This review is possibly one of the hardest and most confusing I’ve ever had to write. My reaction to the newest installment in the Strider franchise was so mixed that I kind of thought I might be going crazy.
But at the end of the day I had to ask myself, as a gamer, is this game engaging and enjoyable to play (you know, fun)? And my response? Well read on to find out …
Let’s get this out of the way
OK, in case you didn’t know, Strider is essentially a new installment/reboot of a classic Capcom franchise, and the ninja-based shenanigans became pretty big hits on the Mega Drive/Genesis and Master System back in the day.
Yes, we know it’s not a SEGA game, but it’s because of the fond memories of playing this on SEGA consoles that we felt we had to review the latest reiteration.
Nostalgia, meet the future
It’s always a challenge when companies try to bring a classic title from the good old days of 2D gaming onto modern systems. Do they try to make the game 3D? Do they keep the original 2D roots? Or do they split the difference and go 2.5D?
Well with Strider, Double Helix and Capcom opted for the 2.5D approach. The game plays along a 2D plane, but with some 3D models for characters and the environment.
It’s not original by any means, but it really is effective as it has allowed Double Helix to retain the classic gameplay that made the original Strider games so appealing. Your new Strider can still run, flip-jump and climb walls like it’s 1989.
A whole new world
In fact, Double Helix has done a fantastic job of keeping the retro feel to the game, while updating pretty much everything about it. The movements, general gameplay and feel all do the original franchise justice. But stepping away from the past, Strider’s visuals and controls merge seamlessly with the current generation platforms.
The visuals are sharp and full of vibrant colours. There is plenty of detail, and all the different environments you visit are unique enough to engage you visually.
The controls are smooth and gameplay is fast. Jumping into battle, you will be slashing your sword around like nobody’s business. Climbing walls and ceilings is still pretty fun – not only does it make you feel like a badass, it adds something new that feels like it’s been lost with modern games.
And unlike the original Strider games, where you went from level to level, the new Strider takes on more of a Castlevania approach, by having a big ‘open’ 2D world, which players make their way through, unlocking new sections and new paths and then acquiring new skills to go back to a previous area and unlock some new segments to the game.
It makes the game feel more like one continuous adventure and really encourages you to explore and find new areas and secrets.
But… the game is not without its problems. And this is where I had problems struggling with my inner gamer.
It’s all been done
I know some say you shouldn’t compare games directly to others, and a game should stand on its own merits, but it couldn’t be helped in this instance as there are so many games released in the past couple years that are so similar to Strider. Two games constantly sprang to mind as I played through the game: Shadow Complex and Mark of the Ninja.
Shadow Complex being an excellent 2.5D shooter with a big open Castlevania-style map, where you had to find upgrades and solve basic puzzles to continue through. And Mark of the Ninja puts you in the shoes of a ninja, with some great ninja skills.
Basically these two games, while different enough, encompass everything that Strider is – but they, in my opinion, are just better.
Shadow Complex’s enemies, level structure, gameplay and story are just better on almost every level for me. I felt more engaged when playing and was genuinely excited when I found an upgrade or new ability to use.
In Strider, while I’m happy to find a new ability, I rarely felt like I was making any progress. You see, most of the abilities you unlock don’t really do much, except in certain situations. I played through the majority of the game still using the basic attack.
Also, Shadow Complex’s long-range combat is much easier to control. Strider, at its heart, is more focused on close-quarters combat – but you do unlock abilities that require long range attacks, and, frankly, it was more of a chore to use long-range projectiles than it should have been.
Mark of the Ninja is technically closer to Strider in terms of gameplay style, as they are both ninja-themed titles. But in Mark of the Ninja, I genuinely felt like I was a ninja. You can use stealth throughout the game to sneak and assassinate enemies, hiding bodies in vents and trying to avoid heavy fights. Or you could go in hot and just try to take on your enemies like a badass warrior.
In Strider you have only one option: attack. There is absolutely no variety in gameplay. You enter a room and just run in attacking anything that moves.
And attacks aren’t instant kills. No you have to chop and slice at your enemies several times before they die. But there is no skill to this – you are just tapping one or two buttons until your enemy dies and then you run forward and do the same to the next enemy.
And to cap it all off, the enemy AI is pretty damn terrible. You are fighting robots throughout (Oh, and some weird creatures in the sewers), so perhaps you could argue that the robots are just stupid sentry bots, but I call it poor programming.
You run into a room, and the robots try to react as you run up to them and start slicing. Yes, they do tend to get a few good shots off as you fight and kill one of their friends – but you can often avoid or counter attacks. And there are so many healing points that you don’t really need to worry about your health.
Urgh. Mega RAGE
Adding insult to injury, the boss battles are easy. Too easy. Again, I found myself using the same two or three attacks, even on bosses, and, throughout my play time, I only died once. And that was on a boss, where I kept jumping off a ledge (you don’t die straight away; you just lose health from falling down a bottomless pit).
