The original Strider came out over four hundred years ago in 1989, back when having more than one jumping animation per game was considered ostentatious. "Check Strider out," people would enviously scoff, "he's got a regular, knees-up kind of jump as well as a spinning cartwheeling sort of jump. One jump not good enough for you?"
But it was these fancy jumps, as well as your character's ability to climb walls and scuttle along ceilings, that made Strider rather special. Here was an impressively tactile ninja platformer, arming you with an iconic, high-tech laser sword that sliced through the air in a dramatic arc of sharpness and death, before pitting you against an army of devious robo-Soviets.
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This remake bottles that wide range of motion and the fatality of those swishing sword arcs and pours it into a 21st century mold, a 3D side-scrolling platformer that mixes the free-roaming exploration of Shadow Complex with the gradually unlocking and expanding skillset of Metroid. Strider is faster and flashier than its grandfather ever was, but it retains the most important parts of its genetic code.
You can swing your cypher-sword as fast as you can hammer the X button, allowing you to glide through levels like a razorblade dervish, leaving robotic enemies halved at the waist. Later enemies begin to demand a more considered and skillful approach, requiring charged attacks and neat dodges to evade rockets and giant metal fists. The slowly escalating challenge turns from optional to essential the side-objective of enlarging your health bar by seeking out hidden power-ups in difficult to reach locations. Carelessly straightforward and secrets-avoiding play, somewhat unfairly, can leave you facing near-impossible boss fights later in the game.
Progress through the neo-cityscapes, abandoned transit systems and mutant infested sewers is metered by gates that require certain abilities before they can be passed through. Throwing knives, short-range teleportation, the ability to deflect bullets back at their owners, a big orange ghost eagle: each new skill is drip fed to the player over the course of hours of play, meaning the game unfolds and reveals its latest mechanics at a gratifying pace, each time stepping further from the classic original and becoming a quality, and distinct, game in its own right.
Plot and script are deliberately of the original's era, which is to say they're absolutely ridiculous, but a more welcome trait of the game's antique background is the soundtrack, a remixed selection of original Strider tracks that jab a hot audio needle into the most nostalgic lobe of your brain. The addition of a survival mode and reams of unlockable concept art and costumes might be of interest to the game's most ardent fans, if such a person still exists, but it's not rose-tinted thinking that gives new Strider its sharpness. This is a masterful, demanding and retro-feeling side-scroller that takes just enough cues from the Mega Drive classic while leaving the dregs behind.
By Steve Hogarty
An understated slice of retro-excellence from Double Helix, Strider leans just heavily enough on its 1989 forebear before catapulting itself into its own uniquely spectacular style of energetic and fast-paced side-scrolling platformer.