Review: Strider for Xbox 360

Stride on, Hiryu.

One legend of the comic book world tells of how Casablanca Records approached Marvel Comics in the 70’s with the hopes of creating a multimedia star; they would create a disco singer while the House of Ideas would create a comic book and backstory behind her. Together, they would work with Filmworks to create a motion picture around the character as well.

Things more or less fell apart from the word go, however, with only Marvel retaining any interest in the character and developing her into the mutant we know today as Dazzler.

About a decade later, some folks over in Japan at Capcom had a similar idea of sorts, though a bit more traditional in approach. They too had a three-tiered idea for a new character, but instead of music, comic books, and movies, they instead approached it from developing an arcade game, a manga, and a Nintendo Entertainment System title.

This was Strider.

Of the three, the arcade game proved to be the breakout fan favorite, while the NES game — whose story more closely reflected the manga — would never see release in the country whose citizens could more closely identify with it. It was a bizarre approach, to say the least.

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The arcade version of Strider, as noted, was widely regarded as the favorite. It was a true arcade game, providing a sort of frenetic action not unlike Contra, but instead of a machine gun-toting commando in the mold of an 80’s action hero, you played as a futuristic ninja — a “Strider” named Hiryu — who wielded a lightning fast sword with great ferocity against foes who practically define the word “bizarre.”

I never got to play that one very much, as the arcades which held it tended to be the out-of-the-way places you just happened across at odd times on trips and the like. Beyond that, ports went to non-Nintendo systems like the SEGA Genesis. I did appreciate the energy of the action, however.

But when I think of Strider, my main experience and preference comes from the nonetheless overlooked NES version. While things were generally less weird, at least in the context of video games, the story was more fascinating and there was a certain “Metroidvania” style to it as you traveled around the world looking for key items and foes, unlocking new abilities and secret areas to proceed in your mission. The gameplay, while perhaps less kinetic than the spectacle of the arcade, struck me as overall more solid.

I’ve long been alone in my preference between the two, but what I’ve always truly wanted was a new Strider that combined the fast-paced, frenzied fighting of the arcade game with the richer world, power-ups, and exploration of the NES game. In 2014, Capcom (with Double Helix doing the heavy lifting) delivered just what I had long asked for.

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The new Strider is something of a reboot, seemingly taking its primary story cues from the arcade game as Strider Hiryu infiltrates the metropolis of Kazakh City with one mission in mind: assassinate Grandmaster Meio. However, this game takes bits and pieces from all of the various Strider Hiryu appearances over the years, including Marvel vs. Capcom games and Strider 2, and forges them into what may be the definitive incarnation of Strider.

In addition to the story, Strider‘s action seems primarily informed by the fast pace of the arcade game (but “eight times faster“), albeit with improved controls — particularly the jumping, which no longer has such a frustratingly narrow arch. Hammering the attack button to send wave after wave of slices from Hiryu’s plasma-based Cypher sword remains as satisfying as every.

From the NES game comes the concept of exploring a much more intricate world — or at least in this case, a city. You’ll move back and forth throughout, finding switches, fighting bosses, and acquiring new abilities and upgrades to make you stronger, faster, and better able to carry out your mission. Along the way, you’ll hear frequent announcements from the government ruler, giving you some sort of idea of the tyranny you’re fighting against.

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Much like the Cypher itself, the city setting is something of a double-edged sword. While it mirrors where Hiryu touched down in the original arcade game, that title also took the character through other areas with themes such as snowy wilderness and jungle. Even the more Metroidvania-ish NES game used an orbital satellite base as a hub for Hiryu to warp to different spots on the planet, including Egypt, China, and Africa.

But here? It’s all city, and even within the city, it doesn’t vary much, if at all. It’s a well-constructed city, don’t get me wrong; you’ll go inside and outside of buildings, sneak your way into secret corridors, evade guards, cross streets, delve into subterranean areas, ascend to the top of the tallest skyscrapers, and even go beyond that to battle in the sky, but it all feels rather uniform — by comparison to other genre titles, if nothing else.

For better or for worse, though, it does feel very solid and consistent. The city itself definitely has a certain presence as you attempt to find your way to your next objective and discover all of its secrets (including lots more wall-climbing than a Metroid or Castlevania title), making it an enjoyable romp.

More is the shame that they didn’t release a Wii U version in order to take advantage of the GamePad to display a map as you play, though; having to toggle back and forth to that screen is a minor nuisance.

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As you begin your journey, you’re in a relatively weak state and need to pick your spots carefully. Moving along, you’ll acquire upgrades and abilities which do quite a job to enhance your power, allowing you to tear through numerous enemies to great satisfaction. There is something of a quirk where smaller attack don’t cause any knockback with you soaking up some damage as a result, but the health pickups often help negate that, leaving you fit for when you engage sturdier foes who require a bit more finesse.

The bosses present a nice challenge as well. Generally speaking, they aren’t too hard — about half the time, I’d say they might kill me upon an initial encounter. But even then, it’s a matter of studying your opponent and what their attacks can do, where they go — basic platforming game stuff, familiar if you’ve played a good share of Mega Man — that allows you to come back and win. It might not work out so well the first time, but once you know their moves, there is quite a bit of satisfaction in cutting them down to size and reaching the next level of your abilities and exploration.

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Capcom and Double Helix set out to create what could be described as the definitive Strider, and — this is not a review score, for the record — I think they got it 9/10ths of the way. The tight and precise controls allow you greater movement than either original game, the graphics are gorgeous in a gaslight-meets-cyberpunk sort of way, and the music and sounds even homage the original games while mixing things up a bit.

The originals will always hold a special place in my heart and I’ll continue waiting for them to be made available through services such as the Nintendo eShop/Virtual Console, Xbox Live Arcade, and the like. But if you’re new to Strider, perhaps from having seen him in Marvel vs. Capcom or the upcoming Project X Zone 2 and want to see more of Hiryu, then this is without a doubt the best place to start.

striderboxStrider was released digitally for the Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and Windows PC/Steam on February 18th, 2014 at a price of $14.99.

A review code for the Xbox 360 version was provided by Capcom.

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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.