements are a big highlight.
Your assessment of the audio will depend on your acceptance of cheesy ‘80s-like voice acting. Obviously, story doesn’t exactly play a central role in the game, but every now and then, a few voices find their way through the maelstrom of action. The cheeseball nature of the acting fits the retro style, but some might consider it a drawback. The only other issue I have involves the sound balancing, because the mixing of effects, music, and the occasional voice isn’t spot-on. That soundtrack is sweet, though, even if I did want to hear a lot more of it during my rousing adventure.
If you recall the good ol’ days of side-scrolling action/platforming with fondness, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy Strider. The developers didn’t produce the strict 2D style; this is a 2.5D structure that allows for various perspectives and innovation. This can lead to a few small problems – the camera isn’t perfect in all viewpoints, for example – but the overall dynamic nature wins out. Even if you’re not a huge fan of the atmosphere, as I wasn’t, you’re inevitably sucked into the ceaseless, challenging action. At first, it feels straightforward and even a trifle thin, but things pick up rapidly.
That’s really one of the best aspects of this retro re-imagining: The pacing. The designers capture the old-fashioned frenetic speed of the original IP, while still providing players with a steady progression. That progression reminds me of Goldilocks; it’s not too fast, it’s not too slow; it’s just right. On top of which, the game isn’t 100% linear, as you can explore a bit. There are secrets to find and a handy-dandy map makes exploration all the more attractive. Clearly, all these gameplay elements are modern gameplay implements, and they gel with the old-school formula very well.
Movement is simple and responsive. At the start, the highly capable ninja can only run and jump. Soon, though, he’ll earn a nifty slide and a downward slash (both of which open up more portions of the environment), along with combat-related abilities like reflecting bullets and throwing knives. He even has a form of magic, which takes the shape of a golden eagle of death. When you’ve earned most of Strider’s arsenal, you’ll realize there’s more strategy to the game than you might’ve imagined; how you employ your abilities is entirely up to you. It really just depends on your play style.
Your new powers are called Cyphers and earning new ones will expand your world. They can unlock previously inaccessible areas, and they can also put a serious art on the legion of foes that just keep coming. The enemies range from worthless to extremely challenging, and there are a few memorable boss encounters. We can find even more depth in the combat, because each enemy has particular strengths and weaknesses; depending on their color, they’re weak against a particular Cypher. You’ll want to consider your health, your personal ability and gaming style, and the enemies you face. This may sound like too much for a simple action game, but it all blends together nicely.
For me, it got a little overwhelming juggling all of Strider’s abilities, especially when I was facing a gauntlet of enemies and platforming challenges. At that point, it almost seemed as if Double Helix tried to do too much in revamping this classic. My gaming skills can be called into question, though, as I never proclaimed to be an expert in such genres. There was a reason I gravitated toward turn-based RPGs early, after all. Even so, I had a lot of fun playing Strider, because the balancing, appropriate difficulty (if you’re unschooled in old-school style, choose Easy), and overall streamlined nature of the game is exemplary.
If you can finish the campaign, you can give those Challenge Modes a try. There’s Survival and Beacon; one tests your combat skill while the other tests your platforming prowess. You can select the Cyphers you wish to take with you into each Survival bout, and you simply need to survive as long as you can. Beacon is all about expertly negotiating the environment to reach a certain goal in record time. Enemies block your path but don’t waste time trying to deal with ‘em! You can compare your performance against others on the leaderboards and these modes add some flavor to the package. There’s quite a bit of fun to be had for $14.99.
Strider successfully reinvents a classic. With its tight, super-fluid control, engaging and dynamic 2.5D presentation, and excellent balancing throughout, the game is destined to hook you from the outset. The camera isn’t always your best friend (depending on the viewpoint) and the full arsenal can feel a tad overwhelming, but there’s no doubt that “fun” is at this game’s core. Sure, the story is basically a throwaway script and I didn’t really like the atmosphere too much, but it’s just too entertaining to put down! Isn’t that what any good game should try to do?
The Good: Beautiful animations and special effects. Responsive, engaging control. Great balancing throughout. Challenge Modes add some flair. Dynamic and absolutely entertaining.
The Bad: Camera isn’t always perfect. Not my favorite atmosphere.
The Ugly: “Okay, now this boss is starting to irritate me.”
2/20/2014 Ben Dutka