As a wee lad, I knew that Strider was awesome.
Starting off a review with my life's story always makes me feel like a tawdry whore, but you're going to sit through it and like it or you can just hit that back button right this instant, my friend. Anyway, one day I spied my eldest brother playing a new game on his Commodore 64, a port of the arcade version of Strider. "What's a Strider?" I pondered aloud. My brother paused for a second, then laconically replied, "He's like a ninja in the future."
Put yourself in the mentality of a six year old born in the 80s for a second. What could possibly be cooler than a future ninja? Maybe a future dinosaur ninja on a skateboard in Vuarnets, but my point is, Strider seemed rad as shit to me at the time.
However, being in the single digit age range and thus not having the patience to put up with C64 load times, I quickly forgot about Strider. Sure, I was aware of the Genesis port, the NES version, and the franchise's subsequent disappearance before resurfacing in the 32-bit era, but it wasn't until I was in my late teens that I got to experience Strider in earnest. And it was every bit as awesome as my prepubescent mind had imaged it. I mean, just look at Strider Hiryu. He's a ninja. He's a brightly colored ninja who doesn't give a fuck about being seen because dammit he has a big sword and he will walk deliberately forward and mutilate everything in his path. He fights Robo King Kong. He fights communism. He fights on the backs of dinosaurs (dinosaurs!). He leaves Eurasia alive. He simply walks into Mordor. He's a misogynist who assaults jungle chicks and Chinese women (communists). Oh, and his game is harder than Charlton Heston's nuts and playing it will make you a man
But what about that NES version? Now, you'd be forgiven for thinking it impossible to distill the unbridled awesomeness of arcade Strider into one of those familiar little gray carts. Capcom evidently thought so too, though interestingly enough, this version was produced in tandem with the arcade version, if Wikipedia
is to be believed. Which probably means some fanboy made it up. Anyway, it's not like the concept hadn't worked before. Bionic Commando was an arcade game whose NES version was a bit different. I thought BC arcade was slow, clunky, and not much fun. BC NES was a great non-linear adventure with awesome levels and challenging yet rewarding swinging mechanics. So a non-linear console Strider would have to be good too, right?
After letting the title screen idle for a bit, we're introduced to the Striders, who are described as "the toughest group of people who execute acts such as infiltration, abduction, explosion, instigation, etc." You heard 'em, all other groups who execute the aforementioned acts can go choke on one, the Striders are by far the toughest. I certainly would not want to mess with anyone so skilled in the act of explosion.
So who are the members of this crack commando unit who exist as soldiers of fortune? Well, there's Sheena, who looks like Newt grown up and apparently likes to reenact the final scene of Rambo: First Blood Part II. Next up is Kain, who I guess is supposed to be some sort of French Legionnaire, giving us a sly grin as he pulls a Kenshiro on a helicopter. And of course, there's our hero, Strider Hiryu, who understandably gets more intro screen time and animation than anyone, but somehow has no title card. Oh, there's also this Ryuzaki guy, who does little except lose his Aqua Boots so Hiryu can make use of them, and give some sage advice about a boss being up ahead even though it's not actually up ahead. It kind of creeps me out how much definition they gave his mouth behind that mask. He looks like he's wearing a cheap costume from one of those 80's ninjasploitation movies
Who decided that a one-man murder machine like Strider Hiryu needs friends? If only Capcom could have looked into the future and seen the cause of the Sonic franchise's fall from relevancy. Well, other than not having a single good game in four console generations. It was friends! When Sonic gets too many friends, his games get shitty. Well, Hiryu already had those robot animal helpers, but those were awesome. Who doesn't want a robot eagle? That owl from Clash of the Titans can suck it. Sheena doesn't have any business hanging around Hiryu; evidently she hasn't heard of his propensity to beat women. And Kain isn't the kind of guy I would associate with badass international explosion instigators, with his boyish good looks. And his tousled hair. And his puppy-dog eyes that you just lose yourself in... *sigh*.
I don't know how or if the story ties in to Hiryu's previous battle against Grandmaster Meio, since he's never mentioned ingame. The big bads now are the Syndicate, led by the dastardly Faceas Clay. I wonder if he hangs out with Higharolla Kockamamie. The Syndicate has captured Kain, so your commander, Matic, orders you to kill him (but he's so gorgeous!). Hiryu catches feelings and decides to just concentrate on rescuing him first.
