To most gamers the word Strider is associated with the incredibly popular arcade game or his turn in Marvel vs Capcom. For me however my first Strider experience was the NES title. It would be a few years before I encountered the Sega Genesis port so this was always an action adventure in my mind. Considering how dire most games of this type turned out back then Capcom did a pretty good job making an easy to follow adventure. Even a screwed up localization doesn’t hold it back. It has been forgotten in history but the NES version of Strider is a solid game.
Set a few years after the arcade game Hiryu has since retired from the Strider organization. However he returns after learning that his fellow Strider Kain has been abducted. Instead of a rescue mission Hiryu is instructed to kill Kain! This mission sets in motion events that will upend their organization and in turn the world. The game’s plot is pretty involved and would be enjoyable if not for the terrible localization. This was par for the course with Capcom back then but is egregiously bad here.
Strider was not solely a Capcom creation but part of a multimedia blitz that included a manga in addition to the two games. It’s an idea that Capcom would later borrow when they brought back Bionic Commando. The NES game follows the plot of the manga closely which means nothing to us in the west as that never came over here. Curiously Strider was not released in Japan despite being complete.
First things first, this is not an all-out action game. In terms of structure this is similar to Faxanadu or Metroid. By means of the Blue Dragon’s transportation system you visit hotspots around the world to collect items and more importantly files. These files once analyzed will shed light on the conspiracy going on as well as unlock new countries. Each country is nonlinear to an extent and it is possible with skill to gather items out of order. Kazakh serves as the main hub and is revisited multiple times. It’s for a reason but is still pretty annoying after the third or fourth time.
After attaining certain milestones such as capturing enemy officers or destroying the various Zain machines Hiryu will level up. With each level comes increased hit points, energy, and special abilities. These abilities cover a wide spectrum from healing, teleportation, to generating electricity. As cool as they sound outside of medical you will probably never use any of them. I would even say most players will forget these skills are in the game.
As you travel around the world you’ll come across a variety of upgrades. Aqua boots allow you to walk on water while the attack boots provide a mean kick when you slide. Magnet boots are used to walk on walls. The most important upgrade allows your cypher to charge and fire a bolt of energy. Due to the nonlinear nature of each “stage” all of these upgrades are easily missed. The game also does not tell you how to perform certain techniques. For a long time I was stuck in Egypt because I did not know how to perform the wall jump. I discovered the cypher skill completely by accident; this skill is necessary in one of the final battles and should have been explained in game. As annoying as this is it pales in comparison to the game’s wonky physics.
The game’s jumping controls could have used some work. Your normal jump varies from completely functional to worthless. Hiryu will either soar over spikes or drop like a brick in midair. There is no rhyme or reason as to why it happens and it occurs frequently. Sometimes you must stand in the correct spot for him to leap properly but even that can be a crapshoot. Momentum is used throughout in the game’s many platforming segments and even that is frustrating. Considering how much platforming plays a big role in the proceedings it really is a shame that Capcom did not nail this element.
Strider isn’t a particularly difficult game although it has its moments. The beginning stages before you’ve leveled up are the roughest. There is no moment of invulnerability when hit so even the weakest enemy can drain your health. It isn’t always clear how you are supposed to hit an enemy so many cheap deaths will occur. If not due to that than because of the abundance of spikes. Someone really likes their spiked traps as they are literally everywhere. Combined with the messy controls and you will probably slam the controller in anger once or twice.
These flaws don’t ruin an otherwise solid game however. At most they keep a good game from being great. I know some will be disappointed that this is not a bite size version of the arcade game but whatever, their loss. As far as adventure games from that period go Strider is actually pretty damn good.