The arcade version of Strider is regarded as one of Capcom’s pre-Street Fighter II classics. The Genesis port is similarly well-loved, and the arcade version saw several stripped-down computer ports. A couple sequels followed, including one released earlier this year. Hiryu, the main character, is even in Marvel Vs. Capcom games.
Then there’s the version of Strider I’m writing about.
Released for the NES in 1989, Strider isn’t much like the other versions. Those are arcadey action games, while the NES one is more of an adventure game. It has the same main character, Hiryu, and its plot apparently follows a manga released at about the same time as the game. The game kicks off with Hiryu, an elite-level Strider, being called into a mission. Matic, the Vice-Director of the Striders, informs you that Kain, another Strider, has been captured. “Since they once knew who he is, rescuing him is meaningless.” You’re told to find Kain and kill him. Hiryu can’t bring himself to do this, deciding to try and find him first. From there, you go to Kazakh, and…well, the game kind of becomes a mess from there. A glorious, fun mess, but a mess nonetheless.
Let’s get the unambiguously good stuff out of the way first. The music is great–driving, upbeat, always spurring you onward. Some of the tracks, despite being NES chiptunes, manage to bring out the flavor of their respective levels, particularly the Egypt and Africa levels (The latter probably doing a better job than this song).
As far as everything else goes…well. When people tell you that Capcom recently stopped caring about US audiences, point them at this translation as proof that, no, Capcom never started caring about the US in the first place (An amusing irony, as the Japanese version of this game was never released). The funny thing is that everything is spelled correctly, yet the whole translation is “off” enough that you can tell someone didn’t care that much about it. Run-on sentences, non-sequiturs (A relative of Hiryu’s is mentioned in precisely one sentence; the detail is something you’d think would be given more attention), and hilarious literal transliterations abound–“Yggdrasil” gets bastardized here into “Yugdesiral”.
The translation isn’t the worst of this game’s problems, though. The controls, and everything associated with them, are incredibly finicky. Hiryu swipes at enemies with his Cipher, a futuristic sword with a neat arc. The Cipher comes out quickly, and gets stronger as you progress through the game. The Cipher is about the only good thing about the controls though. Colliding with objects can produce seemingly random results–sometimes an enemy will bounce you back, sometimes it won’t. Sometimes you’ll land on spikes and bounce off of them, sometimes you won’t, and still other times you’ll sink down into them. There’s a technique called the “Triangle Jump” that’s really a wall jump. Trying to get this to work consistently is an exercise in insanity. Perhaps because of this technique, weird stuff happens when you jump near walls and corners, although the most common result is “You sink like a rock on the first contact with either”. In the rare cases there are moving platforms, you’re as likely to skate along them when jumping onto them as you are to land on them. With a few exceptions, no individual enemy will give you as much trouble as the controls themselves.
Strider, despite its action-adventure structure, is also not a very long game. While I’ve beaten it before, I played through its entirety last night in about an hour and twenty minutes, and that included a wrong turn or two. If you have to stop for the night, the game has a reasonably short (12 character) password system to let you pick up where you left off. Of course, thanks to speedrunning tech (Another of the reasons I picked this game back up for this series), you can blitz through the game in under 5 minutes.
Probably more than any other game I’ve gone through in this series, Strider is a difficult game for me to give an objective rating to. It was one of the first games I saw in Nintendo Power back in the day, and the concept (From what I can grasp from the translation, Striders are basically “futuristic ninjas”, down to the scarf motif that PS2 era games like Shinobi would popularize. And let’s face it, ninjas are always cool.) probably appealed enough to 6-year-old Emptyeye that I was bound and determined to love the game despite the control issues and the short length (The Emptyeye Household rented a lot of NES/SNES games back in the day; I distinctly remember beating Strider before I ever owned it, although I don’t know how many 2-day rentals it took). Yet I don’t recall Childeye, who had something of a temper problem (Moreso than me in the present, if that’s possible), ever actually throwing a controller/etc. at the game, which is something that happened with games like the classic Ninja Gaiden.
And truth be told, as I said in someone’s stream a few days back “Despite the fact that NES Strider…is NES Strider, I love it anyway”, even now. Somehow, the game manages to be fun despite, or maybe even because of, the sentient controls. Either way, it’s worth giving a shot if you can track down a copy.