Upon its release, Strider
promised gameplay faithful to the original series and attacks as responsive as your button presses. Poor marketing if you ask me. No, let me tell you the true selling point of Strider.
The Strider experience can be divided into two periods: the early part with shielded enemies where you have to hold down the B button to charge your slash attack, destroy the shield, then attack the soldier behind it with normal slashes. Conventional gameplay found anywhere else. Later game however brings giant robots and soldiers with powerful laser guns, but less shields. Doing damage as fast as you press the slash button suddenly matters, because the only hurdle is getting hit by the enemy. Now bear in mind you have a Charge Strike Meter, which charges up every time you hit an enemy regardless of how much damage you do. You'll also have unlocked Option-A, the rotating satellite thingies which greatly increases your hit count. Not to mention the Kunai, which works on the spread shot principle meaning that at point blank, all three hits connect and raise the Charge Strike Meter. See where I'm going?
The ability to reliably fill the Charge Strike Meter and reach Charge Mode changes the game dramatically.
Charge Mode is best described as "Fry with 100 cups of coffee" mode and for my money, blows away its Sleeping Dogs equivalent in the dust. It transforms Strider from a vulnerable hoppy-avoidy ninja who has to manage his button presses, into the ultimate human chainsaw able to finish off monstrous killer robots before they can fire off their next shot. You lose all of that power the moment you get hit, so there's actual tension in those hellish games of chicken. As for the energy bar which controls your usage of Kunai and Options, it's been designed so that it refills over time without need of external resources, encouraging you to use your specials at any time without taking undue importance from your Cypher attacks.
It might seem wrong to enjoy a Strider game on the strength of playing a death-crazed berzerker rather than a nimble evasive ninja, but it's fun in its own right and that's what counts; right? Dare I call it an intelligent button-masher? Because you work to enter Charge Mode, you work to stay in Charge Mode and you work to take advantage of the 5 seconds of Charge Mode, I say yes. That's right: Strider
is worth your money for the 5 seconds of Charge Mode it provides. The exploration aspect? You live in a bleak cacotopia where every enemy is a one dimensional evil baddy. Finding stuff is a chore, not a reward. The attacks most associated with Strider, to wit the Slide and the Down Strike, feel tacked on by the necessity of this being a Strider franchise. In practice, these attacks are mostly used for area unlocking rather than combat. I might've bought this game on the strength of its franchise but now I've discovered a much greater, far more exciting game that would exist outside of it...
Speaking of mismanaged game mechanics, let's talk about the Cypher Upgrades! The first upgrade you unlock is the Reflect Cypher and it's the coolest by far. It turns you into a Jedi, reflecting enemy bolts back at the shooter if you time it just right,
opening up synergy with the Charge Mode mechanic for its slowdown effect. Too bad enemies stop using reflectable bolts midway throughout the game. The second upgrade is the Burst Cypher, aka THE BEST CYPHER IN THE GAME. Completely trivializes the way-cool Reflect Upgrade because you can now make your enemies explode; or, why use sidegrades when you have access to a straight upgrade? The third upgrade is the Ultra-Cold Cypher, for turning enemies into ice platforms and better explore the game. It's a platformer mechanic rather than a combat mechanic, which turns it into a forced
upgrade. Well there was one section where a mass of soldiers occupied a bottleneck, with soldiers in the back able to shoot past their brethren to form an impassable wall of fire. The solution was to use the Ultra-Cold Cypher to freeze the first soldier into a wall that prevented the others from firing past, and then whittle through the enemy mass. Kudos for that, but otherwise there wasn't much opportunity to appreciate
the Ultra-Cold rather than be forced
to use it for non-combat purposes. The last upgrade is the Magnetic Upgrade, which fires ranged boomerang beams at your opponents. Defeating the whole "you have a sword, your enemies have guns" motif inherent to ninja-related games. It's the last upgrade though, and as such feels enough like an end-game mechanic that you forgive it for being dead simple.
Although not as exciting as the combat, the platforming can be enjoyable on its own thanks to the Plasma Catapult, your 8-way short-ranged teleport dash device. The challenge comes from planning your trajectory, working the flexible nature of your jumps along with the linear nature of the Plasma Catapult to form elaborate mid-air travel paths. Thank goodness the developers cribbed from Guacamelee's "return to the latest stable platform" system in case of miss or else this game would've been unbearable! The Plasma Catapult also gains from the Cypher Upgrades to form some cool but essentially useless gimmicks. For example, the Magnetic Plasma Catapult turns the targets you pass through into living magnets for enemy fire! Too bad it's tied to the ranged Magnetic Upgrade, making it more convenient to just shoot them from a distance. In fact, every combat gimmick tied to the Plasma Catapult is nullified by the fact that the Plasma Catapult phases through your enemies
, bypassing the very notion of combat!
On the topic of Challenge Mode, one important notice for the developers: you need a way to show the player his top score and rank in a stage BEFORE he clicks the mission, so the player knows which stage he aced and which stage still needs work. C'mon guys, this is basic Gaming 101 here! Otherwise, since Story Mode is rather short if you discount all of the backtracking for hidden items and there's no "New Game +" where you could do a more difficult run with the toys you've already unlocked, alternative modes of play become greatly appreciated. Thankfully, Challenge Mode missions are built around the best aspects of the game: races across the city where you manage your usage of Plasma Catapult, and combat!
I gripe, but I had fun. The developers, Double Helix Games
, have thrown a great deal of ideas at the wall and many of them stuck. You want a sequel and you want an editor, someone who will focus the game on the more thoughtful mechanics and axe all the overpowered ♥♥♥♥. No seriously, the first Option you unlock, the bird, turns each and every boss fight into easy mode. EVEN THE END BOSS FINAL FORM!