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Strider (Genesis) artwork

Strider (Genesis) review

"Much of the gameís hype was due to the fact that it was the first 8 meg cartridge ever. Certainly it was not just a case of Sega and Capcom pounding their chests with no real reasoning behind the extra space; upon comparison with other platform games of its time, the 8 meg 'monster' that was Strider clearly drew upon the added power do something unprecedented. It didn't compromise. It represented an arcade translation where the programmers didn't have to say ''Ok, what do we take out first?'' "

The 16-bit systems were home to many a 'jump and slash' side-scrolling adventure. From The Legendary Axe to Super Castlevania IV to Valis III - the genre produced games that enjoyed immense critical acclaim.

Sharing in that success, and reaping a lionís share of it, was Strider.

A classic. Groundbreaking. This is what Strider for the Genesis was called by the gaming world at large when it was ported from the arcades to Segaís system (a not-so-faithful translation had already been made for the NES), and not much has changed over a decade later. Much of the gameís hype was due to the fact that it was the first 8 meg cartridge ever. Certainly it was not just a case of Sega and Capcom pounding their chests with no real reasoning behind the extra space; upon comparison with other platform games of its time, the 8 meg 'monster' that was Strider clearly drew upon the added power do something unprecedented. It didn't compromise. It represented an arcade translation where the programmers didn't have to say ''Ok, what do we take out first?''

The story of Strider is sufficiently compelling. The Grand Master, Meio, has wiped out 80% of all life on Earth. He studied human behaviour from a far off nebula before arriving. Thankfully for mankind, there exists a small island in the South Seas (don't go looking now), which is home to the training ground of a small group of 'super modern ninja warrior types.' The Striders. They chose their very best for this mission, (they were saving him up for something big, but the world ending will suffice) a young, gifted Strider named Hiryu. And you have the privilege of controlling him.

It's a priviledge, because controlling Hiryu is an absolute joy. The animation is silky smooth, the character renderings and movements crisp, and stylish. Hiryu will execute flying cartwheels, downhill sprints, and power slides, all fluidly with a decidedly anime influence. The game is extremely colourful, proving just what the Genesis can do with its palette when developers are willing and able. The backdrops are varied and wonderful, from the mountains of Siberia, to the third level Airship. The bosses are excellent (the giant gorilla received a lot of attention because of his size and movements, and he's not even a boss!), and they move without slowdown and only very limited flicker.

As smooth as Hiryu is, he wouldn't be half as cool without his sword, Falchion. Just try to imagine Michael Keaton's Batman without the Batmobile, and you'll understand. Falchion flashes a crescent moon of death and returns to its scabbard in one sweet, trademark moment. Hiryu can slash while standing, ducking, jumping, sliding, or hanging onto something. Thatís right - hanging onto something. He has a grappling sickle he can use to scale walls or hang from ceilings and scaffoldings.

Power ups are available from small flying robots carrying metal containers. Hiryu can earn vital vitality blocks (some symbols replenish empty blocks, some add extra blocks), or became temporarily invincible. His sword can be temporarily powered up, assuming a larger swath pattern as the damage it does likewise increases. But the power ups are really about the robots.

Dipodal Saucer is the first. Itís a little bipedal robot (think R2-D2) that will shoot ring blasts to augment our hero's swinging sword. As Hiryu moves, the diminutive robot will also move, often crashing into enemies. Should you take damage, it will leave you. The Terapodal Robo-Panther is a favourite of many fans of the game. This much larger helper will only appear if youíve got two of the Dipodal Saucers already. Theyíll disappear and the Panther will take their place, wreaking havoc for a short time before it disappears, the two little ones returning to take over again. Finally, the Hawk Robot, while not as mobile as the others, inflicts considerable damage on your behalf. Like the panther, it hangs around for a limited time only.

Strider's sounds are unapologetically idiosyncratic (think Zuntata). While it can still be safely said that the gameís tracks somehow suit the levels quite well (especially the opening and the jungle tunes), and there is an undeniably high level of quality here, some will find the tunes overly raucous, while others will consider them among the best theyíve heard in a 16-bit game. There really isnít much middle ground in this area. I am of the latter school of thought. Strider presents the most brilliantly esoteric soundtrack Iíve heard in an action adventure game.

The maniacal, echoing laugh of The Master prefaces the pounding organ-driven tunes that mark the beginning of the first level. Floodlights wave excitedly, the U.S.S.R. territory seems at once familiar, yet futuristic and otherworldly. Grace and fluidity mark Hiryuís beautiful movement as he slides beneath closing doors, cartwheels over breathtaking chasms and ascends cold scaffolding. Face an amalgamation of man, machine, and centipede that is Urobolos, The Iron Ruler, all the while minding his curved blade that rivals your own deadly Falchion in size.

