Written Wednesday, February 19, 2014 By Lee Bradley
I’m old enough to remember Strider when it first hit consoles in 1989. The SEGA Mega Drive version blew my mind. It had a stunning futuristic aesthetic, a pumping techno soundtrack and an acrobatic ninja hero, making it a world away from the cutesy platformers of the time. I loved it.
In many ways then, I’m the target market for this Double Helix reboot. Developed by the same studio that bought Killer Instinct to Xbox One last year, it’s a title that reimagines many of the abilities, enemies and mechanics of the original game within a new, Metroidvania-style world. A combination of nostalgia and a little invention, I’m bound to love it. Right?
The bigger they are...
The action kicks off with a new version of the classic glider entrance, as Strider enters Kazakh City with instructions to take out big bad dictator dude, Grandmaster Meio. I know this contextual info because there’s a little blurb in the menus, not because it’s explicitly explained in the game. This new version of Strider takes a defiantly old-school approach to story in that, well it basically hasn’t got one. You’ll get the odd line of deliberately cheap and cheesy dialogue, but that’s about it.
Instead, Strider focuses its efforts on action, the core of which is pleasingly smooth. Running, jumping, sliding, slashing and climbing feel great, with the bog-standard enemies providing little resistance to the sharp side of your Cypher plasma blade. Early on it zips along at quite a rate, making the backtracking and exploring aspect of the game painless and empowering; enemies sliced in half as our hero’s scarf trails stylishly behind him.
"Prepare to be bissected!”
You gain further abilities as the game goes on, slowly building up the arsenal sported by Strider in the original game (and its sequel). Orbiting drones, slides, double jumps, the panther - each is added and called upon almost immediately to reach new areas and defeat new enemies. Slides allow access to grates in the walls, double jumps reach higher ledges and on it goes. Different types of plasma also factor in too, helping to open doors and destroy colour-coded shields. It’s rare to go longer than 20 minutes without gaining a new toy, adding an urgency and a sense of progression to the already spritely experience.
But then you hit a boss. In a further nod to Strider’s roots, they’re tough; demanding pattern recognition, ultra-quick reflexes and an approach to the attack button that’ll have Microsoft and Sony’s hardware engineers in a sweat. As the game goes on the challenge provided by these bosses rises exponentially, so by the last few you’ll be dying again and again. Whether you enjoy this experience or not is largely down to taste, but Strider’s bosses are never unfair. They’re tough (and often infuriating) by design.
Pink death rays a-go-go.
However, because of all this there’s a euphoric sense of achievement to each victory, especially when you’ve fallen to a boss a few times beforehand. It helps of course that it’s accompanied by the pop of an achievement. Strider may not have the most creative list, but it knows when to reward the player, offering achievements for collectibles and skill, but mostly for downing bosses. The highlight is Speed Demon, which challenges players for completing the game within four hours. Attainable but far from easy, it’s a nice excuse to give the game another run.
It’s a decent game then, one that offers nostalgic tugs with flying air fortress levels, giant robo-gorilla enemies, gravity orbs and loads of the trappings of the original game, while offering satisfying combat and slick platforming. But there’s a few problems. The presentation is poor, the majority of the environments are indistinctive, the map and the on-screen indicators make exploration optional rather than essential, and the soundtrack is unmemorable, despite borrowing cues from the original.
So while there’s plenty to admire about Strider, it doesn’t match up to the love letter of Grin’s Bionic Commando Rearmed, nor Backbone’s perfection-driven revisit of Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Instead, it’s a serviceable, largely enjoyable but slightly scrappy modernisation of a well-remembered platformer. Do I love it? No. But I’m glad it exists.
Every now and again you’ll hear an effect or a cue in the soundtrack that tugs at your nostalgia, but it’s otherwise unremarkable. The voice acting is, perhaps deliberately, awful.
Many of the environments are utterly indistinctive and the art style feels cheap and uninspiring. It’s a shame considering the visually striking source material.
The platforming and combat feels slick, making progression through the secret passageway-filled areas enjoyable, while the infuriation of the later boss battles gives way to jubilation with each victory.
Campaign length can vary between four and seven hours depending on your approach. Two challenge modes add to the value but little else.
Not particularly creative, and heavily weighted towards boss battles, Strider’s achievement list nevertheless knows what goals to reward the player for.
A decent revisit of a fondly remembered classic, Strider gives its ageing source material a modern twist to solid effect. Beware though; if you’ve no patience for tough, pattern-filled, old-school boss fights, you may want to look elsewhere.
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