Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Overrated! #4

Strider (1989)
By: Capcom Genre: Platform/Fighting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: ???,???
Also Available For: MegaDrive, Master System, X68000, PC Engine, Amiga, Atari ST, PC, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum
Download For: Wii Virtual Console


Okay, I'm pretty sure I'm going to get crucified for this one, but... am I the only one who could never quite see what all the fuss was about with Strider? With the exception of the Street Fighter games and a few more recent franchises such as Resident Evil and Devil May Cry, it's arguably Capcom's most famous game ever, so it must be fantastic, surely? Well, I've played it in the arcade, on my good friend Luke's Amstrad CPC, and most extensively on my MegaDrive where is was apparently close to arcade perfect, so if that version didn't do it for me, surely none would? To find out, I shall return to its origins - the arcade version - and take my most detailed look at the celebrated somersault-fest yet. Will I regret including it in the 'Overrated' feature? Only time will tell...

Take out one Kazakh goon, another soon appears...
I've always known Strider to be a game set in the future and have something to do with the Soviets but I've never really looked into its story in any detail. Subsequent research reveals that it is indeed set in the future - 2048 to be precise - and in an oppressive world ruled, somewhat surprisingly, by the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic which is headed by a buffoon called Grandmaster. Charged with bringing down his regime is Hiryu, a mysterious ninja-like agent of an order known as the Striders. Hmm, if there's a whole 'order', it seems a little unfair to just send Hiryu by himself but nevermind, he seems confident enough and he only has five stages to battle through - Kafazu, Siberia, Balrog Flying Fortress, Amazon, and the final showdown at Third Moon.

Mecha Pon - the most famous character in the game?
Hiryu doesn’t get much time to prepare either as he’s dropped off by an aircraft straight into the enemy’s stronghold. From here it’s a seemingly simple case of battling through each stage, generally from left to right as normal. That’s a pretty big ‘generally’ though, as the stages aren’t exactly flat. The aforementioned aircraft drop leaves you atop a large, fairly Soviet-looking building which you must make your way over the top of before venturing inside. This, as with most stages, involves making use of Hiryu’s impressive athletic abilities. His main means of attack from the beginning of the game until the end is his plasma sword, called ‘Falchion’, which has a rather limited range but can be used from any position he may find himself in, and that’s quite a few!

Outrun the mines down the mountain-side...
His jump is rather somersaulty and can cover quite a distance, and he can also cling to most walls or the underside of near enough anything and move around as freely as the space (and enemies) allow. That isn’t often very much though. The stages are timed for one thing, and there are a lot of enemies around which include many Soviet soldiers (obviously), but also small robots (both crawling and flying varieties), scenery-mounted gun turrets, and some significantly larger and more dangerous creatures/devices as well. Most of them have weapons whose reach exceeds Hiryu’s and all of them are more than happy to use them. Hiryu has a (quite short) energy meter but the rate at which he loses energy is determined by what hits him. It’s best to keep moving anyway though, and this is where you’ll need to make full use of his leaping, dangling, and climbing abilities.

This is the Balrog Flying Fortress, presumably...
As you would expect, all the stages are designed to make full use of these abilities too – as well as slashing stuff up you’ll spend a lot of time climbing up or running down steep hills (or roofs), clambering up and down platforms through multi-storied areas, clinging to moving (often whirly) platforms, ascending narrow passageways, and things like that. It's a good thing Hiryu is so manoeuvrable too, as there isn't too much in the way of extra stuff to collect. There is a cool temporary shield which sees duplicates of Hiryu following behind him. There's also bonus point pick-ups, ones to refill or increase his energy meter, a sword power-up which increases its range for a limited number of 'slashes', and three different 'Robo-Buddies' which are helpful (kind of) robotic companions which can damage enemies for you.

Hiding from a laser between whirly platforms...
The most common of these helpers is a Robo-Saucer which floats around, seemingly aimlessly, but can and often does engage enemies and can despatch them effortlessly. The less common assistants are a Robo-Hawk and a Robo-Panther but these are trickier to make effective use of. They certainly look nice though, which brings me to what I feel is one of the best and worst things about Strider - its graphics. In screenshots, it undoubtedly looks like a pretty game for late 80's standards and some aspects of it are nice. The sprites are the obvious place to start. Most of them are quite detailed and nicely drawn but the animation isn't great, except for Hiryu himself who looks great leaping and twirling all over the place, and, of course, looks very cool whilst doing so!

Battling some sort of device which does... something...
Some of the foreground graphics are well-designed and look great and, while many backgrounds are dull and repetitive, there are also a few superb ones - almost the whole Siberia stage looks fantastic, for example, particularly the explosion-filled hill run! However, no matter how much the various sprites, backgrounds, etc, might appeal to you, even the biggest Strider fan can’t deny that it’s far from the smoothest game ever and is often terribly glitchy. This is especially true when there are any explosions on-screen and, since near enough everything in the game explodes, that’s pretty often! I also, unfortunately, found the audio to be even less impressive. Sound effects are poor, especially Hiryu’s constant "huh, huh, huh!" every time you press the attack button, but sadly the music isn’t great either.

