PlayStation 4

It's the return of the new annual tradition that's taking the Internet by storm, it's Review a Great Game Day.  What better way to celebrate the games that we love, the games that we can list as our favourites, and maybe include the adage of "of all time".  

Now, normally this is where I break out the classics from my past and talk about why I love them so.  However, since all of my retro games are still scattered in many boxes in random locations while remodeling on my house takes place (which is going about the same speed and consistency as snail farts), I think I have no choice but to use this year's Christmas gift, the new and improved Playstation 4, and talk about a more recent game.  So, what game to review?  This system came out less than six months ago, and the selection of games are still so limited that the console is more or less used as a Netflix player than it is a gaming console.

Well that all changed in mid February when a downloadable game came out for the PS3, PS4, X-Box 360 and Steam.  And so far it's my front-runner for best game of the year.  And of course, it's a modern remake of the Arcade classic; Strider.

Before we continue, it's time for some quick full disclosure.  I only played maybe 10 minutes at most of the Genesis version.  And I played the N.E.S. version as a kid, which most people called the inferior game.  All the other consoles the game series came out I never played, and I seldom played the Strider character in Marvel vs Capcom 2.  What can I say?  It's not exactly a series I got into as a kid.  In the ongoing pirates versus ninja's battle, I chose samurai.  That that for what you will.

The original game was more of an arcade style, get-to-the-other-side-of-the-map-while slashing-enemies game.  It was simple, it was direct, and for many, it was fun.  The N.E.S. version tried to add some RPG elements into it, which deterred a lot of people, but I still found it fun.  The Genesis was more of a port of the arcade game, and among some of the Genesis faithful, it's arguably the best Genesis game out there.  I'll take their word for it, because my Genesis knowledge is pathetically limited.  I was an S.N.E.S. kid.  Sue me.

Today's redux was green lit by Capcom and given to Double Helix games.  Now Double Helix are pretty off and on when it comes to good creations.  They did Silent Hill: Homecoming, which was a boring version of Silent Hill. (But to be fair, that series was downhill after Silent Hill 3).  They also made Front Mission Evolved, which wasn't too bad.  And recently they made the rebooted Killer Instinct game recently for X-Box One, which has been picking up steam and getting lots of positive reviews.  So this could go any direction.

At first glance at the screenshots given, I figured it would play more like Bionic Commando Rearmed back in 2008, and that was just an H.D. reskinned remake of the original N.E.S. masterpiece.  And while that game was actually done well, the idea of doing that to Strider wasn't something I was sure would work well.  But Double Helix called an audible, and turned the game instead into its own game, with parts from both Genesis and N.E.S. versions, with a MetroidVania play style to it.  And if you know me, I am a sucker for this genre of games.

The story starts with our ninja protagonist, called Strider, hang gliding into a futuristic Russian city called Kazakh City, and you have to go slice and dice cyborg Russians and hovering shooting bots in order to kill the end boss.  That's it, pretty much.  You don't know why, you don't know what he did to get your ire.  And you don't know the back story of all these mercenaries that want to kill you along the way.  They made a very simple premise, and basically the game figures out that all you want to do is make Julienne fries out of robot communists and lets you do that without hours of narrative and exposition.  Now there are some cut scenes, and added a whole setting about a fascist government, a bloodthirsty dictator, mystic mercenaries, and an underground rebellion.  But other than that, it's open to interpretation as to why you're so motivated to go in and kick some ass.  And to be perfectly honest, I really don't want one.  Without a fully detailed, and potentially dragging story, it gives it the feel of classic retro games where story is secondary and go straight into the action.  Sure, I would like to know more about it, but thankfully you get more back story with each collectible you find.

The best thing about this game is the combat mechanic.  The controls are very simple.  One button slashes and each time you press that button you slash, even if you were in mid slash, more slashes.  It's very quick to respond and feels like you are a destructive machine each time you hit attack.  It longs for the days when you had an N.E.S. Max, or N.E.S. advantage, because a turbo button would be perfect for this kind of game.  Hell I pressed that button so fast during combat, if it was a Slap Chop instead, those nuts would be dust.  There is a stronger slash, but I never used it. Why bother when I can speed slash everything in front of me. Another great combat mechanic is the time slow bonus.  If you do enough damage over time without taking a hit, you can slow down time briefly to get more damage out and to move away from such attacks.  Sadly though, I found that 95% of the time, either I can't get to an enemy in time to take advantage of this, or there are no more baddies to smite.  But when that 5% situation happens, my demon smile crawls on my face and it's go time with this sword.

