Strider: Same Sword, Different World

Still slashin' after all these years.

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The original 1989 Capcom arcade game Strider didn't take long to complete. If you had the skills, you could leap and slice your way through it in about 20 minutes. But what a 20 minutes they were. You fought a giant mechanical gorilla; dashed down a snowy, mine-riddled mountainside; infiltrated the zero-gravity core of a giant airship; and encountered dinosaurs in the Amazon. Strider was a masterpiece of concentrated, unforgettable action.

The series reboot by Double Helix coming to current- and next-gen consoles next year takes a different approach. Strider Hiryu is still a wonderfully agile hero, and his swordlike cypher weapon is still a swift and distinctive way of dispatching enemies. But this game is a Metroidvania, aiming for a balance of action and exploration as opposed to the arcade original's nonstop barrage of amazing set-piece moments.

Tricky laser fields are jerks.
Tricky laser fields are jerks.

I played the PlayStation 4 version of Strider yesterday, which ran in 1080p at 60 frames per second. I was told that while the content will be the same across all versions, the PS4 and Xbox One versions will feature entirely different, more detailed character models than those in the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, as well as better shadows and lighting, and that the PS3 and 360 versions will run at 30 frames per second. The animations in Strider are beautiful--Hiryu moves with remarkable grace--but the environment in which the section of the game I played was set was bland and sterile. The setting was a research and weapons development district in the city of Neo-Kazakh, where the game, taking a cue from the first stage of the arcade game, takes place. I was told that there are around five distinct districts to the city, and perhaps areas that remain unseen as of yet have more color and life. Especially considering the terrific variety of locations the arcade game managed to cram into its brief running time, it would be a shame if the world of this new Strider never broke out of the generic environments that have been shown so far.

But the gameplay feels good. The controls are responsive, so the simple act of leaping about and mowing down enemies as Hiryu is a pleasure. And Hiryu's repertoire of moves is a bit more extensive here than it has been in the past. You have a ground-pound-like attack called the downcrack that does some area-of-effect damage, a technique I employed at one point to stun a vaguely spiderlike mechanical miniboss. And you have the catapult, which factored heavily into the enjoyable traversal challenges I encountered. This move lets you shift your trajectory mid-leap or mid-fall, using the thumbstick to aim yourself in any direction and then launching yourself that way. This technique was essential for a section in which I had to plummet through gaps in deadly laser barriers, and then veer directly to one side or the other to make a safe landing on a platform below.

Behold Mechapon, the new Strider's version of the original's mechanical gorilla.
Behold Mechapon, the new Strider's version of the original's mechanical gorilla.

Mowing down rank-and-file enemies rarely demanded too much of me, but I still made some use of the different cyphers Hiryu has available to him. The red cypher can swat away enemy projectiles or, if your swing is timed precisely, send them flying back at enemies. The orange cypher does fire damage to enemies over time, and the blue cypher can freeze enemies, aiding with crowd control or letting you climb on flying foes.

It's clear that the new Strider is hewing a different path than the arcade game, but my time with it closed out with one clear nod to the original: a confrontation with a giant mechanical gorilla. Far more challenging than the hulking beast that inspired it, this contraption's pounce attacks proved to be too much for me to overcome. I hadn't yet developed a good enough handle on the various moves and techniques at Hiryu's disposal. But though I have some misgivings about the look of the new Strider, my time with it has me looking forward to facing off against and conquering the metal monstrosity. Capcom will be announcing more information on Strider in early 2014.

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