Level Up: Strider
Maybe I’m dating myself here, but the adage “everything old is new again” has never seemed truer. All the media I grew up with is being repackaged, resold and rebooted. Be it Saturday morning cartoons like Thundercats and Transformers or films like Total Recall and Robocop, it seems nothing is safe from profit via regurgitation. Hell, even the Ancient Aliens craze from the last couple years is a retread of Eric Von Daniken’s book and film Chariots of the Gods from the 70’s. It makes you wonder if our entire culture is suffering from short-term memory-loss. This may be true, especially when you consider spreading legalization of marijuana, but it probably has more to do with investors banking on nostalgia and established brands instead of risking their cash on an original idea. And while I’m not looking forward to a further bastardization of my beloved Ninja Turtles at the hands of Michael Bay, I can’t say the trend of bringing back old franchises is all bad.
The latest reboot in the video game world is Strider, which just launched across all consoles as a downloadable title. Although there are a few Strider games, it’s probably best known as 1989’s fast-paced arcade game set in a futuristic Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. Hiryu’s lightning-speed plasma sword and cartwheel jumps made Strider one of the first games to leave the player feeling like a total-badass. The game was actually rebooted in 2000 on the Playstation as Strider 2, but 14 years is long enough to forget and there’s a daily invasion of babies, so let’s just make a new one and call it plain ol’ Strider again!
I always liked the stylish badassery of Strider, but the linear design didn’t propel me to complete any of them. The best thing about this reboot is that Double Helix (who also developed the recent Killer Instinct reboot) has taken the game’s focus on speed and placed it in a full-on metroidvania. The game is done in a 2.5D style, with 3D models placed on a 2D plane, but unlike the original games, it’s now one big interconnected world that has you gradually gain power-ups to completely explore it. It’s a truly perfect fit for the style, which is all about movement. As the map expands your ability to cruise through it is amplified by speed boosts, dashes and double jumps. The new layout really allows the mechanics of Strider to shine.
Graphically it’s quite stylish. Hiryu looks cool with his glowing-scarf-thingie floating behind him and he has plenty of flashy moves. Unfortunately the environments tend to be stick to grays and blues resulting in a certain samey-ness to everything. I have to note that the perspective and scale of things really reminds me of Shadow Complex, another great metroidvania on the Xbox 360. The best aspect of the presentation is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The bosses are zany as hell and have deliberately overblown voice-acting. It’s great that Hiryu’s stoic persona is offset by the ridiculousness of his company. There are few gaming cliches more overused than the brooding protagonist in a dark world that lacks any sense of it’s own silliness.
As much as I dig the game it’s not without it’s flaws. It’s easy to get lost in the end-game when you’re trying to collect all the hidden items because the map doesn’t show a clear connection between areas. The monotone graphics only make matters worse since there are few landmarks to distinguish one area from another. It’s a bummer because the game has great pacing up until the power-up hunt at the end. You do have the option to bypass this exploration, but the last area is so tough that you’ll want to grab whatever power-ups you can to up your chances of survival.
My other gripe is that they forced you to use the analog stick for movement, with no option to switch to the D-pad. I’d often find myself facing the wrong direction at the worst moments because of the oversensitivity of the analog controls. A game based on speed and precision on a 2D plane needs the direct input of D-pad controls in my opinion. While the controls are set to select different weapons via D-pad, they could have had the option to swap the functions from d-pad to stick and vice-versa. This complaint is pretty minor in the grand-scheme of things as the controls function superbly overall.
I’m sure there’s a vocal minority on the internet proclaiming that Double Helix has shat in the face of the Strider by Metroid-izing it, but I’d say this is a rare example of a reboot that actually revitalizes a seemingly dead franchise. The focus on fast traversal that has always been key to Strider is so tailor-made for a non-linear design that the design choice is, in-hindsight, a no-brainer. It may not stand up to classics of the genre like Super Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, but it’s solid in it’s own right and for a guy who loves games in this style, it’s well worth the fiftten bucks to download.
Check out Evan Sammons’ newly launched personal blog, Exegesis of Evan Sammons.