Despite boasting a badass ninja of the future for a hero, with one of the coolest weapons in all of gaming, Strider has always managed to be the quietly ignored sibling in Capcom’s vast family of franchises, left to sit at home since 2000, when Strider 2 on the original PlayStation failed to set the world on fire, only let out for occasional cameos in the Marvel vs. Capcom series. Double Helix’s take on Strider is akin to that same shy, quiet little sister leaving home for good, and running off to start a speed-metal band where she plays wearing nothing but a Kevlar vest and a kilt. It’s an extraordinarily loud, frantic, half-insane cry to be heard among the din of the next gen, and there’s enough technical bravado at work here to make it impossible to ignore.
Nü-Strider is definitely a game that remembers where it comes from. The game is rife with visual and musical references to the original arcade games, even the bizarre NES port, though predominantly it takes its cues from Strider 2, marrying that game’s fast, fluid, and wild old-school gameplay to a wide open Shadow Complex-style Metroidvania game. The result is something more focused and leisurely paced than the former, and something crazier and more kinetic than the latter, and past the high-definition sheen of its graphics, it doesn’t try to waste the player’s time on current-gen pleasantries like cinematics. There are in-game collectables that can fill in some of the blanks, but you have to literally exit the game to actually see them. It takes all of 20 seconds after starting a new game for Hiryu to fly in on a hang glider, and begin hacking Russian cyborgs to pieces. No complex intro, no tragic backstory—just you, a futuristic Russian military-industrial complex, and the sword fodder in your way of killing dictator Grandmaster Meio.
Like any good title in this genre, it’s about the exploration, and getting the right weapon/skill at the right time to open up more area. The genre lives and dies on how fun it is to actually explore and use all of these wonderful toys, and Strider does stellar work making the simple act of running around as Hiryu a power trip; flipping, sliding, scaling walls all feel gloriously free-flowing and fun. The cypher sword gets its share of upgrades, allowing you to slice bullets back at your enemies, cause them to catch fire or explode on, or freeze them into scalable ice cubes. The traditional enhancements return from the arcade game, meaning you can have a robot eagle-attack airborne enemies, a phantom panther run down guys on the ground, and two defensive satellites circle Hiryu for a few moments, and all three serve the dual purpose of opening up new areas. If there’s a single complaint it’s that the game trades one of Strider 2’s problems (no more infinite on the spot respawns here) for one of its positives: The game’s attack button requires constant attention to bring it to the rapid fire the game really needs, leading to a situation of thumb fatigue after relatively short periods. And yet, the combat being as fun as it is means you may not even notice until the cramping starts.
And thank God the combat’s fun, because the game has zero qualms about bringing back good old-fashioned 16-bit sadism. Nothing in the game is impossible by any means, but the game refuses to mollycoddle on any front. Enemies are given prime positions to snipe you out of the sky, and there are several trick jumps keeping power ups out of easy reach. Every encounter forces you to remember all the tools at your disposal to work your way out. The bosses are technically impressive and imaginative, but still a major challenge. (Veterans of the franchise, though, may be dismayed to know the Ouroboros dragon isn’t a robot human centipede made out of the Russian Politburo anymore.) The less resilient player can and will die more than they have in quite some time; the good ones will be just as excited going back for more after the hundredth Game Over as they were at the first.
Strider, ultimately, is a prime example that this kind of game can only be helped, not hurt, by the advancing of gaming generations. Gamers expect more, better, faster out of their games, and this series’s core concepts are all managing to keep pace. Playing as a badass future ninja was fun back in 1989, and today it feels downright exhilarating.