Friday, 26 January 2018

Game Review: Strider (Arcade)

For today's review, I decided to take a look at Strider, an arcade game that, in spite of media hype (not to mention ports for most major computers and consoles), I had never actually gotten around to playing. Not one to shy away from broadening my gaming horizons, I thought I'd take some time to check it out and report back my thoughts.

A little reading beforehand revealed that Strider Hiryu began life as a collaborative endeavour between Capcom and Manga outfit, Moto Kikaku. The arcade game features Strider Hiryu as the main character, as well as borrowing elements from the original Manga storyline (although I'm led to believe there are plenty of discrepancies between the game world and comic fiction). The Striders are a group of shadowy mercenaries for higher, trained to super-human levels of agility and possessing exceptional skills in martial arts and armed combat.

The game's backstory focuses on Strider Hiryu, the most adept of the Strider agents, as he attempts to thwart an invasion of Earth by Grandmaster Meio, an evil dictator with magical powers. Begins in the city of St. Petersburg, Hiryu must dismantle Meio's operation one piece at a time, taking down his generals and subordinates in the process.

The game is a side-scrolling platformer that boasted great graphics and sound for it's time, not to mention a raft of innovative gameplay features. Whereas most platform games of the day involved movement in straight lines (i.e. up/down/left/right), Strider introduces the concepts of slopes and inclines. The player sprite anchors to the slope and an appropriate animation displays as Strider climbs (or descends), his speed and animation speed increasing as his velocity alters. Not only that, the game features climbing mechanics where he can scale flat surfaces, hang from ceilings, even ride moving platforms by hanging on to the underside - all of this must have been quite the challenge to program and implement correctly. The movement system combines with the overall sense of speed and fluidity to create a sense of flow and momentum, rather like parkour; the game is at it's most fun when you're chaining together a series of somersaults, before dispatching a plethora of foes with your sword then scarpering up the nearest wall or across a ceiling.

Stage 1

Combat is, by comparison, much more straightforward. Tapping the attack button will cause Hiryu to swing his sword, damaging anything in the plasma arc generated by blade's arc. Whilst initially faily short in range, it's possible to upgrade both the range and strength of the at
tack by collecting sword icons from inside metal containers dropped by enemies during combat. In addition to weapons, these canisters also contain bonuses that boots your score, extra health, not to mention robotic companions that accompany Hiryu on his mission.

It is these robots that, along with the movement mechanics, provide much of the game's innovation. These small, bipedal saucers will run after Strider, attacking enemies that get too close, as well as firing a bolt of energy when the attack button is pressed; up to two of these robo-pods can accompany Strider and the game is considerably easier when equipped. Whenever Strider acquires a saucer, the right-most of his remaining health units will change colour, from green to red. Should he take damage and the unit of health lost be a red block, a companion will also be lost - this introduces an element of strategy where players can risk losing health, collecting the robots, then attempting to refill their health, thus decreasing the risk of losing companions too early.

A Panda??!

If Strider should already possess a pair of saucers then the next companion power-up that drops will be a Robo-Panther. This beast has the advantage in that it can destroy any enemy it comes into contact with, but lacks the ranged attacks of the saucers. Personally, I found the saucers and their ranged attacks to be of far more use throughout the game than the cat, so much so that I never went out of my way to collect these items.

It is with a sense of disappointment that I have to admit that, despite the level of innovation on display, I didn't actually enjoy the game that much. I think some of this can be attributed to the game's unpredictable difficulty - losing the robot saucers places you at a huge disadvantage - that means you can go from hero to zero in a matter of seconds. There were also times when Strider failed to grab on to platforms when expected to do so, or that he would suddenly latch on to a moving platform automatically if it passed overhead; stage 3 in particular proved irksome where, to my surprise, I would get picked up by a passing platform, rather like a block of metal getting stuck to a magnet.

Who needs gravity?!

The worst parts of the game by a country mile, however, have to be the sections where gravity (and the controls) are inverted. Strider's world was turned upside down, both literally and metaphorically, as I struggled to cope with the sudden change in the controls. I suppose this wouldn't be so bad if you were simply trying to move left or right, but there is a large chunk of the final stage that requires you to make some well-timed jumps with inverted controls, all whilst being assaulted from all angles by all manner of mobile gun-drones and battle-troops.

I think that it's this leaning toward the hardcore that left me with so little enthusiasm for the game. Whilst I certainly recognise it's qualities, I think it boils down to the fact that it's just not my cup of tea.

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