Strider (PS4): A Short Pause Review
Ben: I was not prepared for this game.
My experience with the Strider franchise can be described as peripheral at best, ignorant at worst. I've never actually played a Strider game before, whether that be the NES original or the newer-yet-old-now PS One entry. I primarily know the character from his appearances in the Marvel vs. Capcom series of fighting games. There's something about his look though... maybe it's the sleek looking sword or the cool-as-all-hell scarf, ever flowing from around his neck. Like Vincent Valentine after him, Hiryu, the titular Strider himself, has taken the man scarf to new levels of awesomeness, taking what was once thought to be a symbol of fashion enlightenment and transforming it into an indication of video game badassery.
I was not prepared to like this game as much as I did.
Man scarf crushes aside, I clearly had no idea what to expect with this game. My interest in the title was piqued last year when the title was unveiled with an announcement trailer during San Diego Comic-Con. Slick visuals meshed with fast paced combat in a 2D side-scrolling environment. I had visions of the underrated gem Hard Corps: Uprising, and that was all I needed to see. This one was firmly on the radar, with a spot reserved in the 'Buy' pile upon its eventual release. Now, the game has arrived and I've got my grubby little paws on it! Upon firing up the game for the first time, I was shocked to find that this bold new Strider was actually an entry in one of my favorite gaming genres; it's a Metroid-Vania game!
"Like Vincent Valentine after him, Hiryu, the titular Strider himself, has taken the man scarf to new levels of awesomeness, taking what was once thought to be a symbol of fashion enlightenment and transforming it into an indication of video game badassery."
Now, I know what you're thinking. "Ben! Capcom announced the game would be a non-linear, Symphony of the Night inspired take on the Strider franchise when the game was revealed." The thing is, when I decide that I'm interested in a game and will be taking the time to play through it, I pretty much go on media blackout concerning said game. I like the experience to be new and pure, undiluted by a mass of revealing trailers and extensive press coverage. I went into Strider expecting a more action oriented side-scroller, and was pleasantly surprised by its equal emphasis on exploration.
But the real question you're asking (besides, "Dude, when are you going to shut up about scarves and get to the point?") is probably: "So, is this game any good?"
Yes, my friend. Yes it is.
The first thing that jumps out when you begin your trek through Strider's dystopian future city is the silky smooth gameplay. Running at 1080p/60fps on the PS4, the game performs like a dream. The fast-paced action and tight controls make exploring the city and cutting through uber-villain Grandmaster Meio's forces a breezy mixture of fun and adrenaline. While there has been some internet chatter (you know, the loud, bellowing kind) regarding a possible texture filtering bug in the PS4 version, I never noticed anything buggy while playing and thought the game looked great. The thing I enjoy most about Strider's gameplay is the easy to pick up, rewarding to master control system. While some may lament the games lack of d-pad support (*cough* Taz *cough*), and it's a legitimate complaint amongst the 2D purist crowd, I thought the game felt great on the analog sticks. As your powers and abilities begin to add up over the course of the game, everything that's available to you can seem almost unwieldy at first. New attack options, elemental attachments for your Cypher blade, Plasma Catapults, Kunai Knives, and a wealth of character upgrades await Hiryu during his quest to rid the world of the Grandmaster's tyranny. However, what was once unwieldy quickly turns to convenient precision as repeated enemy encounters train you to hone and perfect your fighting style. Before you know it, you'll be slide dodging, catapulting off walls, double jumping and aerial slashing with the best of them.
There is a semblance of a story in Strider, but it's paper thin at best. It's your standard mad-tyrant-meets-Eurasian-world-enslavement-meets-emancipating-hero that we've seen thousands of times before. Of course I'm being facetious here, but that's pretty much the extent of the story. The actual mythos behind the Strider franchise is quite cool. You've got contract assassins, mystical dark overlords, and the like, but this is not a game reliant on its narrative and that's okay. I look at Strider the same way I look at games like Resogun, Dead Nation, or Joe Danger. Sure there is a story to be had on at least a periphery level in each of those games, but gameplay is king; it's the driving force behind the game's reason for being.
