A dystopian city etches the background as you barrel down an incline at a breakneck pace. You rush by a set a set of robotic guards and leave behind only their searing hot split torsos. In the distance, a man named “The Barron” assaults the intercom with of rules and regulations for the community. He reminds us to avoid confrontation with the higher powers for fear of punishment. To you, the robots and the humans aren’t frightening. They are barely even a challenge. After all, you are Strider Hiryu.
After an 11 year hiatus the 2014 title may start out with a high-octane opening like the ones before, but a scant half hour of gameplay reveals the true “Metroidvania” nature of the game. Locked doors are everywhere. So are enemies that are more vulnerable to said upgrades. Not every door needs to be opened and every enemy destroyed to complete the game though, so you can not return to earlier areas. Altogether you’ll only miss a few extra health pickups and some collectibles.
Make no mistake, however, Strider is an action-based game through and through. It leans hard on your ability to quickly negotiate through any number of enemies and not how quickly you can solve a puzzle. Strider may be able to swing his sword as fast as you can mash the attack button, but the enemies will always hit harder. With no ability to block attacks, dodging isn’t just encouraged; it’s downright vital.
The odds may seem almost completely against you at the start, but Strider eventually learns a set of skills to take down any enemy or physical barrier in his way. It starts with only a simple slide kick to avoid bullets and break grates but escalates to more dynamic attributes such as an ice covered sword to freeze certain enemies in place.
Strider likes to craft it’s visuals around the 2013 release Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, eschewing old-school sprites for up-to-date polygonal pieces. Bright neon colors saturate the screen. Thin scanlines, the horizontal black and colored lines present on older CRT TVs, are constant. Bloom is everywhere. It’s purely the 1980’s idea of the future and it’s still just as great now as it was then.
Sadly, the sound design does not have the same unique flavor as the visuals. The soundtrack isn’t really all that bad. The real problem is that it doesn’t have much of an identity to separate it from the game itself. The pieces go through their own highs and lows, and it kicks in at the right moments most of the time it’s not anything interesting enough to listen to outside of the game. The sound effects, however, do fare just a bit better. The sword attacks have a good “punch” to them but the lack of general ambient noise is disappointing. It makes the rest of the game sound somewhat hollow when moving through the city.
Quite like its audio/visual presentation, Strider’s story and characters are very hit and miss. It’s hard to shake the impression that everyone here came from an old Saturday morning cartoon. Each of them is extremely one-note and pretty uninventive at that. There’s a mad scientist trying to create a hulking monstrosity. A mercenary who just wants to get paid. The leader character who wants to take over the world. The underground individual who will “scratch your back if you scratch his”. Even Strider Hiryu himself doesn’t get any character development to speak of. Beyond his desire to kill the big bad, there’s nothing he says or does that hints at any real depth. For all intents and purposes he is born and raised to kill the villains, and that’s all he’ll ever do until the day he dies.
Rather than going for a perfectly straightforward action game like the original Strider or it’s ports, the 2014 game of the same name tries to add a few exploration elements and does a less than stellar job. If you want a good Metroidvania game but with a little more action and a little less backtracking for items Strider will make for a pretty good fit. Plus, the $15 price point isn’t bad for the solid few hours it takes to do a run without getting everything. Played over a weekend night or two Strider is really enjoyable time.