Opinion: My thoughts on the Strider franchise (under Capcom)

Capcom’s Strider franchise has been one of the company’s most intriguing, despite its relative obscurity in the grand scheme of its history. With four entries directly made under Capcom’s auspices (which means I’m not including the reviled Strider 2 for Genesis), Strider pales in contrast in breadth to many of their other series like Street Fighter, Resident Evil, Mega Man, Devil May Cry, and Ace Attorney. However, these four games are all more or less good to great, and deserve more accolades as a whole than they receive. Thus my decision to gush about all four, which I can now say I’ve beaten in full as of today (finally wrapped up the one on the NES).

The original Strider remains the most audacious — its spectacle of setpieces remain impressive to this day, and Junko Tamiya’s soundtrack is among the finest of the late 80s arcade scene. Strider keeps tossing new environments and crazy bosses at the player, making each stage a joy to accomplish. Hiryu is a little stiff in contrast to his later appearances, but with practice his movements make sense and work within the dynamics of the mechanics. The game looks amazing for the time and has a nice degree of challenge. In short, it’s arguably the high point of the series (I differ on that, but I’ll get to why shortly). The game was an adequate hit for Capcom, although it didn’t immediately translate into a franchise. This was probably due to the copyright to the concept being split between Capcom and Moto Kikaku, a manga artist collective who produced a manga separate from this particular game (but set the stage for the NES version, which we’ll get to in a moment). The character designs were generated by the collective, therefore Capcom must renegotiate every time they attempt anything with Hiryu or the franchise proper. For American audiences, there’s a few other means to play this game outside of the arcade. This was ported to the Genesis by Sega, and manages to capture the spirit of the arcade quite well, with the only notable difference is a modified ending. This version is on the Wii Virtual Console. When Strider 2 came out on the PS1, Capcom included the arcade original as a separate disc (available on the PS3 Store). Lastly, the PS2/Xbox Capcom Classics Collection V. 2 and PSP Capcom Classics Remixed also features the game.

The NES Strider takes a path well apart from the arcade game, with Moto Kikaku’s manga adaptation serving as the plot and the game taking on a Metroid-esque gameplay style with backtracking to areas you’ve been to before, as well as progression locked away through items and key events. Alas, the execution is best defined as rough. The game really feels like it was shipped out a few months too soon: the game has some major slowdown and notable loading areas (including NPCs!), Hiryu’s movement is rigid and sometimes clips the environment, his triangle jump and momentum mechanics (both of which are really amazing in concept!) are janky, and his Cypher sometimes doesn’t seem to connect (or enemies strike you that really shouldn’t). To summarize, the game feels unfinished (and not like Mega Man 3, which had its share of issues before launch but feels like a complete product more or less). It’s a shame too, because there’s some neat ideas at play here and Harumi Fujita’s soundtrack is spectacular. My vote for the weakest in the series. If you want to give it a try, you have two legal means — the NES cart of the GBA Capcom Classics Mini-Mix, which I just wrote about!

Strider 2 is a curious game, one that flip flops the strengths and weaknesses of the original game. Here Hiryu is fluid, slashing and cutting and tearing shit up and it’s splendidly good times all around. It feels so good, and the design of Hiryu here became his motif in the Vs. series. The spritework is solid all around as well (if a bit pixelated). However, it lacks the imagination and cleverness of its forebear. The stages are nowhere near as intriguing or breathtaking to soak in, both in layout and backgrounds. The boss design is more dialed back, without any of the crazy shenanigans the original featured (and tosses in a lot of rehashes to boot). And it lacks sheer, honest to goodness spark. It knows it’s a sequel, so it doesn’t attempt to tread new ground. It’s fascinating how much it’s the polar opposite of its predecessor. Still great fun, but just not as memorable or creative. Again, this can be picked up the PS Store for PS3 and Vita (I presume) alongside the original, or you can try to hunt down a PS1 disc.

Last but not least, 2014’s Strider by Double Helix, available on PS3, PS4, PC, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. This game is better than it has any right to be, given that the developer’s track record has not been sensational. The game reboots the arcade’s story but inserts the Metroid-style gameplay and design of the NES title, creating a hybrid of the series’ mythology that works pretty damn well. Being a bit of a budget release, it continues Strider 2’s sterile world approach (i.e. gray city landscapes, futuristic labs with lots of blue lighting, and well, an overwhelming array of bloom over it all) over a more inventive environment, and it further recycles the canon of the franchise’s boss roster for most of its adversaries, but the game has a nice, tight feel to it that comes across as the NES game’s intended conclusion gameplay-wise. Hiryu adds shuriken and a Metroid Prime-style element system to his arsenal (not to mention a new look, which I like), and the combat feels meaty enough that grunt fighting doesn’t outstay its welcome, especially with the amount of backtracking within the game. And Michael John Mollo’s soundtrack is outstanding, remixing classic tunes and adding plenty of new material to the oeuvre. It’s not necessarily pretty, its warp system is too limited, and the lack of anything remotely new or novel hurts it some, but overall this is my favorite of the series.

So there you go! A quick overview of the Strider franchise as produced by Capcom. None of them are outright horrid — in fact, all of them are worth checking out in my book.