What is a little disappointing is the world itself. It all feels a little cold and sterile. I get that there is this New World Order in town, and the populace is being ruled by industry and technology, but this theme doesn't lend itself to the most interesting of environments. There are some beautiful vistas throughout the game, the rooftops of Kazakh City spring to mind, but the vast majority of environments all start to blend together and feel similar to one another by the time the game is finished. Along these lines, enemy variety is also kept to a minimum. Outside of the numerous boss battles, each area of the game finds Hiryu fighting some variation of soldier, sewer rat, or robot. While the fluid gameplay remains fun, a wider range of enemy types would have been appreciated.
"It's your standard mad-tyrant-meets-Eurasian-world-enslavement-meets-emancipating-hero that we've seen thousands of times before."
Speaking of those aforementioned boss battles, they represent another high point in the game for me. Challenging, but not overly so, Strider's boss encounters were tons of fun, hearkening back to the boss battles of yore with their reliance on learned attack patterns and cheap tactics. I found myself having flashbacks of traveling through Symphony of the Night's winding castle, eagerly anticipating my next boss fight, anxious to find out who or what I'd be tasked with slaying. Strider gives players that same sense of excitement when building up to the next big baddie with a lifebar at the top of the screen. The challenge ratchets up when they're on the screen, and these exciting battles nicely break up the monotony of the game's stock antagonists. This is also where the game finally begins to show hints of an underlying personality, as most of the bosses are actual characters in the narrative. They're generally based around cool concepts like the Sisters of the Wind, or a giant mechanized dragon, and many have lines of spoken dialogue to further develop their threat. The cackling, mad assassin Solo is a personal favorite of mine. It all culminates in a final showdown with the Grandmaster in the game's most memorable encounter -- an epic, adrenaline fueled clash that takes inspiration from the final bosses of the 8-bit/16-bit platformers of yesteryear.
A few other items of note: While the exploration elements of Strider are fun, it would have been nice to have some type of teleportation system, a la Guacamelee or Symphony of the Night, implemented throughout the game world to make searching for collectibles easier. As it is right now, the map in this game is essentially one long line. Traveling from one end of the map to the other would basically require you to run through the entirety of the various areas in this game. The map is also inconsistent when displaying collectibles. The "POW" icons that unlock various pieces of concept art, in particular, seem to randomly show up on the map. It makes obtaining 100% in the various areas tough as you are unsure where that last collectible might be.
I also got a chance to test out remote play on the Vita a few different times, and my experience was generally positive. Instances of lag did occur here and there for me, but the game was smooth for the most part. There is definitely something that is lost, though, when going from the PS4 to the Vita. It's not quite as dynamic and fluid over remote play. The big screen is definitely the preferred experience for this title. Fingers crossed for a native Vita port, though! This game is perfectly suited to Sony's little black handheld and would be awesome to have on the go.
Minor qualms aside, I had a lot of fun with Strider. This is a meaty game, too. I scoured the environment for collectibles during my playthrough, and clocked in at just under 10 hours at game's end. There's lots to see and do, and fans of the "Metroid-Vania" genre should really like what this new incarnation of Strider has to offer. Developer Double Helix has taken a worthy first stab at this revered franchise, and I'd really like to see them get the chance to iterate on this game and produce a sequel. Is this game the next Symphony of the Night? No, but as it is, Strider's an easy recommend for anyone in the mood for a challenging, side-scrolling romp through a cybernetic dystopian future. 2D action-platforming fans rejoice!
- Fast, fluid gameplay
- "Metroid-Vania" style
- Boss battles
- Sterile world
- Lack of enemy variety
Taz: The new Strider is a decent game, but I wouldn't recommend it to a friend. It's a 2D side-scroller that reminds me of games from the classic franchises Mega-Man, Metroid, and Castlevania, but it fails to deliver on that sense of nostalgia, only serving as a reminder of those other great games. Three amazing games in particular (Mega Man 3, Super Metroid, and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night) have spots on my “Top Ten Games of All-Time” list. Strider probably won’t make my Top 50 list; it has too many shortcomings and nothing about it is memorable for being fantastic. Despite its crisp graphics and cool sound effects, Strider for the latest generation of consoles is a missed opportunity to revive something that was truly great.
