Will Strider Hiryu leave Eurasia alive?
There’s always a strange mix of excitement and concern whenever a company announces that they’re reviving a classic franchise that hasn’t been touched in years—especially when the team doing so has little to no connection to the games that caused that series to become beloved enough to be worth revisiting.
My emotions were certainly mixed over Strider. The last time we’d been given a proper Capcom-produced Strider game was 13 years ago, and even that was a project that some fans felt didn’t live up to Strider Hiryu’s legacy. Then there was the announcement that the developer would be Double Helix—whose last release was 2012’s Battleship.
As I stood in line at Tokyo Game Show 2013 to play Capcom’s attempt to reintroduce the series to today’s gamers, that gap in releases really hit me when EGM reviews editor Ray Carsillo mentioned that, for him, Strider existed only as a character in the Marvel vs. Capcom games.
Hearing that floored me—and made me feel old. I remember being introduced to Strider as one of a long line of amazing, original properties Capcom was pumping out for Nintendo’s 8-bit NES. I remember finally getting to play the arcade version of Strider, and being in shock at finding out just how different it was. Then, some time later, I remember how big of a deal it was when an arcade port of Strider hit the Genesis, big (in many ways) due to it being the system’s first 8-megabit cartridge.
It’s that NES release that I instantly recalled when Capcom revealed this new Strider at San Diego Comic-Con a few months back. Arcade games were often changed when they hit home consoles so that they’d work on the lower-powered systems of that era, and the NES Strider eschewed the fast-paced linear action of the arcade release for an adventure based on exploration, backtracking, and ability upgrades.
Some of those elements are being promised for this new iteration of Strider, but we’re getting those elements combined with some of that faster action found in the original arcade release. Playing the game today, it really did feel like a blending of the two ideas; the running and slicing is mixed with some degree of exploration and character progression. The demo started out simple enough—run forward and slice apart the Soviet-inspired robotic enemies before they can shoot you—but soon I found myself in a larger complex where running from left to right no longer gained me any progress.
My travels through the not-all-that-long demo offered me the chance to run really fast, kill stuff, try my hand at some light exploration, find hidden objects that unlocked new abilities for Hiryu, and finally tackle a boss. Unlocks tucked away in the corners of the demo’s map were, at this point, what you’d expect: having Hiryu’s slide do damage to enemies, the ability to reflect bullets with every sword swipe, a longer-ranged charge attack, and the fire-sword power previously shown at the game’s reveal.
All things to give a taste of what the bigger, full game would be like, and all things that—to my delight—felt right. The sample size was small, I know that, and I’m smart enough not to make too solid of a judgement at this point. Still, I can’t help but feel hopeful. I don’t mean any insult to the Double Helix team, but they didn’t have a track record with me that proved they could properly handle a cult classic like Strider. And, to be fair, this isn’t their effort alone—folks on the Capcom side are working closely with them on the game’s development.
What I got to play today in Strider felt like Strider, inasmuch as I remember what Strider felt like to me. There’s a sense of style and slickness here, from the visual effects that are ever-present during gameplay (or at least under the conditions in which I played), to how Hiryu moves, attacks, and interacts with the world around him. Control—one of the things I worry about most when it comes to a Strider game—felt spot-on most of the time, providing a sense of both enjoyment and empowerment as I had Hiryu flipping and attacking in a beautiful acrobatic dance of death. Plus, the Metroidvania-esque balance between action and adventure felt fitting with the character and his world, just as I thought it did way back in the 8-bit days.
There were a few aspect that I hope will be tightened up by the time the game sees its final release. Climbing, for example, got a bit tricky when trying to go from a vertical surface to a horizontal one. Of course, that was an issue even in the original Strider titles, and this reimagining of the series has until its to-be-determined 2014 release to get polished up. Additionally, the stage we were shown had some elements of real design beauty when revealing more of the outdoors backdrops, but the internals of the base weren’t nearly as thrilling.
Still, I walked away with a much different set of expectations for the rebirth of Strider than I had had walking in. I hope that my time spent with the game is indeed a hint of what’s to come in the future. I’m now far more hopeful for its prospects than I—possibly unfairly—was before. Of course, there’s also a downside to now having higher expectations for the game: the increased potential for being let down in the end.
For my sake—and for Strider Hiryu’s—let’s hope that doesn’t happen.