Like other MetroidVania games, you find enhanced weaponry that have benefits and uses.  You're default can upgrade to hit bullets and bounce them back to your enemies, a yellow sword increases damage and explode things, the blue gives you ice, and the purple, although slower, gives a projectile boomerang that helps a lot.  You also get these throwing knife things that give you more chances at being the ultimate bad ass.  The best and most broken weapon in the game is the yellow throwing knives that do explosive damage seconds after landing.  They do so much damage, that it can melt the mini-bosses health bar like butter.

Platforming is also in abundance in this game, and surprisingly it's pretty fun.  Most of them are fairly simple.  Strider can climb most walls, hang on ceilings, dash in the air briefly, and slide under gaps and double jump with ease.  And you need these acrobatic pirouettes to dodge attacks, explore areas and find bonus items.  Sometimes, though, the game can't decide whether you mean to jump near or on a wall and that can get annoying.  Come on, Strider! I know the view from that ceiling is fantastic, but there are enemies shooting at you! Get Off!

The music and sound is fantastic.  A lot of the songs are just original tracks from the N.E.S. and Genesis, but remixed with a dance/techno/Dubstep feel, and it works.  It gives an atmosphere to each area and they fit really well.  Strangely though, there's this one track, which is the Kazakh theme, that plays every time Strider needs to be a bad ass.  And it's awesome music, but it makes me wonder if that's actually the ringtone to his cell phone.  Because as we all know, the only time our cell phones ring is when we are in the middle of combat with red-laser firing grunts and we have to tell whoever is on the line that we have to call them back.  Always happens.  Such awkward timing.

If I had to think of one thing in this game the pissed me off, it's the map.  It's terrible.  You can get lost very easily in this game.  The map shows some paths that look like you can go through, but they are brick walls, and some paths that look blocked off, but are actually foreground that can go through without hesitation.  And you have no idea if the path is somewhere you haven't been to yet, or if it leads to another area, or if it's intentionally unobtainable.  They give you a legend to tell you what the icons on the map represent, but they can't make an icon to inform you that this leads to a new area of the world?  There are very few jump spots in there so in order to get from one section to another, you have to walk the entire distance to get there.  This gets massively frustrating when you want to 100% the game.

Speaking of completion, there's one other thing that seems odd to me that's worth mentioning.  You know how most MetroidVania games allow you to explore the area?  Strider does too, but in order to beat the final boss, you can't return to the main map.  After you beat the end boss, you must start over a new game.  So you have to 100% the game if you want to before beating the boss.  And there is only one save file, so you can't have multiple games going.  I don't really understand why.  That means if my friends came over to try the game, my current game is wiped or they have to start where I left off.  Or if I wanted to keep my progress of normal difficulty while beating the game in Hard mode, I can't do that.  It's not a big deal, it's just annoying.

Also, the boss battles are a mixed bag of annoyance.  Some of them are fun, like the first boss, where you travel in the air on a metal plated Falcor snake hybrid thingy.  But some of them are throw the controller frustrating.  Take for example, the battle with the Bounty Hunter Solo. (Without his Wookie, sadly).  Or later battles with the unfortunately named Pooh sisters.  Some attacks are telegraphed nicely.  Others are so quick and large it makes dodging next to impossible.  And on hard mode some attacks take off more than a third of your health.  I like a little difficulty, but when you can easily lose most of your health to just one attack, you can stop having fun with the game just as easily.

Overall, the key word to the whole game is "Simple".  The story is simple, the controls are simple, and the platforming is simple.  It's not even that difficult a game; you can beat the game in 4 hours and get a trophy for it.  But it's because of the simplicity that makes it so much fun.  It offers so much replay value.  I've found myself coming back to the game whenever I need a few minutes to slice enemies in half. 

Strider is fun, plain and simple.  It takes the best parts of both N.E.S. and Genesis worlds and making it into a game you can play again and again.  And any game that can have me want to play it again, even after I 100% the game, gets the stamp of approval as a great game.  I can safely recommend this game to any fan of Strider, and anyone who likes the Metroidvania games, or love side scrolling adventures. 

Just prey they don't make another Strider game that's a third person game with the blade made out of the ninja's wife.  Because that would be a stupid game that no one wants.  I'm just saying.