Then, I have an issue with the story. It’s kind of unclear exactly what’s going on. All I know is that you are in some futuristic Russian-style city, and you are trying to find and kill the leader.
On the way, you come across some other assassins who try to kill you. But always fail – because they suck.
But in one cutscene, the leader of the country is talking to an assassin with wings, and the assassin is saying how tough I am to kill, but he could do it. So I was thinking: “OK, this guy is coming to kill me now.” But then you have another cutscene later on, where the same assassin is flying around and gets a call from the “glorious leader,” who tells him he has a contract ready him to kill Strider. The flying guy tells the leader to send him the details. Where this gets silly is the flying guy already knows where and who I am. So why does he need the details?
I dunno – I felt like Double Helix had some random ideas for a plot and just threw them into a pot and dragged them out one at a time, to try and bring together a coherent storyline.
Aside from the tediously repetitive combat, there is also one other issue I had with Strider: bugs.
Now, I seem to be just about the only person to come across these bugs in the game, but I swear they are there and they happened more regularly than I would have liked. In fact, I have a couple of off-screen pictures I took on my phone when they happened for about the 10th time!
Firstly, I got stuck in a couple of walls and just SO MANY of the thicker platforms (see photos). I would be doing my ninja thing – jumping around and slicing enemies, but then suddenly land IN a platform.
I was stuck, I couldn’t escape, I could move from one end of the platform to the other, but could not jump out or anything. I had to reload my game. Uggh.
Another time I was stuck in a wall was when I was simply trying to climb into an air vent. I had done this many times in the game before, but suddenly one time I climbed into an air vent and then suddenly couldn’t really move anywhere – I had randomly fallen into the wall and couldn’t move.
I found two glitches in an area of the game I really enjoyed, so it kind of ruined that for me. Basically there’s a section of the game which is like a series of test chambers. You enter a room, a trap happens and you have to fight your way out and then the doors open and you can proceed to the next bit.
Well, one of the glitches happened when I beat a room and exited through one door. But then changed my mind – because some of the rooms have more than one exit – so I walked back into the room I just left and walked to the other exit. But all the doors shut again and I thought, “OK, just gotta fight my way out again…” but no. The trap didn’t reset, but I couldn’t leave either … I was totally stuck. I had to reload my game. Grrr.
Another annoyance happened in one of the test chambers where you have to run between these electrified moving walls. Now, Strider will usually run off ledges quite happily. But in this one room, where I needed him to just run off a ledge, so I could duck under a moving wall, he would just latch on to the edge of the ledge and try to climb down.
This was a moment where I genuinely got furious at the screen. I couldn’t jump off the ledge, because the roof was electrified, but trying to run off the ledge didn’t work either. In the end, I had to do a sort of slide attack off the ledge and then try to duck under the moving wall. Basically, this shouldn’t have been this annoying or hard, but it was – and unfairly so.
Now, here’s the downside of all of this. I gave up playing Strider before the end. I know I got pretty close to finishing it, too. But towards the end of my Strider playthrough, in the space of about 20 minutes, I got stuck in three different platforms. Meaning, I had to reset the game three times in less than half an hour. That shouldn’t happen with any game.
And honestly, I just threw my controller down on the third one and said, “Screw this!” I had just had enough of it.
Not only was I actually bored of the tiresome combat in the game, but I was encountering just too many game-breaking bugs that I wasn’t enjoying the game at all. And that comes back to my earlier paragraph folks – is this a fun game?
A tough decision
The combat and gameplay mechanics are sound and smooth. The visuals are lush and creative. And the soundtrack is pretty damn solid too.
But, when it all comes down to it, even solid gameplay, visuals and audio are all ruined by lacklustre fighting, repetitive enemy types and freaking annoying bugs!
And then here’s the thing … as I say, I seem to be one of the few people experiencing these bugs. I spoke to other reviewers/gamers about them and even tweeted about it, but I seem to be in the minority – so what do I do? Well, frankly, a reviewer needs to base their review on their experience. And my experience was … well, full of bugs.
I don’t know if I have a corrupt version of the game, or I’m somehow doing something different that kept triggering these glitches, but man it really ruined my game time.
I feel quite mean for this. Because of all the great accomplishments Strider managed to achieve, it has a few game-breaking issues that make those achievements feel redundant. The game just isn’t as fun as other, similar, titles available and at the end of the day just not enjoyable enough.
But that said, I can’t deny that I didn’t get ANY enjoyment from this game. Moments of the game and one of the boss battles (even though easy) I did find rather enjoyable.
+ Great visuals
+ Fast, slick gameplay
+ Smooth combat
+ Fun to explore the map
– Smooth as it is, combat soon becomes tiresome
– Really repetitive enemy types
– Bosses are too damn easy
– Game-breaking bugs(!)