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Journey from Darkness: Strider Returns (Genesis) artwork

Journey from Darkness: Strider Returns (Genesis) review


"Sega's Strider was every bit as engaging as Capcom had made it in the arcades. Truly, it was a memorable experience with only two weaknesses worth mentioning: the length of the adventure, and the limitations of the hero's jumping abilities. Strider 2 does nothing to correct the former but admirably corrects the latter. Not bad then, right? Well, it wouldn’t be, but remember the aforementioned strengths of the original game? You know, the beautiful scenes and sounds? Well forget about them. They’re gone. "



It's the sequel to the great side-scrolling arcade hit-cum-Genesis bestseller, Strider! Wow, what a cool subtitle: Journey From Darkness!

Don't look now, but perhaps Journey into Darkness might have been more fitting.

Because this is not a good sequel. Capcom's Strider was hailed by fans and experts alike as a brilliant game. It was the first 8 meg cartridge, released for the Genesis, and Sega made no secret of the game's landmark importance, as evidenced by their inexorable marketing campaign: GENESIS DOES WHAT NINTENDON'T.

But more than that, it combined beautiful scenes with esoteric, chilling music. And perhaps for the first time, an arcade hit didn’t have to be ported so far down to accommodate comparatively underwhelming console specs. Sega’s Strider was every bit as engaging as Capcom had made it in the arcades. Truly, it was a memorable experience with only two weaknesses worth mentioning: the length of the adventure, and the limitations of the hero's jumping abilities. Strider 2 does nothing to correct the former but admirably corrects the latter. Not bad then, right? Well, it wouldn’t be, but remember the aforementioned strengths of the original game? You know, the beautiful scenes and sounds? Well forget about them. They’re gone.

Right from the onset, you know this game is in trouble. You are still in control of expert Strider, young Hiryu, out to save the world from the evil Master (the cloaked guy who looks like the Emperor from Return of the Jedi) and his minions. You're in grey now, and not blue, but that change is negligible. More pressing is the fact that they've replaced the cool crescent moon slash of Cypher, your plasma sword, with a crappy sweep effect. Luckily, in the options menu, you can select ''original'' under sword type, although the handicapped version of Cypher is inexplicably made to be the default choice. So you've got the right sword equipped now, and you're ready for an unforgettable adventure.

But where Strider featured sublime colours, often meshing pastels brilliantly with shades at once lucid and subtle, Strider 2 gives us muck. Stage one is brown and green. It brings to mind quicksand, and a generally unclean aspect. The enemies are ugly birds, lacking in detail, and the collision detection acts up immediately, as they swoop down on you, and you think you’ve got them, but you really don’t. Somehow, as your sword flashes, you take damage from above, even though your sword appears to be on the same plane as their unsightly bodies. You adjust.

You take solace in the fact that now, for the first time, you can leap directly up into the air, and aim your fall to either side. That’s right - control in midair is now possible with the vertical leap. What’s more, is that your cartwheel jump - the leap effected by pressing jump and pushing to one side on the directional pad - can finally be interrupted. What this means is that where previously you would have to aim your jump carefully so that your Sickle could catch onto a ledge, now you are able to catch onto the ledge even if your jump would have carried you past it. These changes to Hiryu’s jumps would make Strider 2 intensely playable - if it was Strider 1.

But it’s not. Gone are the giant gorillas, ravaging wolves and Uroboros monsters. They are replaced by badly drawn birds, robot killer bees and a tiny, horribly coloured T-Rex, just to name a few. I can’t even explain how bad the T-Rex looks - it might be beyond my limited descriptive capabilities. How about this: remember those old 3D glasses? Remember what normal things would look like through them? Now you’re getting the idea. There’s even this guy in a motorcycle helmet with a pistol of some sort who charges at you, quite randomly, throughout the levels. He seems extremely out of place in the game, to the point where his second or third appearance will appear comical. The cast of evil characters is very, very bad.

On the bright side, level one's music is excellent; it's reminiscent of the organ-driven tunes from Strider, but it has it's own signature. The same can't be said for the other tracks though. Most of them sound like mangled remixes of the original tracks, with a few brand spanking new sedatives thrown into the mix, like the sleep-inducer from the overly green level four, The Alien Depths.

The darkness and ugliness of level one, The Forbidden Forest, has been established. It doesn't play as bad as it looks, thankfully, and we even get to face off with the robot guy with the jetpack from the first game - a nice touch. Stage three is a bright climbing exercise outside in the thin blue sky. It's pretty fun, and probably the most Strider-like area in the game. An encounter with a giant killer bee marks the end to this, The Hive. The final stage, The Master's Prison Ship gives us our typical dose of 'fight all the bosses again', which is even more ho-hum than usual, considering the bosses in this game were banal to begin with. At least they were kind enough to have the Gravity Machine boss from Strider make a return.

But worst of all, is level two, The Castle Metropolis. You've got to pick your way through a darkly coloured (can we call it that, when it looks like this, so... accidental?) castle full of one obstacle, repeating over and over and over and ov - well, you get the idea. A pulsing purple bolt of electricity flashes intermittently between two orbs. You wait until it goes off, and you pass through it. Should you get hit, you take damage and witness the crummy recovery of Hiryu take effect. He'll crumble backward helplessly, often falling off rather large platforms and plummeting downward to lower levels, sometimes reeling into another purple bolt a ways back, only to take the same damage, and the same backward trip. The level isn't hard, but it's very long, and repetitive, and frustrating because you likely won't be able to stay alert through the boredom of it all. Illogically, the Master makes an appearance here, already, in the hardest boss conflict in the game.

Isn't he the final boss? No. The final boss is a girl, a female Strider who has shown up out of nowhere, (captured no doubt, you know how helpless the ladies are supposed to be) and she's trapped in a capsule. Get her out by slashing the base of the capsule, but slash her and you die. More bad collision detection shows its ass here, as you often appear to hit the base of the thing, only to hear the fool girl scream. Sheer comedy ensues when you do finally manage to rescue her, watch her pump her fist defiantly and show off a confident stance. She's all business! you think to yourself. Immediately following is a cut scene where Hiryu carries her, helpless once more, to safety.

If you can stomach how badly designed your opposition is, you might actually enjoy Strider 2, for a little while (a little longer if you like platformers and have few options). As mentioned, just like the first game, this sequel is short. We still only get five levels to slash through. It’s easier than Strider though, and from level three on (though it's entirely possible that level two will break your spirit and put to rest any chance of you playing on), it could pretty much be any average hack and slash side-scroller, only uglier. To be perfectly honest, the Strider name got this game into more trouble than anything else. If it was called ''The Future Slasher'' (not that any marketing division would allow for that abomination) it would be looked upon as a very average, futuristic version of Rastan with bad graphics. Because it’s cursed with having the famous predecessor, Strider 2 gets perhaps more than its fair share of disparaging hype. Don't get it twisted though - most of the bad press this unsightly game earned, it earned all by itself.

Rating: 4/10

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Staff review by Marc Golding (December 21, 2003)

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