Strider Review (PlayStation 4)
Back near my childhood home, there was a pizza place called Salvatore's. Not only did it have some of the best pizza in the city, but it was also home to one of the few remaining arcade machines in the surrounding area. I spent countless quarters on the Strider arcade machine at Sal's, from the early '90s all the way through high school. In all my years of playing I never beat the game, but I have always had a fondness for Strider. Imagine my disappointment then in finding Capcom's latest refresh to be a rather monotonous retro adventure, albeit with a fresh coat of paint.
In Kazakh City, Grandmaster Meio rules as an apparently cruel dictator. As Strider, it's up to you to kill him and restore the people's faith in government or something. The story is about about as deep as a puddle, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. This updated Strider is basically a retelling of the original arcade classic, though there's a bit more though put into the character interaction. Not much more, mind you, but enough to give boss characters some dialogue before and after the big fights. For the most part, you'll just be running around Kazakh City picking up weapon and attack upgrades or activating gates so you can finally make your way to the capitol to take down Meio himself. That might be motivation enough for most players, but after a while it can grow rather tedious to do nothing but run and around and fight over and over again.
Herein lies the biggest issue with Strider. The reboot sticks to its roots too hard, and doesn't bring enough new to the experience. There's a strong Metroidvania influence on this high-def re-imagining of one of Capcom's elder statesmen. While those core mechanics of exploring areas for a new upgrade, then using said upgrade to advance to the next area, are solid, they're uninspired. Double Helix does a great job crafting an experience that harkens back to the aforementioned classics like Super Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, but you've been there and you've done that. Strider doesn't do enough differently or better to stand out, and as a result never takes the steps necessary to become more than the sum of its parts.
It's a shame, too, as Strider is a rather fun game to play in short bursts. The action and animations are on point, and slicing and dicing through Meio's mindless robotic drones had me flashing back to those days long ago in the pizza parlor. Strider runs and jumps just like he used to, and his Cypher blade is just as lethal as ever. The incremental upgrade system works well within the confines of the game, but it can feel like you're not getting tough enough fast enough at times. As great as some of the improvements work, it didn't feel like many offered much difference in the way of combat. The deflection Cypher is cool, as are the limited-use powers of Option, your Navi-esque compatriot, but none of them truly alter the combat landscape. Most of the acquisitions are more key to exploration than battle, even if they do come in handy when facing tougher enemies from time to time.
The re-envisioned world of Kazakh City is immediately familiar and new all at the same time. The Russian-inspired cityscape really popped to life in this HD remake, and there's a great deal of depth and vibrancy to the city life despite the fact that you're trapped on a 2D plane. The influences of the original arcade game are immediately apparent, but the modern sensibilities applied in both design and execution take the visuals to life spectacularly. Even Strider Hiryu himself looks great in the slightly tweaked modernization, and his trademark scarf/bandana looks terrific in motion. No one can complain Strider is lacking visually. The score also complements the classic themes with a bit of that modern touch, and the nostalgia kicked into overdrive just moments after starting the game. Of course, that feeling of remembrance and excitement dulled after a few hours, but the tiny flourishes were certainly appreciated.
Strider wears its influences on its sleeve, but ultimately, this reboot doesn't bring much to the table beyond its stellar presentation. Side-scrolling backtracking might be a joyous time for some, but for me, playing through Strider was an arduous journey I'm not likely to take ever again. We've seen this game dozens of times before with a different coat of paint, and there's little reason to celebrate Strider's derivitavity.
This review was completed with a publisher provided copy of Strider for the PlayStation 4.