Fans of the stylish ninja have been without a proper Strider game for 15 years. The last installment was on the original PlayStation. Since then, fans have only been able to play as Hiryu in the Marvel vs. Capcom series. Strider is an action game for PlayStation 4 (and is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Xbox One). Developed by Double Helix, the new game now plays more like Castlevania than a linear arcade game. The character may look the same, but the gameplay is a huge departure for the series. Does Strider still feel the same after its makeover?
Traditional Strider gameplay is largely unchanged, but for the best. Jumping between bullets and sliding under enemies is a hard feeling to describe, but it makes one feel like a badass ninja despite how simple the actions may be. The moveset is uncomplicated. The standard attack is a quick slash, which can be mashed to great effect. There is the aforementioned slide, which is used to get around to the backside of enemies, a launcher and a button for different options. Options are similar to magic or ninpo.
As players move through the game, mid-bosses and end bosses will gate off various upgrades and abilities that then open up new doors and passageways to explore further. It is a familiar formula but one entirely new to the Strider franchise. It works well, and adds a layer of backtracking and exploration not found in previous titles.
Strider is no longer an arcade game, so there is no score. Dispatched enemies return a small amount of health and energy, which can help greatly should players have to fight. That being said, without any experience system or score to chase, enemies are more easily avoided than eliminated. This leads to more avoidance and careful bullet deflection than using any newly-acquired abilities. Without combat being a requirement or having an adequate reward, it is easier, faster and safer to run.
Boss fights are a mixed bag. Some require careful analysis of patterns and tells to defeat various boss types while others can be easily taken down by using a few option moves and mashing the attack button. Even on easy difficulty, bosses can take out Strider incredibly fast. Learning all enemy attack patterns takes more than one death. A single attack can swing the fight from balanced to impossible and death often checkpoints before the cutscene introducing the boss. It can be frustrating and certain bosses will take significantly more tries than others. The game would have benefited from more balance across all difficulties.
During our review, the framerate remained stable for the majority of the game. Boss fights had a multitude of particles and flying objects on screen but everything ran smoothly. During the latter half of the game, there is a choice to continue to the final area from which you cannot return. Choosing to backtrack and gather missed items slowed the game down to what felt like half speed. The game would occasionally return to normal but quickly slow down as soon as a group of enemies appeared. It had to be restarted completely before the framerate returned to normal. Upon subsequent playthroughs, the anomaly did not appear again but there were small hiccups scattered throughout.
The flat textures give Strider a cartoony look, which falls in line with the anime style from the past. The game has a great balance of color considering that the majority of it is spent in industrial corridors, underground sewers and military laboratories. Strider’s various abilities and modifiers have an associated color that changes the hue of his scarf and blade. Bullets and projectiles will illuminate with great bloom while particle effects and some areas will become entirely engulfed by colors and light.
Strider looks great from the default camera. There are some very low resolution textures and aliased edges that reveal themselves on closeups that occur when Strider picks up an upgrade or during various cutscenes. While the story scenes play out, it quickly becomes apparent that there is no animated speech on any of the characters. It works fine on a masked protagonist, but looks awkward as the villains don fixed grins while they nod through their dialogue.
The familiar slash sound effect returns, although a bit understated compared to past games. This is a good thing, considering how often players would hear it. The music is fantastic, with some songs being nods to the first game as well as some great original pieces. The jingle that plays when picking up a new collectible is joyous and addictive and the upgrade sound and animation sells the idea of Strider becoming that much more powerful.
The only shortcoming is the voice acting, which is mostly poor. Those heavily invested in the story will be disappointed at the delivery of almost every character and the cartoonish qualities of some that clash against the uber-serious Strider. The most egregious offender is one that shouts over a loudspeaker to eat away at the character’s will as he tries to infiltrate a facility, but it succeeds more in eating away at the player’s, which makes it hard to classify it as a failure or success.
Strider feels like a solid entry in a series that was all but forsaken. As the arcade scene slowly fades away, reinvigorating an older series with an even older, yet more favorable gameplay design was risky, but it paid off. Strider is fun to play, despite its flaws. Fans will welcome the return of signature boss fights, flashy abilities and identifiable soundtrack while newcomers can enjoy an approachable action-adventure game that provides a decent challenge.