Strider is laid out a bit like NES Bionic Commando. There's a stage select screen that takes place aboard the Blue Dragon, your space station headquarters from which you beam down to the levels. I guess after that Meio incident the Striders earned enough scratch to get some better digs and ditch those robot gliders. Here you (see what I did there) can select an area to travel to, analyze 5.25" floppy disks you find to give you clues or allow you to progress in the game, and enter passwords. The password feature also doubles as the game's continue option; by selecting password, you're dumped to a black screen with text that explains the story so far and gives a same bat time, same bat channel preview of the next chapter. You're then taken to the title screen, and if you select password, it automatically loads up the last password it gave you before you exited to the menu. It's clunky, but it's unlimited. Just don't forget to do it after playing for an extended period, you get one life and that's it.
The stages are non-linear action platforming affairs, though the controls feel a bit looser than the arcade game. Hiryu walks with this bizarre ballet tiptoe high knee kick gait, and when he jumps he kind of hovers at the apex for an absurd length of time before coming back down. The terrain detection is really shoddy. Jumping into a wall causes you to plummet instantly. This is frustrating in the couple of areas where the game requires you to wall-jump. You have to wait until you reach the wall and then press the opposite direction and jump at the same time. It's hard to tell when you're within your window to successfully execute the wall-jump and when you're going to reach terminal velocity, which will cause you to lose progress and patience pretty quickly. Sometimes, jumping into an overhead platform causes you to get stuck in the air for a few seconds. When jumping onto a horizontally moving platform, you don't land on it instantly, but rather you hover above it on tiptoe for a bit and can fall off if you're not precisely keeping up with your position via the d-pad.
Naturally, every stage is loaded with people and robots and shit who need killing, and for that you have your cipher. I guess a normal sword wasn't cool enough, so they designed something that looks like a piece of rebar attached to a hilt with half a knife blade at the end, foreshadowing the Liefeldian trend of ineffectual weapon design
by a couple of years. In the arcade, even without the upgrade your sword had a respectable range. Here, it's shorter than a hamster's urine stream and it's difficult to tell what the sword's actual hitbox is vs. the apparent range of the slash animation's sprite. Eventually you gain access to a number of special abilities that work like the spells in Zelda II, in that you have to open the menu to select them and they take effect once the game resumes. I don't know what half of them do, the only ones I ever use are Jump and Medical. Enemies will (rarely) drop HP and SP replenishing items. Sometimes you can find them by randomly slashing the background, but you can also get little skull icons that make you lose both. At a couple of preset points in the game you level up and gain increased stats and more useless spells.
You've got a couple of other moves you can perform. Jumping when running down a slope will cause you to jump much higher and farther than normal. You can also slide down slopes by holding down and pressing jump, but to slide on a flat surface, you need to find the Slide Boots. Hey, remember in the arcade when you could slide from the outset? It's not like a baseball or Mega Man slide either, rather it looks more like Hiryu is slipping on the tears that Capcom made him cry by putting him in this game.
Usually to collect an item or talk to an NPC you enter a room with nothing in it, then the screen hangs for a few seconds before the item or person pops out of thin air, as though they have to load. What sucks is that the text during levels is presented on a separate black screen, and when you go back to the gameplay, you have to wait for that person to load again.
There are a couple of items you'll need to collect to progress through the levels. Those slide boots I mentioned will actually allow you to damage enemies with a slide, although not enough to kill some of the tougher ones. You later get a plasma wave, which is activated by holding up for about five seconds, which causes Hiryu to hold the cipher over his head until it starts flashing like a Mega Buster, then pressing B to fire a single shot. You can't move while charging this, and most enemies come at you too fast for it to be useful, but it's an essential tactic to defeating a couple of bosses. The magnet boots allow you to walk up exactly two special glowing walls in the game.
Hey, remember in the arcade when you could climb walls from the outset?
Oh yeah, bosses. Well, they aren't bosses as much as they are trees. See, you have to shut down the parts of the Zain machine, which is being used by the Syndicate to control people's minds. When you fight a Zain terminal, first you have to defeat your old nemesis, a box, which flies in a circle around the screen and drops bullets on you at a fixed point. Then you have to destroy a background image that looks like the Ninja Gaiden demon and the queen Alien gave birth to a gargantuan mutant vagina. It flaccidly lobs bullets at you, which are capable of hitting you even after you've landed the finishing blow and can't move while you have to sit there and watch it explode.