Multiple Hiryus wobble on an Amazonian vine...
This could of course all be a 'moo' point. As we retro-gamers know better than anyone, ropey graphics and sound are often commonplace, even on some all-time greats – surely Strider’s distinctive, leapy, swishy action is timelessly entertaining, even with glitchy graphics and largely anonymous music? Well, I would certainly not condemn a game for having aged – it’s only to be expected with certain types – the reason for Strider’s inclusion in the ‘Overrated’ feature is because I never thought it was much cop to be brutally honest. Being an open-minded reviewer, however, I had entertained the possibility that I’d unfairly judged the game before and that my eyes would finally be opened when playing it for this review.

A tricky section amidst the clouds...
Sadly, this has not happened. There’s no question that Strider is a unique game, mainly because of its main character, and has some very memorable stages, but both these aspects of the game have faults that I can’t overlook however much I might want to. First of all, the stages are designed in such a way as to make full use of Hiryu’s abilities, but what actually are they? Not only do they seem very untidy to me, but their design doesn’t seem to really resemble anything. There’s no sense of making your way through any particular structure or landscape, they just seem to be random sections of strange platforms or objects laid out in a challenging way. It's not even very obvious where you should go or what you should do at some points. This is only a problem the first time you reach a section I suppose, but it still smacks of poor game design.

Smacking ED-209 with a powered-up sword...
The other, far more annoying problem I noticed (and I alone, apparently!) is the frequently-sluggish and unresponsive control of Hiryu. It really does seem hard to place him exactly where I want him a lot of the time and I can't count the number of lives lost because of this. This combined with the questionable stage design equals - in my opinion, it must be stressed - a very frustrating game with only occasional moments of truly enjoyable gameplay. I know the faults I’ve mentioned here could probably be applied to lord knows how many platformers over the years but I just don’t see Strider’s appeal. Yes, it’s an iconic game from the golden age of arcade gaming, and it features an even more iconic character who soon became very popular, but I just don’t enjoy playing it a great deal. I certainly don't hate this game, nor have some sort of grudge against it - it’s fairly good, all things considered, but an all-time great? Not for me...

RKS Score: 6/10

*runs away very fast*

12 comments:

  1. Ha ha, go for it! Everyone's entitled to an opinion, after all. Personally, I prefer the PlayStation sequel to this one.

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  2. Haha, cheers! I doubt anyone will agree with me though! :P I haven't played the PS sequel though, maybe I'll check it out :)

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  3. You should, yes. It's a bit easy in that it gives you infinite continues, and you respawn at the exact place where you died, but if you set your own limits on yourself you can get a lot of fun out of it.

    Also, as a bonus/non-bonus, you get an extra disc with it which contains the first Strider game.

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  4. You know - I never played the arcade version. I played it for the NES a million years ago, and I liked it quite a bit, though I believe it was quite a different animal there - more of an adventure game and less of an arcade style one - sort of like how Bionic Commando made the transition from arcade to NES and found greater popularity after the transition (and ironically enough, also a Capcom title)

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  5. THB - is it the one that comes with the original game?

    Chalgyr - the good old NES seems to get a lot of 'reimaginings' rather than straight conversions, doesn't it? :| Not sure if that's good or bad actually...

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    1. Yeah, that's the one - think I paid about £2 for it, four years ago. Worth it, certainly!

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  6. Believe it or not, in my opinion the Mega Drive game is superior to the arcade version.
    The only real fault it has, actually, is that it's too short. Other than that I think it's an outstanding game in all fronts.

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  7. It's probably worth noting that the NES game was developed concurrently to the arcade game by a completely different team, with no real cross-feed of ideas and input between them. Thus, they should be looked out as totally separate entities that happen to feature the same character with a big sword. Strider was supposed to be a big property for Capcom, but never took really off for whatever reason.

    I mostly agree with this review, by the way. Strider's biggest flaw, in my opinion, is that the first stage really is the high point of the game... and while it doesn't go drastically downhill, it still feels more than a little bit frontloaded.

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  8. It probably IS a bit overrated, but I think I would still give it an 8 out of 10. I remember at the time it made a nice change to shooters, cutesy platformers etc

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  9. Edward - the MD certainly has a great conversion, probably the best until the PS1 and all that came along. I do remember it being a bit less annoying but I still wasn't drawn in by it...

    Hi Mercatfat - great comment, thanks! I must admit, I was a bit surprised Capcom didn't milk the Strider name a bit more. Even if it didn't take off as well as hoped, it was still a big name. Most of the 'sequels' are of a very mixed quality in my experience.

    JD - prior to playing it for this review, I had expected to give it a 7/10 but it just annoyed me too much :( It has some great ideas and a lot of promise but I think its design lets it down...

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  10. I mostly disagree, not only Strider is an astounding Capcom classic with heavy relevance in action videogames but it's also a very good arcade game to master (as most games, once you are used to play the difficulty isn't as drammatic as you will think of) and being a hard game doesnt' seems it has to be bashed for that, most hardocre coin ops are this hard or much more (like Ghouls n' Ghosts also by Capcom for example)

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  11. Fair enough sir, I know most gamers like Strider :) I'm not concerned by the difficulty, I don't think it's that hard to be honest, it's the controls and stage design that I don't like much. I'm certainly glad the game exists though :)

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