Strider from Double Helix makes a great first impression. The game doesn’t try to jive me with some attempt at providing a plot point to my upcoming actions, it just sends me in as Strider Hiryu on a glider into the enemy capital of Kazakh City. My primary objective for the game is eliminate Grandmaster Meio. It allows me to go straight forward into the action slicing and dicing my way to my end game target. That’s what I call a glorious representation of “no jive/”  

It's a great first impression. Unfortunately, that gives way to a failed attempt at a metroidvania, with none of the challenge or exciting map design that makes the genre special. The game is supposed to be a modernized take on the original strider. Combining both the slick action of the arcade game with the adventure like feel of the genesis game. The player is dropped into an area you can’t fully access at the outset. Most of the game is item-gated like Metroid games, and requires you to find an item to progress to the next section of the environment.

Backtracking through Kazach City will provide the typical assortments of items you can collect in a game like this. You can get health upgrades (which will be necessary on a harder difficulty), energy upgrades, weapon upgrades, and some collectibles like concept art. Beyond the exploring you will also have to deal with a ton of respawning enemies over the course of the experience. Thus requiring the combat to have a bit more going for it to keep the experience engaging.

The combat system revolves around a series of upgrades to your main blade called cyphers. The standard cypher is plasma, and it comes with the bonus of reflecting bullets. Two of the other three cyphers play exactly like the plasma cypher, except that the explosive cypher deals fire damage, and the ice cypher freezes enemies.  The final cypher is a magnetic cypher that creates a boomerang type attack.

You’ll get access to energy attacks that take the form of things like a panther and an eagle. You’ll also unlock throwing knives, which can be upgraded to an explosive for maximum damage. It all provides a respectable arsenal of attacks that provides some versatility to the combat. It all sounds functional on paper, but that’s all it ends up ever being as an action game.

Functional: as in everything works as intended. But what’s lost here is any test of skill or expertise on the elements that define the genres Strider is emulating. The biggest offender is actually Double Helix’s decision to make the game a Metroidvania.

Metroidvanias rely on creating a seamless labyrinth that feels connected as a complete environment. Varied in its locales, but strung together in a way that feels clever. Kazakh City is loosely connected, and all too often requires you to access warp points that just make the city jarring as a whole. It also doesn’t help that Kazakh City has little to offer in terms of visual variety. With the exception of a pretty awesome sequence on an air ship, the rest of the game takes place in blandly designed facilities. It's the usual mishmash of banal gray and metal one associates with an enemy compound. The few times it mixes it up? I got things like a sewer level. This lack of visual variety is exacerbated by the linearity of the experience. Sure there is your typical backtracking, but it has none of the slick tricks that one associates with the best of Metroid, Castlevania, or modern entries like Shadow Complex. Even if the game wanted to avoid sequence breaking, it doesn’t make up for the part where the environment isn’t engaging to explore.

There are no real secrets to this game world in terms of hunting down items. Partially because the map gives away most upgrade locations, but also because there is no thought put into discovering items. The environmental puzzles that made Metroid work just aren’t as clever in Strider. Take for instance one segment in Super Metroid: In one of the earlier areas of the game if you came back with the morph ball and its bombs, you could timely jump to uncover an upgrade in the area.

What gives this segment away to the player is a subtle difference in the environmental design of this block, and the trick itself is a representation of your mastery of the mechanics in the game. Strider on the flip side is usually as simple as open this door, or do the slide attack through the vents. Take this roundabout angle to get to this room just isn’t a satisfying way to find things. It robs the environment of any personality or intricacies one would associate as a highlight of this genre.

This lack of variety and nuance finds its way into the combat as well. The standard enemies are repetitive for majority of the experience. The only thing that really changes is a palette swap that ultimately just makes the enemies spongier. The shielded enemies that require you to do charge attacks to eliminate their shield mix it up by forcing you to switch cyphers. There are also enemies that use long ranged rifles, there are turrets to deal with, and larger robotic enemies that just require more mashing and dodging than the standard foe.  Oh and at one point the game has Zombies, because reasons.

The routine of run forward and mash square can crush most of your foes. The few difficult segments the game does throw at you really come down to just using multiple cyphers to eliminate your foes more efficiently. By late game any difficulty can be mitigated by simply using your energy attack in conjunction with the ice cypher to freeze enemies.

The sequences that end up being the most taxing usually come down to the parts where the platforming is a pain to control. Because the game uses the d-pad strictly for cypher switching, the player loses precision when needing to move in a 2d environment on an analog. To compensate, the game makes the platforming sticky and a bit more automated, getting you stuck on the environment. For the standard platforming that isn’t a big deal, but in more confined spaces with enemies it can be frustrating to not have proper control of your movement.

To break up the pacing of the moment to moment action of the game you have a variety of boss fights that come early, and often. The benefit of them showing up so much is that they provide a sense of forward momentum that the rest of the game doesn’t provide.

Some may be bothered by some of the enemies repeating, but most of them do change from their previous fight. For instance the wind sisters fight itself evolved from a 1 v 1, to a 2 v 1, to a 3 v 1 encounter. Sure it repeats the characters, but the scenario changed substantially from a gameplay perspective. The early fights don’t require more than using your latest upgrade to finish the fight, but later fights are trickier, as they become a sequence of knowing correct spacing, timely dodges, and taking advantage of your openings. You know, up until the final boss fight ends up being pitiful.

Fundamentally, Strider doesn't consistently execute with its gameplay elements. It’s fun in a primitive way, and for anyone less versed in the genre I can easily see the appeal. But it’s an underdeveloped action experience as a whole. The combat simply doesn’t have the variety in enemies, nor the depth to be a rewarding action experience. The Metroidvania structure comes off as ill-advised at this point. It compromises the combat of the few strengths it does have, by simply turning the second half combat encounters into dull chores.  

Most of all, it’s a product where everything the game does has been done before, and done better across the board. So what you’re left with is this run of the mill attempt at a genre it barely grasps, with a bunch of moments meant to take advantage of those nostalgic for Strider’s classic sword “schwing.”  

It’s not a modern reimagining of Strider, as much as it’s a misguided one. 

Final Score: 5/10

 

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