To say that the developers at Double Helix have had a bumpy career would be an understatement. Before the end of 2013, they've had movie based gems like Battleship, GI Joe, and Green Lantern in their portfolio, but perhaps the games that were most controversial are their takes on classic franchises like Front Mission and Silent Hill. Front Mission Evolved and Silent Hill Homecoming weren't exactly well received from critics and users alike and neither were the movie-based games.
Bearing this in mind, it came as no surprise that the recent news of the team taking on other classic franchises like Killer Instinct and Strider was met with an explosion of worry and scepticism that stretched to the internet and back. It comes with a heavy heart that I regretfully inform the internet that they have broken their trend. Strider is not only an very good reboot of a classic series, but also happens to be one of the better entries into the series as a whole.
Players take control of futuristic ninja, Strider Hiryu as he fights in Kazakh City to defeat the game's main antagonist, Grandmaster Meio. Strider is essentially a retelling of the original arcade Strider, though it does retain the level progression of the NES port. In short, progressing through the game is done so by having access to one gigantic area divided into districts. Some areas are naturally inaccessible until you retrieve a particular character upgrade that allows you to push forward.
The 2014 reboot of Strider is very much a metroidvania styled game. Coupled with the breakneck pace and difficulty of the original arcade version, it's clear the new Strider aims to cater to fans of both styles. The character designers over at Capcom Osaka have done a tremendous job at not only making the platforming and combat animations look fluid, but also feel as though you were playing an arcade game "“ with impressive difficulty spikes to boot. Most enemies look like re-skinned foot soldiers with more health as you progress through the campaign, but mini-bosses and bosses themselves will certainly put your skills to the test "“ even on the default difficulty setting.
The actual size of Kazakh City is enormous, and it would almost be easy to lose yourself in if it weren't for the easily accessible map and objective markers. The map system is fairly crucial as it reveals areas you've only actually been to. It can feel like its trial and error, as certain areas will penalize you by electrocuting you if you try to be too adventurous. It may sound like it doesn't want you to wholly explore the game, but it certainly doesn't discourage you from looking elsewhere. If anything, you will know you can't access those areas until you have what it requires.
Platforming through Kazakh City and climbing up and down its walls is a fantastic mechanic that begs to be mastered for speed runs. It also reminds me of how Strider got this unique climbing mechanic in the first place. Series creator Kouichi Yotsui has said he got the idea for the original game when he was stranded on the roof of Capcom's building. Afraid of freezing and with no phone to call for help, he climbed down the side of the building to find an escape.
While some would view objective markers as having the game pull you along, it more often than not encouraged me to go the opposite route just to see if there were items or shortcuts previously unfound. And sure enough, hidden in the depths of buildings, or nooks in walls are loads of collectibles, data files, and health and energy upgrades. Weapon upgrades are typically earned throughout the game; clearly reminding the player that this is still a game and you as the Strider organization's best assassin have a job to do. In the end, your abilities make you a total badass "“ as a high tech ninja with robot companions should be!
For a downloadable title, Strider is quite the pretty platformer. Kazakh itself is very well designed and architected, and Strider has fantastic animations and great character design that gives off the feeling of Strider's PS1 designs or of course from the Marvel vs Capcom series. The game has this great artistic cel-shade to it that makes it feel almost like a comic, and character sketches during text speeches have this wonderful retro feel to them.
In terms of performance, it all renders out at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second, and from what I see is naively in 1080p on the PS4. This shouldn't really come as a shock, seeing as it's far from making the PS4 sweat, but it certainly inspires confidence that Double Helix knows what technical areas are largely considered vital in a genre like arcade hack n' slash games.
Overall, Strider comes highly recommended. It's a very faithful and highly entertaining retelling of one of the genre's most beloved characters. Double Helix really stepped their game up as developers, and if they continue like this, I truly hope they tackle other Capcom franchises that are in dire need of another instalment.
|Wonderful map design|
|Retains a classic arcade feel|
|Exploring can be trial and error|
|Might be considered too pricy|
|Objective markers may pull you out of the sense of exploration|