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Strider may have been the last property most of us expected Capcom to revitalize for 2014, but it's one that proved itself an ample fit for the bite-sized downloadables market, and with developer Double Helix hot off the excellent Killer Instinct reboot, our hopes were high. Stylish, sleek, and deadly with a blade, protagonist Strider Hiryu is just the sort of badass we imagined in our youth, this time realized in vibrant, colorful 3D. But not all is sunshine and sword slashes in this Metroidvania reimagining, and while the game generally manages to skip along at a quick clip, it does occasionally stumble as a result of its off-kilter balancing.
If there's a driving motif behind the action of Strider, it's to make speed stylish. Strider slashes, cartwheels, and leaps with silky speed, and makes it all look easy. The fidelity of control behind the character's actions is superb, and unlike many games, Strider does not see fit to place artificial limits on your ability to defend yourself. You can pretty much attack as quickly as you can mash the button, and it feels great to play a game that allows you to unleash your full set of reactionary skills.
This fiedlity transfers over to the platforming, which has you wall running, flipping across ceilings, and leaping from platform to platform at high speeds.
These basic features are complemented by three 'Option' abilities, which give Strider the ability to unleash a cyber panther on the ground, a shield droid in the air, or an eagle-shaped energy beam at a distance. Each of these abilities has its own time to shine, as you'll need a shield to protect you in some of the more frenzied encounters, and the energy beam works great against bosses.
These techniques should be familiar to those who played the classic back in the day, but a suite of new features makes the game more appealing to modern audiences. The most significant shift is in thegame's Metroidvania structuring. You'll find yourself wandering around a large hub world, unlocking more areas as you defeat bosses and power yourself up. By now, it's a familiar structure, but there's still something about seeing an unreachable area off in the distance and committing it to memory for later that's satisfying.
Strider's gear can also be upgraded now, so you'll unlock the ability to richochet laser blasts ack at enemies with your sword, for example, or set your sword on fire for extra damage. Our favorite was the Freeze Blade, which allows you to temporarily turn enemies into frozen platforms, allowing you to access new areas.
But where the structure of Strider has made the leap into modern design, some of its peripheral systems have not. Just like back in the day, your health bar will not regenerate, and this can lead to some frustrating scenarious. Health pickups are common enough during the regular levels, but boss battles make a point to deprive you of health packs entirely. The checkpoint placement in Strider compounds the issue, often placing you outside of a frustrating room that you must clear in order to get back to the boss. You'll often find yourself entering boss battles with much less than full health, an odd juxtoposition compared to the rest of the game, which is of standard difficulty.
Another issue, albeit a much smaller one, arises from a lack of variety in the level designs. If you pay attention, you'll notice that entire sections of level have been copy/pasted around different parts of the environment to provide the illusion of a larger world, when in fact you're just running through the same few areas. There's no variety to the backgrounds, either, making the game visually repetitive. There's no trace of the snowy Siberia or the Amazon jungle that fleshed out the original game, and that's a real shame. Instead, pretty much the entire game takes place in the futuristic Kazakh City. Double Helix manages to inject a bit of creativity into certain sections of the city, like a memorable but all-too-short zero-g section, but for the most part I was bored of looking at the game by the time its five and a half hour runtime had worn down. The repetitive environments also made some of the backtracking a little confusing, since some areas are literally exactly the same as others.
Overall, Strider's reboot is a sleek and fast-paced game that hits a few snags when it tries to speed beyond its ability. If Double Helix had been able to include more variety in the environments and place better checkpoints for bosses, we would have no trouble recomminding this precise slash-em-up. As is, however, this game is perhaps left to the more patient among us, as boss battles and navigation issues weaken an otherwise strong action game.
This game was reviewed for PC
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