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EGM Review: Strider

Posted on February 19, 2014 AT 09:26pm

A Cypher swing and a hit

I was optimistic, but extremely cautious, about Strider. While I don’t hold the crazy level of reverence for the series some of my friends do, I still have fond memories of the previous games—and I’m always wary of nostalgia-fueled revivals, given how they often turn out.

Well, Double Helix, you’ve done good. As their final project before being snatched up by Amazon (for some sort of super-secret plans), Strider was a joint project between the Irvine-based developer and Capcom’s Osaka studio, with the goal of giving the publisher’s iconic cyber-ninja Strider Hiryu his first starring role in 15 years.

When revealed last year during Capcom’s San Diego Comic-Con panel, Strider’s most interesting element, for me, was its basic design. While many know the series for its more action-oriented arcade roots, it was the NES release—which eschewed the more straightforward gameplay of the original Strider for an original, more adventure-oriented play style—that struck the biggest chord for me in those earlier years. Crazy jumps, climbing up walls, walking on ceilings—these elements felt new and exciting in an era when the rules for game genres were still being set.

This new Strider feels like a mix of the original arcade hit and that NES release. As Hiryu is dropped on the outskirts of the snowy, Soviet-style Kazakh City, his goal is simple: Run forward, run fast, and slice through anything that gets in his way. Not long afterward, however, the more adventure-based aspects start kicking in. Hiryu’s trademark sword, the Cypher, begins to gain new powers; doors and pathways that initially blocked progression are able to be opened; mission objectives update, and Hiryu’s next target is behind him in a previous location instead of ahead in a new one.

Strider never reaches the level of masterful exploration seen in the better Metroid or Castlevania entries, but it’s still very enjoyable. While there’s occasional confusion in understanding how each of the world’s sections connect together—especially when going off the beaten path to hunt down missed secrets—for the most part, the game directs players on where to go next. The things is, while I hate being told directions when I’m in the armored boot of Miss Aran, it works surprisingly well here. There’s enough opportunity for exploring unmapped sectors or hunting down hidden items that you’ll receive a good level of satisfaction for those activities—but they never get in the way of Strider’s main goal, its action.

And action, definitely, is the game’s biggest strength. Whoever deserves the credit, Hiryu’s control and repertoire are mostly top-notch. In the beginning, gameplay can seem somewhat simplistic, but by the time you’re well into unlocking all of the potential abilities, that concern is long gone. Countless times, I’d be running down a hall, reflecting bullets back at Grandmaster Meio’s robot soldiers, then sending Hiryu shooting through the air, cutting apart flying machines with my burning blade before double-jumping and snagging a ledge I thought was just out of reach. I’ve talked before about games that make the player feel empowered, and that’s absolutely what Strider does. Whether fighting even the simplest of foes or the menagerie of bosses—many of which will feel familiar to longtime Strider fans—Strider Hiryu comes off as the badass he’s supposed to be, and you’ll feel like a badass for being the one to bring that side out of him.

It’s a little heartbreaking, then, that Strider falls short of its true potential. It’s very, very good—but there’s just something missing needed to make it great, a feeling that permeates all of its aspects. Hiryu’s a blast to control once you’ve unlocked all of his attacks and abilities, but too many of those powers feel like they needed one extra step of leveling up. Boss fights are enjoyable and fulfilling, but they lack the sense of awe that made every major enemy encounter in the original Strider forever memorable. There’s a wonderful level of style and detail put into the background of each of the game’s locations, but those areas lack a grander overall sense of personality and uniqueness in their design.

In an era where it’s easy to become jaded as companies revive and repackage gaming’s past to sell to us again, there’s so many things that could have gone wrong with Strider. Instead, Capcom showed they still have faith in 2D gameplay, and Double Helix and Capcom Osaka showed that there’s still a lot of life left in this character, his world, and his adventures.

So, Strider Hiryu—after years of cameo appearances and serving as a guest star for fighting games, it’s nice to have you back where you truly belong.

Developer: Double Helix, Capcom Osaka • Publisher: Capcom • ESRB: E10+ • Release Date: 02.18.2014
Though it falls short of being fantastic, Strider is an impressive attempt to revive a classic Capcom franchise, one whose action, challenges, and player empowerment are more than worth experiencing.
The Good A highly enjoyable mix of classic elements from the arcade and NES versions of Strider brought together to form a respectable new entry to the action-adventure genre.
The Bad Many of the ideas never reach their true potential, and the game leans a little too much on those classic franchise elements.
The Ugly How a little detail, like Strider Hiryu’s sword swing not sounding exactly as it should, can be so heartbreaking.
Strider is available on Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Capcom for the benefit of this review.
Eric L. Patterson, Executive Editor
Eric L. Patterson got started via self-publishing game-related fanzines in junior high, and now has one goal in life: making sure EGM has as much coverage of niche Japanese games as can realistically be crammed in. Eric’s also active in the gaming community on a personal level, being an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming and consumer rights. Stalk Eric on Twitter: @Eric_EGM. Meet the rest of the crew.

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