I’ll just say upfront that I played the game, got to the area before the final boss… or maybe the area before that- point is, I was near the end and quit playing the game as I was not having a good time with it. That alone summarizes my thoughts about it, but I feel the need to justify my opinions on games in order to have a deviant opinion about them due to my own mental insecurities and sense of loyalty for something I don’t have any investment in beyond how I’ve been doing this too long to give up (I am speaking of the blog you are likely viewing this on).
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), PS4, PS3, XBO, Xbox 360
Developer: Double Helix Games
Strider is one of those games where I wonder if there was somebody in the development team who asked if they could simply uproot most of the story, as it boils down to a secret ninja agent going to overthrow an empire for one reason or another and fighting countless soldiers and mercenaries along the way in his fight for great justice. Yet very disposable side characters and limitations on the main character, Strider Hiryu, are in place, with aspects such as cutscenes feeling largely unneeded. If anything, it’s the presentation that cinches my disinterest, especially when it is the type of game that expects the player would have enough initiative to learn about the world through reading lore written by the developers, rather than simply seeing the world unfold.
Perhaps I am a bit over demanding with that last bit, but that was the expectation I went into Strider with, a false belief that I was going to play a Metroidvania title, or an action platformer with a large emphasis on exploration and world exploring. Well, that is simply not the case for Strider, not that the game lacks object or items to collect and has a wide open world, but from the simple fact it is not done in a way I find to be properly evocative of the terribly named and reductive sounding genre, or all that enjoyable. As such, simply scavenging through a map, a map that is segmented into different areas, is not the most comfortable thing to use, is divided by two planes per environment, is laid out very clearly to be proceeded through linearly, and offers little help in item location, is not enjoyable by any stretch.
Perhaps that was a misconception, despite a series of fifty or so upgrades hidden throughout the irritating to navigate world, dozens of hidden pieces of concept art, and a series of alternate costumes. Perhaps it is an action game primarily before it is an explore and upgrade centric platformer. Well, let me tell you something. While I was certainly irritated at how unenjoyable I found my desire to rummage through the game’s world in search of its many useless secrets and rewards, that was very much a secondary aspect I felt I could ignore due to how pointless it all felt, as did collection and upgrade obtainment as a whole. The primary reason I ceased my playthrough of Strider very much comes from the core gameplay, and specifically the combat, which I will admit to enjoying when I began the title, but gradually became more and more irritating to me as it continued on.
From the get-go, Strider is a modernization reimagining of a duo of arcade games that primarily featured a ninja going through a waves of enemies by slashing them rapidly with a large arc. Gameplay is fast, the quickness of ones mashing of X is certainly an advantage or detriment, and there is a focus on breezing through environments like they are nothing. Yet the combat is given slightly more depth by adding in an unlockable and upgradable projectile weapon that must be awkwardly aimed with the right stick while being given no on-screen indicator as to where Strider Hiryu is aiming. Holding down X after the introductory area will allow you to charge your blade’s power and release it on unsuspecting foes, but the prospect of holding down a face button during combat has never been a pleasurable one in my mind, especially if it means I must use my thumb for jumping as well. And then there is a variety of alterable elements Strider Hiryu can switch through, which certainly sounds a bit uninspired, and was not very fun to use in my experience.
From the need to take my thumb off of the left analog stick to select a new element while in the middle of fighting enemies, to the usefulness of these abilities in terms of playing the game, I found very little joy to be had with the different elements. If anything, it feels like they all should have stacked upon one another for the base attack and have the very distinct projectiles serve as the selectable, rather than four primary attacks, half of which felt incredibly disposable on their own. Switching between them wouldn’t even be as much of an issue if not for how the vast majority of enemies are very frequently throwing projectiles your way, with the only way to properly deflect them requiring precise timing when using only one of your elemental forms, or whatever name the game chose to title them. So you will naturally take quite a bit of damage, which enemies help lessen by how they offer a morsel of health upon their death, with stationary health orbs serving as backups on the go. Unfortunately, their placement is farm more random than anything else, with cakewalk sections sometimes being littered with the things, while tougher sections with former boss foes who take quite a lot of damage offer very little health in comparison.
The biggest kink in the game’s combat is how quite often it is preferable to just run past enemies, as it is simply time consuming and unrewarding to fight them at a certain point, especially when you consider they sometimes respawn while you are in the same oversize room. Sure, there are foes that need to be found along with bosses, but over half the encounters I would very quickly recommend ignoring, even if there may be a hidden piece of awkwardly injected lore hidden in a corner. Ultimately encouraging the player to simply breeze through this exploration catered action platformer while avoiding combat as much as possible.
I suppose that the world doesn’t help, but saying I found the game all that pleasing would be equally true. The first thing I recall thinking when I saw Strider was “man, I hope they remove that dumb CRT filter.” They sadly did not, and the game looks far worse in my book for it, ruining what could have been a clear picture with what I could only understand as being a form of misguided art direction that catered towards nostalgia more than practicality. Yet the color pallette as a whole didn’t strike my fancy very much, and when I was allowed to see models up close, I noticed mouths lacked the ability to move and certain textures had visible pixels, which I’ll admit to being sensible for a game with a camera as delightfully zoomed out as this, but it makes the decision to use cutscenes as frequently as the title does come across as perplexing.
In conclusion, I don’t quite get the hubbub or fuvor around the 2014 version of Strider. While I can certainly see how the game could have been something special, as when it does work as a fast paced action game with multiple side branches for some collectible gathering, it certainly does work. Yet as the title droned on longer than I anticipated, it became more bogged down in complexities and irritants, causing my enjoyment took a notable dip to the point where I didn’t view it as worthwhile to see its final half hour or so through. I would have certainly enjoyed to have maintained a rather strong enjoyment of the title, but my curve for such a thing would be -(X^2).
Not quite solid or liquid, these are tough to recommend, while not necessarily being a bad title. As the game does still have plenty of pleasantness, but ultimately comes out feeling a bit too meh.