From the moment I began to play Strider, I hated its controls. I’m an old-school gamer and I grew up playing 2D games using the D-Pad to move my character around. I do NOT like playing 2D games with the analog stick. In a 3D game, an analog stick makes perfect sense…but not in a 2D game. On top of that, there is no alternate controller configuration in the Settings menu which means you’re forced to use a poor design decision.
Twitter hates using the analog stick in Strider, too.
@TisDaFrobman I know, but I am just saying that games like Strider don't work well with analog sticks.— Devar (@DevarArcvarron) February 22, 2014
Strider frustrated me pretty much instantly. It feels so imprecise. I don't appreciate having to use the analog stick in a side scroller.— Chris Caskie (@CSCaskie) February 21, 2014
Strider is so, so smooth, but what's up with the analog-only movement.— Eric French (@djSyndrome) February 19, 2014
Alright, first Strider gripe. Restricting move only to the analog stick.— Noire Yoshida (@SonyOfLastation) February 18, 2014
Woow, the new Strider controls like a dream. Sucks that I can't move with the d-pad. I hate playing sidescrollers with a stick.— Nirre (@Nirreman) February 19, 2014
The D-Pad in this game is used to switch between your four sword-types (called Plasma) and it is an equally bad idea. When your left hand predominantly controls your movement and your right hand controls your attacks, it’s unwise to put attack buttons on the left side of the controller. There were times in this game when I was running and needed to switch between weapons. Since running is on the left-analog stick (a position reserved for your left thumb) and weapon changes are on the D-Pad (another position reserved for your left thumb), you can’t run and change weapons at the same time. (The guy’s name is Strider and he cannot fight well “in stride”.) I often found myself awkwardly reaching my right hand over to the D-Pad, or using my right thumb on the left analog so I could change weapons while running.
A simple remedy for control complaints would have been to create several controller configurations and allow the gamer to select the one he or she prefers. It baffles me when developers refuse to consider accessibility options like this.
"Despite its crisp graphics and cool sound effects, Strider for the latest generation of consoles is a missed opportunity to revive something that was truly great."
The developers were concerned, however, for the deaf and hard-of-hearing when they decided to use subtitles for speech. Unfortunately, the closed-captions get in the way of some of the action, and there is no option to remove them. Many times, I’ve been shot by enemies hiding in the cover of subtitles.
Also, subtract from the game its forgettable story and musical score, and you’re left with an otherwise “Good” game. Strider looks good and has good sound effects, and in my 9+ hours of play, I only experienced lag one time. I was never stuck or confused about my objectives, and I never thought the enemies or bosses were outright impossible. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t recommend Strider to a friend. I don’t recommend “Good” games; I only recommend “Great” ones.
If you’re playing Strider or thinking about purchasing it, here’s a pro-tip to really get you airborne: Catapult in the air, double-jump, then catapult again. Timed correctly, it turns your double-jump into a quadruple jump!
- Open world
- Sound effects
- Boss battles
- Lack of D-Pad support
- Forgettable story
- Musical score
Brent: When it comes to "Metroid-Vania" games, the last one I enjoyed thoroughly was in fact, Super Metroid. I have played a few of the Castlevania games over the years, but none of them offered up an experience like Super Metroid did. Fast-forward to the present and along comes Strider, a re-imagining of a “classic” game that I never knew existed until this past year (I’m ashamed to admit that!). With a craving for something new, something different for my PlayStation 4, I figured I’d give Strider a fair shake. I will be the first to admit that once I moved over to the PlayStation One, I lost interest in most 2D platformers as my attention was squarely focused on sports games for the next couple of years. I guess you could say I had forgotten my gaming roots; forgotten where it all began for me. It wasn’t until last year's Guacamelee! that I sort of reconnected with the genre, bringing back memories of my first years of gaming.
