It's been a long time coming. The most famous franchises in the gaming world always seem to remain ignored. Metroid, Ninja Gaiden, Kid Icarus, Alex Kidd - the list goes on. Well, scratch one name off the endless list, because Strider is back in town. Missing in action for years along with fellow ninjas like Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden and Sega's Shinobi, Strider, after a brief appearance in Marvel vs. Capcom, has at long last resurfaced in a brand-new Strider game. Who knows what synapse must have been triggered in Capcom's collective brain trust, but the arrival of Strider on the PlayStation in the console's waning days ironically signals the end of an era with the start of something new.
In a deliberate throwback to the arcade-dominant '80s, Strider 2 is an all-out action fest, originally designed for the coin-op realm on the PlayStation-based System-11 board and quickly ported home with a couple of distinct enhancements. Keeping with the status quo, Strider 2 is a side-scrolling hack-'em-up that moves at a deliberately fast pace, while offering reams of bad guys to ginsu into giblets. With few moves save for his slash, slide, and wall-climbing abilities (along with a super "boost" move that sends homing projectiles at his enemies), Strider gives new life to the term "simplicity." The control in Strider is ultraresponsive and as tight as you would expect and need in a game of this nature. Strider has a double jump to get him out of tight spots, and when powered up, his sword boasts an extended reach. To aid him in his quest, the game features all manner of power-ups, from points bonuses (yes, you score points in the game), to health-ups, to extra boost attacks, and more. Every main level in Strider is composed of a sizeable number of minilevels, all of which you can complete very quickly. At the end of every full level is a giant boss of some sort, from a six-headed hydra, to a Chinese dragon flying in midair.
The graphics are a bizarre mix of 2D sprite-based artwork for the characters and 3D Klonoa-style backgrounds on which to run around. While this mix worked well for games like Klonoa, the technique could have fared a little better here. Strider Hiryu himself lacks the amount of animation that made Alucard so tempting in Castlevania: SOTN. Instead, he looks like a choppy cutout adhered against an unforgiving background that moves in 3D in spite of his 2D limitations. Thankfully the action is so fast it makes it hard to notice, and if the characters had been rendered in 3D, they probably would never have moved this swiftly. The soundtrack is excellent, and the sounds are crisp and clear, although when you listen to them level after level, they can sound fairly repetitive, especially when you use the rapid-fire button on Strider's sword.Fans of old-school Strider will recognize Strider 2 as a lengthy homage to the Strider of 1989. Moments like the antigravity level and the gravity-defying whirlwind reappear for fans of the original game. In between each level are hand-drawn cutscenes that propel the storyline, but aside from that, the extraneous presentation is kept to a minimum. Without giving too much away, the game is really short, which keeps Strider 2 from being the action masterwork it could have been. Aside from the action being limited to five levels of left-to-right hacking and slashing, the only real incentive to replay the game is that you can unlock Strider Hien (one of the final bosses) as a playable character. Unlike the afterthought-characters unlocked in Castlevania: SOTN, Strider Hien is actually useful. Powerful from the outset, Strider Hien's main attack is like Hiryu's boost attack, except for the fact that Hien's is unlimited.
The other big draw with this package is the inclusion of the original Strider arcade game from 1989, which was stunning at the time for its innovative play mechanics, parallax effects, and up-tempo gameplay. While it may seem passé now, compare this with other games of the time, like Altered Beast, and you can see why people revere Strider so much. As an added bonus, beating the original Strider and saving your game on the same memory card as your completed game-save from Strider 2 will unlock a waterfall level not included in the arcade version of Strider 2. Beyond the nostalgic thrill of playing the dated original Strider and its short but sweet sequel, the Strider 1 & 2 double pack is quickly beaten and not so quickly replayed. They are, after all, arcade games, and arcade games were always meant for quick thrills.
While Strider 2 is worthy of the legacy established back in '89, it offers little more than a tease of where future Strider's could go. On more powerful hardware, we could get, perhaps, a fully 3D Strider or a 2D Strider with far more frames of animation (a la Street Fighter III). In any case, the double set of Strider 1 and 2 is an excellent starter kit for the uninitiated, but for veterans of the series, it's like dinner without the dessert.