So Strider has lame bosses. That's okay, Bionic Commando had lame bosses. Even Strider in the arcade had a couple of bosses that could be defeated in three seconds. Strider NES compensates by chucking minibosses at you from time to time. Unfortunately, they're nearly as pushoverable. The motorcycle guy? He just rides back and forth, keep jumping over him and slashing. The shield guy? Wait 'til he gets close, jump and he'll decide to jump too, slide under him and slash him from behind. The worst samurai ever? Actually doesn't seem to follow a predictable pattern, but that doesn't make him difficult. Although one time I had to face one of those fuckers and he jumped off the edge of the screen and wouldn't come back, effectively keeping me from killing him and progressing. I thought I was going to have to reset the game until he randomly decided to reappear.
The music isn't necessarily bad, it's just that I've heard better instrumentation in other Capcom games, and it isn't all that memorable. Well, I can remember most of it, but I've completed the game more than once. One piece you will remember is Kazakh, because you'll be BACKTRACKING THERE SO MANY FUCKING TIMES
. I don't know what kind of fetish the developers had for the world's number one exporter of potassium, but let me just reiterate that you will be spending a lot of time in that stage. Egypt sounds like one of the most stereotypical "this is Egypt and this music is Egyptian music because this is what pharaohs and shit listened to" themes I've ever heard, it's almost as bad as Fighting Warrior
. By that lead, the China theme should sound like sound like generically racist Chun-Li music, rather than the funky jazz tune they gave us.
Strider is not very long or difficult. You can complete it in an afternoon if you know what you're doing. I know it's idiotic to complain about the length of an NES game, but it feels shorter than Bionic Commando, even with all the backtracking. It seems as if Capcom knew they had a buggy, half-tested engine on their hands and were in a rush to get it in stores, so they just nerfed the difficulty and decided to call it a day. The Africa stage has some platforming segments that can be frustrating as hell the first time you reach them, but when playing it again for this review I knew what to expect and had no trouble, and I hadn't touched the game in over a year. I'm not trying to brag here, being skilled at a shitty game isn't all that gratifying. Eventually you have to fight Kain aboard the Blue Dragon. After gloating, he just stands there a bit before charging forward and slashing his cipher. He'll kill you pretty quickly if he touches you, but feel free to charge up your plasma in the meantime and take him out with one hit. The penultimate battle of the game (here's a hint: it's Big Boss) may seem unmanagable at first, until you realize that if you hold up to charge plasma, the boss will approach you but won't touch you. All you have to do then is shoot him with the plasma and cause him to drop his weapon, then slash him as he scrambles for it. Exciting.
I can't fault the game for trying to have a plot, as nonsensical as it is, but it's not that impressive for a game released in 1989. Its only redeeming factor, then, is how batshit it is. Had this version been more popular, some of its Engrish quotes would printed on those ironic shirts sold by Jinx and Hot Topic that all the kiddies wear. Most of it's not so much garbled as it is made hilarious by bad punctuation. "Hiryu! Kain escaped when I took my eyes off of him?" Another part I just have to mention is when Hiryu goes to see the chief of the Striders in Japan. For some reason, HQ decides not to let anyone in, so you have to trash the security system and murder your coworkers in order to proceed. Did Hiryu forget his swipe card? Of course, a friendly scientist offers to upgrade your plasma in the midst of all this carnage, and the chief doesn't seem to give a shit when you do find him. I'm guessing the backstory here is that the Syndicate double-agents who infiltrated the Striders had the base on lockdown, but the text doesn't make it clear.
I'm not sure how to wrap this one up. To me, this game is like Cinnabon. It seems like a good idea to revisit it from time to time, but ultimately the experience leaves me feeling lethargic and regretting my poor judgement. Despite his Vs. games cameos, Strider Hiryu doesn't get as much love from Capcom as some of their other classic franchises. But given the renewed interest in Bionic Commando, I think the timing is right for another stab at a non-linear 2D platforming Strider title, or a "Metroidvania" if you will. Shit, that's what I thought Strider 2 was going to be before I actually played it. Well, I also thought Strider 2 was going to be Strider 2 and not Strider 1 thanks to that disc printing error with the North American release.
In the ending, Hiryu says suck it to the Striders and chucks his cipher into the air. This game never even got a Japanese release, and appears to have been stricken from canon, insomuch as there is a Strider canon. Even disregarding that, there's not that much going for it. Yet I keep seeing positive reviews of it, and I have to wonder if I'm playing the same game as these sons of old gods. Fucking die.