Hands up folks, who wants to play a game that makes you feel awesome? That
Full disclosure: when I was a mere boy ninja, the excellent Mega Drive port of Strider was one of my favourite games. So it could be possible that this is all the nostalgia talking; I don't think so. Strider HD is developer Double Helix's take on Capcom's 1989 arcade game, a 2D platformer all about cutting through hordes of enemies with acrobatic main man Strider Hiryu.
Strider is heavily inspired by the original; a lot of the same moves, an aesthetic inspired by what could once only be suggested, and tonnes of little nods for the golden oldies to enjoy. But this is a remake in the true sense, a ground-up engineering job to bring a great game cartwheeling and slicing into 2014 – and delivers, again and again, with flair and precision.
What marked out Strider back in the day was the flexibility of Strider Hiryu's moveset, with different combinations of directions and buttons giving access to a wide range of offense. This new Hiryu feels instantly familiar, with the lazy arc of his cartwheel jump reproduced perfectly, and rat-a-tat button presses producing the same flurry of sword strikes.
Many of the enemies in Strider don't even get a shot off. The game alternates between cavernous complex environments and smaller rooms, with the camera zoomed as appropriate, and certain connecting passages are there to simply sprint through while slashing, leaving some rather surprised guards in half behind you. There are whole levels that present nothing but brawl after brawl, and you sprint from one to the next with the enthusaism of a man possessed, determined – nay, convinced – that whatever lies ahead will soon lie in pieces.
This is a theme throughout Strider. It is a game that has lots of tough challenges in it, but first and foremost it wants the player to feel absolutely
I'm falling for the intentional fallacy, of course. But if that was the target this hits it over and over and over again. Very few games ever make the words 'wow' actually scroll across your mind, at the same time as you're feeling a twist of excitement in the abdomen and grinning like a loon. If you don't like chopping up bad guys in futuristic settings then, OK, this might not apply. But is it ever your loss.
How Strider Hiryu's tools upgrade is the best illustration. There are two levels to his capabilities, the practical and rather boring one being that they act as the 'keys' to certain areas and enemies in time-honoured Metroidvania fashion. But the second is that they're an escalation of offensive capabilities and, even more beautifully, the two purposes often combine.
One of the first upgrades you acquire is the charged attack; rather than lots of little sword swipes, hold the button for a second and release for a more powerful slice. This is essential for taking out enemy shields. But the charged slice is also much longer than a normal one, and will hit any enemy within the blade's arc. You now have a choice in any given situation about whether to mash attack and slice through enemies with flurries, which remains perfectly viable, or to try and be constantly charging up and picking moments for release within the maelstrom. This choice is further complicated by the fact that getting hit will ruin the charge-up, and of course as the game progresses it becomes more important to be able to mix and match the two styles of offense.
This kind of flexibility runs throughout Strider's core moveset, and once the game starts introducing tools like the dash-dodge and throwing knives - well, it's too late by then. You're already hopelessly in love. One of the last abilities you unlock is a panther, which after being triggered dashes forwards and through groups of enemies, becoming more powerful with each one it hits. When you enter a long room filled with enemies, unleash the beast, and sprint afterwards landing the finishing blow on stunned enemy after stunned enemy, it's simply thrilling.
Obviously I'm getting a little excited here, and there are moments where Strider drops the ball. There's an undergroundy-sewery section with armoured crab enemies that isn't too impressive, topped off with 'infected' versions of the normal enemies being introduced, and some of the checkpoints are a little mean for modern sensibilities.
Strider's also not the type of game that I'd personally replay, despite it being chock-full of unlockables and alternative paths for exploration once Hiryu is fully upgraded. This doesn't bother me in the slightest. Replay value is a conditional thing, essential in some games but more or less irrelevant in others, and Strider delivers one absolutely fantastic first playthrough – with plenty of meat for those that really want to keep on slicing.
Both the audio and visual design does a great job of making this look and sound every inch 2014's game, and of course it is, while either re-mixing elements of the original or - in some cases - just saying to hell with it and letting the original take over for a second. There's an enemy in the underground and, while my memory may be a little hazy on this, the sound effects for one short sequence seem to be the originals reproduced exactly. It's only a moment, easily missed, but it's emblematic of the lovely touches throughout that mark this out as a real labour of love.
Strider's not really the kind of game the cognoscenti get excited about. It won't be winning any awards or the subject of a load of thinkpieces, and that's because it's nothing more than a simple design executed near-flawlessly. It's limited in the same sense that a cat is limited by not being a dog. Strider is a great game and it gets me totally pumped; it looks incredible, sounds amazing, and is tonnes of fun. If I ruled the world this would be on billboards, and they would say very simply: STRIDER'S BACK.