Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Strider Retrospective

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Strider_Hiryu_arcade_flyer

Starting today the reboot of Strider hits home consoles and PCs as developer Double Helix attempts to capture the charm that came with the original’s dedicated cult following.  When I try to look back at Strider – and yes I grew up playing every version from the arcade at my local bowling alley that was ported to the Genesis along with the completely different NES version – it’s hard to see what exactly needs to be in the new game.  Still, there’s no denying the hardcore appeal of this unique and odd addition to classic gaming that justifies looking back for those that didn’t grow up with it.

Strider_1If you haven’t played it, the original arcade version of Strider is all over the place.  There are multiple languages, settings across the globe, massive mechanical ape bosses, and even lead protagonist Hiryu riding on a whale at the end.  As one of the pioneer titles of Capcom’s new CP arcade platform – think of it as a cartridge-based cabinet that allowed quick swapping of games with only a few ROM changes – the graphics are indicative of the cartoon style all CP titles shared (ie: Ghouls’n GhostsWillow, and of course Final Fight).  Graphics aside, the game is also noted for its crazy gameplay that features hanging from walls and ceilings, fighting massive enemies, and reversed gravity.  To accompany this eclectic melting pot was an equally frantic soundtrack that covered all the bases from electronic progressive music to ambient classical style.  While the soundtrack is uncredited to original composer Junko Tamiya (she also did the solid NES version of Bionic Commando as well as my personal favorite Sweet Home), the original versions of the arcade game didn’t feature the Aerial Battleship or Third Moon stages (replaced instead by the first stage music on a loop) so it can be deduced that someone went back and composed those additional tunes.  While the game itself covers a scant five stages that will take the average person probably 60-90 minutes in total (pros can do it in half that time) the high difficulty and game design that was more indicative of home consoles was fresh.  Instead of trying to rack up a high score or conquer a single mechanic over and over you were progressing through brutally difficult levels with the carrot on the stick being that provided you could afford to continue as many times as it took, you could see the ending.  This is why most people who play it today will either set it to free play on the cabinet or emulator and also explains why the PS1 port flat-out gave you unlimited continues.

strider_2I remember playing it when I was about 10 years old and being blown away by the neo future envisioned in the story’s 2048 Soviet dictatorship, indicative of the continuing fear of Cold War oppression and Socialist/Communist popularity.  Each sound effect, especially the signature slash sound each time Hiryu swings his sword, had a crisp edge and realism I had not heard before.  It was even more impressive that some of these sounds made it into the NES port, which was a technical feat in its own regard.  While the plot is very hard to follow, even today, only playing for a few minutes proved that Hiryu, the youngest ever high-tech ninjas known as “Striders”, was a force to be reckoned with.  This is counter to the gameplay in that the extreme difficulty and new mechanics meant you would die quite a bit through even the most basic levels of the game.  Few titles I’ve ever played master the art of both empowering the player and kicking their butt at the same time, which Strider did in spades.  Each stage and even area of a stage was drastically different from the last and I will never forget the large-scale of each boss.  Not only that but beating the boss did not always mean the end of the level, especially with regards to the massive gravity sphere that destructed the ship you are on when it was defeated, resulting in a frantic escape run before completing the level.  Oh yeah, and there were massive cyborg interpretations of King Kong (large gorilla) and Godzilla (large T-Rex) as well.  Sweet.

Unfortunately I have to admit that I think a title like Strider is a perfect example of a game you most appreciate if you grew up with it.  In a wild development cycle that included three independent companies working on an arcade version, an NES version (who also happened to develop the simliar but different Ghosts’n Goblins port), and a manga in Japan, Strider was unlike most projects in video games at the time.  Ironically enough the Metroid-style open world NES version of the game that directly connected to the manga were completely severed by the business decisions of worldwide business.  A Famicom version of the game was never manufactured or released in Japan and the manga never saw its way to our shores (not to mention the language barrier that separated each medium), so in retrospect it’s one disconnected mess of a story.  One thing all regions had in common was that the teens of the time were enticed by the arcade port and many of them picked up and loved the later Genesis/Mega Drive version that came as close to the arcades as we saw in the late 80s.  Even more odd are the random sequels that share the franchise such as the horrid US Gold/Tiertex sequel Strider II (known as Journey From Darkness: Strider Returns in the US) that probably isn’t worth emulating.  Capcom later fixed the issue by ignoring the licensed sequel and releasing Strider 2 to arcades and later in a near-perfect port to the original Playstation.  While I wouldn’t say it changed the world, it was a cool take on the mechanics of Strider and the odd 3D graphics of the time.  If you play any version, I highly recommend the Genesis port because it really comes with no caveat.  With Grin’s 2009 project being scrapped and Double Helix’s recent success with Killer Instinct 3, here’s hoping that the reboot doesn’t disappoint.  Look back near the end of the week for that review.  Either way, what other game can you say ends with you riding the back of a freaking whale for no reason?

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Written by Fred Rojas

February 18, 2014 at 2:12 pm

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