The new Strider reboot from developer Double Helix is probably the best Metroid-style game since Shadow Complex, but that’s not saying much since there haven’t really been any Metroid-style games since Shadow Complex. While Strider may echo the design philosophies of that game style, it struggles to ever achieve any of the highs of a Metroid or Castlevania game. But hey, it’s a nice distraction until Nintendo’s next Metroid game, whenever that may be.
The structure of a Metroid or Castlevania-style (I generally side against using the prefered word amalgamation) game is well-worn into the minds of players by this point, but it’s a great concept to build a game around. Moving along a 2D, semi-open world, barred only by paths that require you to use certain abilities is a great concept and it’s a shame we don’t see more games implementing or manipulating this style of gameplay. Strider is much similar to Metroid and Castlevania-style games in its design. Paths are rendered inaccessible without the proper abilities and you’re free to go whichever way you want beyond that. The problem I found with Strider’s world structure was its insistence on segmenting parts of the map so you could never get a full picture of the world you were roaming around. It was easy to get lost or be unsure of where you’re going if the path is on another 2D plane or in an entirely different map section.
Anything resembling a story is thrown out the window when you immediately begin the game by rocketing down onto an enemy base and fighting guys. There is no preamble, no call to action. Strider is a Strider and you will therefore do Strider things, I guess. Which is odd because about mid-way through a laughably bad story starts to develop with a sever lack of structure or clarity. The voice acting has a certain 90’s era anime dub quality to it that I kind of appreciated, but nothing they were saying made sense or was worth caring about. The only reason why any of this is worth bringing up in a game that clearly doesn’t care about the story is when unskippable cutscenes keep you from jumping immediately back into the game’s sometimes frustrating boss battles.
Outside of the almost non-existent and immediately forgettable story Strider’s biggest downfall is its button-mashing combat. Pretty much every combat encounter becomes smashing the melee button as fast as possible until all the enemies are dead. There’s no real nuance to the combat; even in later sections where you have more abilities all your doing is flipping to each of the four weapon options and continuing to mash the melee button. Other abilities you gain give you special moves that can help if things get too hectic in battle, but most of the time I found them to be relatively useless compared to how fast I can press the X button.
Of course, there is one other wrinkle in the combat system which forces players to run away rather than fight. Some new areas have an enemy with a different colored shield. Each color shield corresponds to the weapon option used to take out that shield and leave the enemy vulnerable. So really it ends up boiling down to running away from enemies until you fight the boss that allows you to take those enemies out and then mostly run away from them anyway since fighting anything but bosses gains the player absolutely nothing. They’re more there as an annoyance and when you can’t fight them they are even more annoying.
Boss battles require more timing and maneuverability than most of the game, and Strider doesn’t necessarily maneuver with grace, despite his ninja-like appearance. At times I found myself dashing or jumping directly into an enemy’s attack or being locked into knock-back animations with no time to move away before the next wave of attacks hit. It took what was once a sort of mindless and laid back combat style and shifted it into a frustrating mess. This was especially apparent in the latter sections when more enemies are being thrown out at once.
I wanted to like Strider a lot more than I did; the same is true of any game. Why root for a game’s failure anyway? But the boring and button-mashing style of the combat with little to no nuance really drained away most of the positive thoughts I had towards Strider after a couple of hours into my just over six-hour playtime. I like the ideas behind Double Helix’s Strider reboot, mostly because it’s a faster-paced Metroid game, but I’m sad to say they missed the mark.