Developer: Double Helix Games
Strider is the best game that Double Helix have ever made.
The bar was admittedly scraping along the ground, since their mediocre past form includes the likes of Battleship, Front Mission Evolved and that shocking Green Lantern tie-in. But be in no doubt: their suitably challenging and respectful remake of Capcom's classic slice & dice platformer is very good indeed, and worthy to bear the name. As soon as master assassin Hiryu goofily cartwheels over a crowd of robotic rifleman, flips off a wall and carves his first foe into tiny pieces, its pedigree is unmistakeable.
When Strider is content to be a faithful reboot, it's really rather brilliant. Having arrived in the sprawling city of Kazakh to murder its evil 'Grandmaster' and bring peace to the world with ultraviolence, Hiryu is as spry and blisteringly fast as we remember, barrelling through the corridors in a blur of precisely-aimed steel and perfectly-timed wall jumps. Packing a climbing sickle that can scale any surface, robotic combat enhancements and even a teleporter, he's a force to be reckoned with, but the Grandmaster's robot army and mercenary henchmen will give him a retro-tough run for his money.
Strider's 2D combat is versatile, responsive and furiously fast; stacking up with XBLA genre greats like The Dishwasher and Dust: An Elysian Tail. Beyond lightning-quick katana slashes and launches that can be aimed in any direction, Hiryu can draw upon robotic companions ("Options") that can directly damage or debilitate his foes, all while deflecting incoming enemy projectiles with perfectly-timed swats of his sword. Chaining moves into flowing combos is effortless, made doubly interesting by a Nightcrawler-style shortrange teleporter that can be used to manoeuvre behind or above enemies at a moment's notice. You'll hack through hordes of robot guards without breaking your... stride... and pull every trick you have out of the bag to defeat some tough (and frequently enormous) bosses.
Hiryu's also no slouch when it comes to the platforming. His blindingly fast movement speed, lengthy double jump, handy slides and ability to cling to any surface allows Double Helix to present some interesting execution challenges involving whirling blades or moving platforms, simultaneously encouraging you to make full use of Hiryu's fluidity and grace in each combat encounter. Some of the platforming sections can feel a little overlong, especially in the first third of the game, but it's difficult to care once you're hilt-deep in bad guy.
After arming you with the necessary tools to survive, Strider wastes no time in unleashing small armies of grunts, some imaginative set pieces, lots of platforming and tricky boss encounters set throughout Kazakh's labyrinthine corridors, subways, industrial facilities and palaces. Empowered by Hiryu's superb skillset, I found myself gleefully sprinting through the first five minutes of the game, annihilating all opposition in my way, before running into the very first mid-boss fight with reckless confidence. "He's just a bloke with a spear," I thought. "Bring it on!"
I died, quickly and poorly, within seconds.
In fairness I should have been prepared, since Strider pulls no punches. There's no regenerating health to fall back on, no tutorial and no mercy in the tougher fights, with checkpoints often requiring you to repeat lengthy sections of level to return to a particularly gruelling encounter. Which is absolutely as it should be. As a remake of an arcade gem famed for its stern difficulty, anything less would have been insulting. That said, a few of the bosses become child's play to defeat after memorising their limited attack patterns.
So far, so good... but unfortunately there's a fly in the ointment. Though Strider is fantastic when it deigns to be Strider, much of the campaign desperately wants to be Shadow Complex.
Which is where, I'm afraid, things become rather more problematic. 'Metroidvania'-style health and energy upgrades can add meaningful exploration to a platformer, but Strider can't find a happy medium, instead stashing its prizes behind simple doors or tedious backtracking marathons through an eternity of recycled ductwork. Instead of breaking up the pacing, it pads out and bogs down the action, while wasting plenty of promising verticality with lots of inexplicably empty rooms. Double Helix would have been better off developing Strider as a much tighter, linear yet meticulously crafted platformer with every second was paced to perfection.
This issue is further exacerbated by Strider's dismally dull art direction. We appreciate that an authoritarian Eastern European city isn't going to be the most colourful of places, but the entire campaign is spent trudging through grey corridors, grey streets, grey pipes, shiny grey, metallic grey, matte grey, bluish grey, greenish grey, brownish grey, grey grey; an unending sea of gunmetal that turns backtracking into mental torture.
It's desperately lacking in personality and thematic zoning, making environmental navigation a chore and forcing you onto the map every few seconds rather than following environmental cues. Worse, Strider is often plain boring to look at outside of pitched fights (pictured), and actively makes the handful of brightly-coloured bosses seem uncomfortably out of place when they appear.
The action may be slick, but the experience ends up more forgettable than it ought to be.
At least it's no slouch in raw graphical and performance terms. On Xbox One, our review platform, Strider's handsome visuals and effects are a cut above all but a few XBLA titles, running at a pleasingly smooth 60FPS. If that sort of thing interests you.
- Furiously fast-paced, responsive and demanding combat
- Versatile platforming, satisfyingly stern difficulty
- Handsome visuals
- Poorly-implemented exploration and upgrades feel like unnecessary padding
- Fifty (thousand) shades of grey
- Inconsistent pacing and checkpoint placement
The Short Version: Strider is more than worthy to bear the name: a slick, exacting and breathlessly hectic action-platformer powered by superb combat. Though botched 'MetroidVania' exploration adds tedious bulk rather than value, amplified by a grim lack of colour, arcade aficionados and challenge-seekers will be in their element.