Strider
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • NES
  • Developer:
    • Capcom
  • Publisher:
    • Capcom
  • Released:
    • US July 1989
Score: 70%

This review was published on 06/27/2017.

Strider is a side-scrolling platform video game developed and published by Capcom for the Nintendo Entertainment System that was originally released in North America in July 1989. Strangely, the game wasn't released in Japan, despite being developed there. The Strider franchise began as a big project consisting of an arcade game, an NES game, and a Japanese comic, otherwise known as manga. The arcade game released in 1989 and was a roaring success, so much so that it got ported to a myriad of home platforms almost immediately. The Sega Genesis version was the most popular and successful port by far, to the point of helping to popularize the console. However, despite sharing the same name, the NES version of the game is completely different from the arcade one and its many ports. Rather than being about straightforward action, Strider on the NES is about exploring nonlinear environments, similar to Metroid. Is it as good as the arcade version of Strider? The answer is no.

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Set in the dystopian future of 2048, this game is about a secret organization of futuristic ninjas that call themselves the "Striders." These ninja operatives engage in all manner of covert operations, such as smuggling, kidnapping, and assassination. The youngest elite class Strider is Hiryu, who can definitely hear you. One day, Hiryu is called upon by the second-in-command of the Striders organization, Vice Director Matic, to undertake a super special mission. Hiryu's best friend, Kain, has been captured by enemy forces, making him a liability to the Striders. Therefore, the objective of Hiryu's mission is to assassinate his best friend. Can he do such a thing? Well, you'll have to play the game to find out. As you can see from the slight moral complexity of the scenario I just described, this game's plot is far more sophisticated than the arcade version, which was nothing more than a simple tale of good versus evil. Unfortunately, the NES Strider's plot is crippled by its laughably bad writing. This was pretty normal for the time, though.

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You control Hiryu as he strides his way across the world. The usual controls apply here; left and right on the d-pad makes you walk in those directions, down is for ducking, the A button is for jumping, and the B button is for slicing things up with your sword-like weapon. Unlike the arcade game, holding up on the d-pad will make Hiryu erect his weapon into the air, which can attack enemies that are overhead. Another thing that's unlike the arcade game is the fact that you can't freely climb walls or ceilings. Instead, this game gives you the ability to perform the Triangle Jump. In other words, you're able to jump off walls to reach higher areas you can't get to with standard jumps. To execute this maneuver, you jump towards a wall and then jump again while pressing the d-pad in the opposite direction. The problem is that this is really finicky. Hiryu inexplicably plummets to the ground whenever he touches a wall while in the air, making Triangle Jumps incredibly frustrating to execute. The controls generally aren't as smooth as the arcade version, either.

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Being that this game takes partial inspiration from Metroid, Hiryu will acquire new abilities throughout his journey. Such abilities include the slide from the arcade version, except here it's executed by pressing the A button while holding diagonally downwards on the d-pad. Other abilities come in the form of permanent items, like magnetic boots that allow him to walk up certain walls and boots that enable him to walk on water. Additionally, Hiryu's maximum health and energy increase after completing certain objectives. Speaking of energy, Hiryu eventually gains magic-like abilities known as "Tricks," which cost energy to use and are accessible from a menu by pressing the select button. These spells are similar to the ones from Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, allowing Hiryu to restore health, temporarily extend his jumping height, warp back to the entrance of a stage, and cast a few offensive spells to attack enemies. Most of the attack spells aren't terribly useful, but the rest are.

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At the start of the adventure, you'll only have access to a single stage, but that quickly changes. From where the journey begins in Kazakh, Hiryu will travel to various parts of the world, such as Egypt, Japan, China, Africa, Australia, and Los Angeles. You can select between the available stages aboard the Blue Dragon, a giant spaceship that acts as Hiryu's headquarters. Generally, you must obtain data files within stages and analyze them back at the Blue Dragon in order to unlock new stages. These data files tend to give you hints on where to go next, as well. The issue with this is that you often have to backtrack your way out of a stage to return to the Blue Dragon. You'll also frequently find keys that are able to open doors in previously visited stages, forcing you to do even more backtracking. In particular, you'll be revisiting Kazakh many times throughout the game. Backtracking is the name of the game, and while this is slightly alleviated when you get the warp spell, that doesn't happen until way later.

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Besides allowing you to travel, analyze files, and fully restore your health and energy, the Blue Dragon gives you access to passwords to retain your progress. The passwords are kind of long, but they could be a lot worse, especially given the complexity of the game. Dying immediately kicks you back to the title screen, but if you select continue, the game will automatically enter the last password for you. This effectively lets you continue an unlimited amount of times, but having to constantly return to the title screen after each death is a pain. Things get rather difficult later on, so you'll become quite familiar with this process. On the bright side, this game has a neat feature where it narrates the last few events that took place in the story when you select the password option in the Blue Dragon's menu screen. This is a surprisingly advanced feature for the time, especially for an NES title.

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The Triangle Jumps aren't the only finicky thing in this game; just about everything else is finicky, too. You probably won't notice right away, but similar to the arcade version, this game has momentum. Momentum only rears its ugly head when you're going up or down slopes. If you jump while going down a slope, your jump will travel farther, whereas jumping up slopes will reduce your jumping range. However, the momentum isn't handled very well in this version, seemingly only working half the time. There's also no way to tell how much momentum you've built up, so you just have to jump and hope you have enough. On top of all that, the game is loaded with glitches. Enemies will often appear out of nowhere, causing you to take damage unfairly. You also have very few invincibility frames, meaning you can die in a short period of time from a single enemy or hazard. All of these things give the game an unpolished feel, as if it got released in an unfinished state.

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It's safe to say that the NES version of Strider is a huge step down from the arcade game. Sure, they both aim to provide vastly different experiences, but when it comes to raw quality, the NES version loses. The ideas presented in the NES Strider aren't bad, but they're executed quite poorly and the game lacks polish. The countless glitches, shoddy physics, and dodgy controls are among just a few things that signify this game needed more time in the oven. Also, the graphics aren't very good, even by the standards of NES games released at the time. Having said all that, the game isn't unplayable. If you can get past its imperfections, then the exploration and slight nonlinearity might win you over.

Word Count: 1,339

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