A Gorbachev look-alike plays yes-man to The Master in the cut scenes, while a Boba Fett-inspired rogue trash talks you. The organ pounds its harsh high to midrange tones with supreme clarity and beasts that resemble saber toothed tigers lunge at you, chasing you into close quarters with a gargantuan gorilla. This was Segaís money shot in Strider's hey day. For good reason; the thing is not only large and detailed, but well animated, jerking about robot-like, its paws reaching out to touch youÖ heavily.

This level is almost unfairly packed with beauty. After dispensing with Boba Fett, youíll race down a snow covered hill while explosives behind you condemn you to your forward motion along the tree line. The view is spectacular; this is how I envision H.P. Lovecraftís ''At The Mountains of Madness.'' Softly, lovingly shaded mountain ranges of light purples and sweetly textured grays fill the panorama in quiet resplendence, a polar contrast to your panicky, reckless, headstrong descent. This is platforming at its finest.

But thereís more. Leap from air skiff to air skiff, always ascending. Board the massive air ship and face a trio of Chun Lis - female assassins, equipped with kicks that make the same flash pattern Falchion makes. After enjoying spanking the three ladies, Hiryu is back to business. Take me to your boss he says calmly. When he is informed of The Masterís plan to use the massive battleship Ballog, he scoffs: You must be joking. Youíre sending a toy into battle? Great stuff. Nothing like trash talking between levels - but what else would you expect from the creators of Street Fighter?

Reverse gravity in the halls of a great ship and walk upside down. Lose yourself, your mind, and your equilibrium, all at once, in a cavernous room where vertigo is the least of your troubles. A solid sphere with incredible density takes hold of you with its own localized gravitational pull. You breeze around it in this singular, cold coliseum, striking out at that thing which has you under its spell, trying to maintain control while you simultaneously concede control to it. This is genius.

If Gorbachev, Boba Fett and Chun Li werenít enough, there are more pseudo-cameos. A captain hook character lashes out at you to end level three, and finally Master Meio speaks for himself between stages, his general countenance favouring The Emperor from Return of the Jedi. Endure his boastful extempore for only a moment before the lush, muddy Amazon jungle envelops you whole. Indigenous tribespeople hurl boomerangs and yell incomprehensibly, while lumbering dinosaurs (you read correctly!) out of time and space provide you with unlikely assistance. Ultimately, the giant, awesomely creative robot T-Rex, Lago, will try to gash you and turn your insides out - cling to that vine for your very life!

The final confrontation awaits on the Third Moon. It will call upon all your skills for success to be possible. You will move with your body parallel to the ground. The sphere, the lady ninjas (surely red-bottomed as well as red-faced for their return), the gorilla, Lago, and Urobolos will all return (but you knew that, didnít you!). Their insistence on encores is standard platformer operating procedure. And finally Meio will materialize in inky blackness.

If Strider has a weakness, it is this: the controls are flawless, but lacking. You can leap directly upward, and cartwheel diagonally. But once youíre airborne, you have no control over your leaps. I find this a bit troubling, because there are times when you see a platform or scaffolding you need to reach, and cannot jump directly up to catch it with your grappling hook because itís a little ways in front of you. A the same time, your cartwheel jump will overshoot the same target badly. To rectify this, a good deal of prior positioning and posturing to set up jumps is often necessary. Of this, Iím not a fan. (Oddly enough, the sequel, Strider Returns manages to correct this and botch up everything else.)

To get even a little pickier, Strider is a bit short. But the time, though fleeting, is most certainly time well spent! You get to walk upside down, use an amazing weapon, cling to surfaces, become a human satellite, and take on a robot gorilla. Youíll have a hawk and panther to help you out, and the mountain range race and valley of the dinosaurs are two of the more memorable moments in the annals of gaming history.

Strider is intensely enjoyable - almost all of the time. The iffy control scheme as well as the slightly simplistic and ephemeral experience hurt it somewhat. Itís not really close to being as deep and involving as, say, Castlevania: Bloodlines. Still, if someone had told me of the prospect of an unlikely union of Rastan slashing, Mega Man sliding, with an atmosphere almost as singular and alien as Out of This World, I could barely envision a cohesive end result, let alone guessing it could actually work. But it works. Hiryu's adventure is evidence of that.

Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 21, 2003)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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