The hardest part about playing Strider after such a long hiatus from the genre, is adjusting to the necessary play-style that is required for 2D platformers. I’d even go so far as to call it an art-form. It’s very easy to jump into Strider, playing it like any of the hundreds of other hack-and-slash games out there, mashing the buttons hoping to destroy everything on the screen. Doing this will likely lead to frustration (which it did in my case,) because the game isn’t as shallow as you’d think it would be. However, once I shook that mindset and really started to utilize all the abilities that you obtain throughout the story, it became a much more rewarding experience.
"The hardest part about playing Strider after such a long hiatus from the genre, is adjusting to the necessary play-style that is required for 2D platformers. I’d even go so far as to call it an art-form."
Through the first couple of levels, you can run around and simply use the basic attack buttons to lay waste to the troops that you’ll encounter early and often. However, it's this very early sense of being over-powered that is going to set you up for a rude awakening once you reach your first boss battle. It’s at this very moment that you realize that you’ve severely underestimated your foe, and that you need to get your act together if you want to succeed. I lost interest in the actual narrative of the game after about an hour, and found myself more interested in getting a handle on the challenging gameplay. The game runs great for a platformer, with a framerate that holds at 60fps regardless of what’s happening on-screen. The sound isn’t anything spectacular as most weapons sound the same, and as a fan of downloading gaming soundtracks, Strider's score was rather disappointing considering its sci-fi setting.
Your character's two main weapons are his Cypher (best described as a plasma sword), and a secondary weapon that acts as a throwing knife called the Kunai. Of course, you can combine these attacks not only while on foot, but also when you’re jumping or dangling from a wall or ceiling. As you progress through the story, you’ll be able to unlock different styles of plasma for your Cypher, all of which offer different effects on enemies. You can switch to these different plasmas on the fly using the D-pad. There are other abilities that can be triggered using a separate energy meter that offer short-term, but powerful attacks. At first, it can be quite jarring to swap between all these abilities, especially later in the game when you may need to quickly swap between 2 plasma-types because of the enemies you’re engaging. It’s important to master the skill of switching between all of these different abilities, knowing when to use them because the AI in this game can be brutally aggressive. If you make a mistake, not only will one enemy knock you on your back, but two nearby enemies will tee off on you while you’re trying to recover. There is no room for error in many instances.
"The control scheme does take some getting used to, and as Taz mentioned earlier, you will find yourself bouncing all over your controller to change plasma types when trying to use a special ability."
Though Taz wasn’t pleased that the game didn’t feature D-pad support to control your character (I can see how purists of the genre would take this as a slight), I found controlling the game with the analog sticks to be very responsive and precise. The control scheme does take some getting used to, and as Taz mentioned earlier, you will find yourself bouncing all over your controller to change plasma types when trying to use a special ability. However, having watched a few videos of “pros” playing this game, its apparent some gamers truly are skilled at switching through multiple abilities while engaging several enemies, and it’s quite a sight to behold.
Overall, despite the steep learning curve (especially during those damn boss battles!), I found myself more and more engaged as my playtime increased. Yes, there are some extremely frustrating battles, but I was my own worst enemy when I would fail. Once I started to use my special abilities properly, combining Cyper and Kunai combos on my foes, I found the game to be more and more rewarding as I improved. Though I died many times and grew quite frustrated on occasion (often to the point of retiring my controller into the ground!), I kept finding myself saying “one more time”. That’s where I feel Strider excels, because as punishing as it may be at times, it’s that much more rewarding when you do succeed. Even though I may not be as big a fan of 2D platformers as Taz and Ben, I enjoyed my time with Strider. It's a brutally challenging game that forces you to think deeper in terms of gameplay, which in turn makes for a better sense of accomplishment when you finally see the credits roll.
- Open world to explore
- Repetitive level design