My first exposure to Strider Hiryu was through Marvel vs. Capcom 2. I was randomly experimenting with characters, and something about his agility, size, and attacks just felt comfortable to me. It’s that rare perfect fit that you sometimes get in fighting games, where a character behaves and responds in precisely the manner you anticipate and desire. This ultimately drove me to latch onto the character without any knowledge of the prior games he had been in.
At the start of this month I started up the new Strider game, developed by Double Helix and published by Capcom, with no knowledge beyond it being a Metroidvania. Being a major fan of the Metroid franchise and eager for a similar game as polished as Shadow Complex, I dove in with a lot of expectations as to what sort of formula the game would follow and how I should approach it.
This was a bad move, as my first impressions were ultimately rather negative.
Being more experienced with the “Metroid” side of “Metroidvania”, I have certain expectations to how a game should begin, how the world should seamlessly fit together, and the manner in which exploration should take place. While Strider carries a number of these elements, it is more accurate to say that the “Metroid” elements are there to keep it interesting.
Strider is about being a ninja, plain and simple. It doesn’t provide the same feel that a game like Mark of the Ninja will provide as Hiryu is nowhere near as fragile, but it’s still all about mobility and combat prowess. Climb along walls, double-jump between laser beams and razor traps, and deflect bullets with your blade. This is the real draw of the game, with the exploration elements giving the platforming a bit of flavor and the world a bit of substance or identity.
This is made most clear in the value of the collectibles. Very few of them, less than half of the hidden items available, actually improve Hiryu’s abilities in combat. The rest are dedicated to alternate costumes, unlockable concept art, enemy intel, or setting information. It is completely possible to find most of the essential upgrades, such as health and energy boosts, with minimal effort put towards exploration.
For those more familiar with a game like Metroid Fusion or Shadow Complex, this will be a bit disappointing. There’s a lot less incentive to explore when the odds are more likely you’ll get nothing better than a piece of artwork to look at. That’s why it is imperative to approach Strider as an action game with elements similar to the Metroid franchise rather than a Metroid-style of game with action elements.
Once the player begins to unlock more of the combat abilities Strider comes into its own. Rooms are designed to test the player’s platforming skills, enemies equip shields that require specific energy types to be coursing through your blade, and bullets will begin flying in near-impossible-to-dodge trajectories. As such, combat becomes more about managing and prioritizing foes as well as knowing when to be offensive and defensive.
What leaves such a bad first impression is that it takes time before the player reaches this state. The game will not hold your hand, and it will count on the player discovering a lot of the nifty tricks and tactics on their own, but it still takes time before it truly opens up in that manner. The game starts out rather bland and eventually becomes a wonderful, varied assortment of combat abilities. Hiryu is like a swiss-army ninja, unleashing a variety of skills and abilities within a span of seconds.
What is so strange is that the boss encounters, while challenging throughout, go the opposite route, especially the final boss. Very rarely does the player need to make use of their entire arsenal for such a foe, ultimately requiring the player to master dodging attacks so that they can strike at the enemy in a swift flurry of blows. The enemy doesn’t test the player’s knowledge or skill with the various types of blade energy or tools. As a result, while the regular combat becomes more exciting as the game progresses, the boss encounters go from being the game’s highlight to just another phase of gameplay.
The key to enjoying Strider is knowing that you’re getting into an action game, one that requires quick-thinking and swift reflexes. Unfortunately, Strider happens to do a very poor job at communicating this to the player early on.