Strider PS4 review
Capcom's acrobatic ninja, Strider, is back in his own game, but have the years been kind to the sword-slinging assassin?
It's been a long time Strider Hiryu had his own game, not counting his appearances in the likes of Marvel Vs Capcom, of course. The arcade original and NES versions of the series' first outing have become all-time retro classics, and Strider himself an enduring retro icon, so it's about time he returned in full force, and that's just what Capcom, and developer Double Helix, have endeavoured to make happen in this reboot.
I got you!
Although this is a reboot of the original Strider, it's far from a simple re-skinning, and it incorporates elements from the original arcade and NES versions, fusing them together in a 2.5D Metroidvania-style, and the result is one of the most fluid and downright polished entries in the genre you're likely to play.
The story is the same as the 1989 original. As the best of the Strider order of assassins, Strider Hiryu is sent to the city of Kazakh to assassinate the evil dictator, Grandmaster Meio. In order to achieve this goal, Hiryu has to take on an entire, Russian-themed army single-handed, as well as a group of bounty hunters and inhuman mutants. All in a normal day's work for a Strider.
To achieve this, Strider uses his trusty Cypher sword, along with a selection of other weapons and tools like Kunai daggers and robotic helpers call Options. He can also scale almost any surface thanks to his climbing hook, making him an agile killing machine, and in this reboot, he's never been so deadly.
One of the first things you can't fail to notice about the game is just how silky smooth everything is. The game runs so smoothly, and controls so well it's hard not to be immediately drawn in and impressed. Double Helix has done a sterling job, and the controls are near-perfect, making combat fast, fluid and sheer bliss. It's a far cry from the poor reboot we got of Flashback recently. Here the game introduces a whole new gameplay style to both Strider and the Metroidvania genre, whilst retaining the true essence of the original series. Even the music and some great homages to the arcade debut's boss fights are included.
Strider's trademark Cypher sword blurs are now executed in multiple directions, with a number of power ups you can pick up to augment the blade, including charge attacks and projectile deflections. And, if you land enough hits on foes without taking damage, you'll power up Strider for a short time with deadly, longer-reaching attacks.
It's as easy as cake to scale the walls and ceilings, and Strider automatically hooks on to any climbable surface, making manoeuvring yourself around the often complex environment totally intuitive, even when you have to avoid tricky obstacles and deadly traps, often required to progress, or to find hidden secrets.
This surface-sticking can cause a few minor issues in the midst of combat, though, and you sometimes grip to surfaces when you don't want to, but these incidents are few and far between. For the most part, there are simply no issues controlling Strider, and even his various special moves and abilities are easy to pull off and soon become second nature.
This means that the challenge on offer here is just that, challenge, and you're never hampered by dodgy controls getting in the way. This is important, as many enemies require specific tactics in order to take them down, and this often requires the last upgrade you attained. There's a great variety of foes too, not including the bosses which, as I've said, often take on the form of stars from the original, including Solo the bounty hunter, the Kuniang M.A. (known as the The Four Winds here) and even the iconic Ouroboros, although it's not made up of various council members this time.
It's clear that the team behind the game has a lot of love for the series, and has poured it all into this reboot. Not only does it play blissfully well, but it looks fantastic. Animation is excellent, the environments are all detailed and look gorgeous, and the audio direction is impeccable. It's hard to find a fault, which is a situation that rarely occurs in gaming these days, but of course, it's not quite perfect.
You dare fight me!?
The switch to a Metroidvania style works very well, and Strider and his abilities fit the mould perfectly. The expansive Kazakh City has all sorts of interesting zones to explore, many of which are locked off until you acquire the right power to progress. However, unlike many other entries in the genre, it's still fairly linear affair, leading you from place to place instead of letting you explore and find your own way. Only the collectables and upgrades encourage wandering from the marked path or backtracking to previous areas.
Something that made genre-defining titles like Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night great was the need to figure out where to go and what to do next yourself. Here that's not needed, and you're always told exactly where to go and what to do. It's a shame, and takes away some potential challenge, but it doesn’t' detract too much from the enjoyment.
What is a shame is that the game is either too easy or, for many, too hard. There's no real middle ground. The game is stupidly easy on easy, which is to be expected I guess, and Normal will be a walk in the park for most. Selecting hard, on the other hand, exposes you to some of the most punishing combat I've seen for a long time. This spike in difficulty is extreme, much more so that it should be, making the game very easy, or brutally difficult. It's as if the game should have four difficulties, and the third is missing. That said, hard is a definite enjoyable challenge, and for hardcore players and series fans, it's the option I'd recommend if you want to get the most from the game.
All sons of old gods die!
With an obvious heavy influence from the excellent Shadow Complex complementing the Strider series, this reboot of the Capcom classic is without a doubt one of the best returns of a bygone series I've seen, and although it needs a bit of tweaking when it comes to difficulty, this is a title that shows how effortless controlling a flexible main character can be. Other developers should take note.
Even without the Strider name this would be a highly recommended title, so it goes without saying that fans of the series should buy this immediately. You won't regret it.
Strider is out now for Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 (reviewed), and PC.
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