Metroidvania, I hate that word, but I do enjoy the games of the “genre”. It still pleases me that Strider is not one of those games, so I do not have to use that ridiculous term to describe it. To explain, a Metroidvania game would add role-playing game mechanics to an action platformer that already has a focus on exploration; just like the game that birthed this stupid word, Castlevaina: Symphony of the Night. Strider is missing the key mechanic that distinguishes a Metroidvania from Metroid and what is left is a compelling game that plays remarkably similar to Metroid.
Like Metroid, the core gameplay of Strider consists of the player navigating the titular character through a labyrinth full of enemies, hidden secrets, and power-ups to unlock. Players will encounter doors that are locked until they have acquired the necessary power-up that opens them. After the power-up is acquired, players can then travel to previous locations and use the new skills to access new areas.
From a strictly mechanics perspective, this game has very little to complain about. Precision platforming is actually difficult to create. Strider manages to excel at this aspect. Every time I jumped, or teleported, I always knew exactly where I was going to land. I frequently played this game using the remote play functionality between the PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 4, which is really not an ideal way to experience a game like this, and I still had no issues with the platforming in Strider.
On top of the excellent platforming in Strider are the incredibly smooth animations. Transitioning from running, jumping, and attacking never has any awkward animations or missing frames. There is always a transitional animation that fits with whatever situation or environment you are currently exploring. Attacking your enemies using the sword is always exhilarating; rarely is there even a break in forward momentum as you eviscerate your enemies in a flurry of sword slashes with your scarf flowing in the wind.
Strider features appealing visuals, which are also not the most technically impressive, but for a game with this scope they do not need to be the most impressive graphics that ID Tech 5 or CryEngine 3 can produce. This game successfully recreates a visual theme similar to the classic arcade game, yet distinct enough to give this game its own unique style.
Strider is also packed to the brim with challenging and clever boss fights. Within the first five to ten minutes of gameplay, I had encountered and, presumably, slain two bosses which provided me access to additional tools of violence. As the difficulty scales up later in the game, former boss characters will eventually make reappearances as opponents that you must defeat regularly. The bosses can be easily defeated once you familiarize yourself with their attack patterns. Each boss uses five to six different attacks, that can be walked away from unscathed, leaving the enemy vulnerable to a counter attack. Although it may take multiple tries to defeat later bosses whom have attacks that can almost instantly defeat you.
Despite all of this praise, Strider is not without its flaws and some of them are quite significant. The first is an almost complete lack of true exploration and re-exploration. More often than not, once I had acquired a new ability that would unlock the door to the next objective, I would be transported exactly where I needed to go. This resulted in not being able to collect any hidden secrets that I had missed. I was never able to really explore the game world in a meaningful way because I was constantly being pushed forward. If I would have been required to travel all the way back, with my new abilities, I would have been able to explore and discover much more.
The second, and worst, flaw of Strider is the narrative and dialogue. These issues are not apparent until sometime has been invested in the game. After starting Strider you are immediately dropped into gameplay. The opening cinematic is the playable character air dropping into a city and you are then assaulted by an armada of ninja killing robots. This is perfectly acceptable as many other games have been compelling with no narration, and the story elements being delivered through play; however, close to the midway point Strider abandons this and starts to include dialogue to deliver your objectives.
The spoken dialogue from Strider Hiryu is universally cringe-worthy. All of the dialogue is completely unnecessary, and devoid of any meaningful plot elements. The cinematics only serve to inform the player of what their next objective is. This could have been accomplished just by changing the location of the cursor on the player’s map which has the added benefit of not interrupting gameplay. Other games in this genre are very compelling without any dialogue; Metroid immediately comes to mind, and in Metroid, like Strider, the overall quality of the game suffered with the introduction of spoken dialog.
Scenes of future bosses talking to one another will be teased, and then once encountered these bosses will briefly talk to the player. All of this dialogue is terrible, and it should have been limited to the phrases that the bosses say during combat. It also seems as if Strider Hiryu was not properly briefed on this mission, which results in him completing objectives at the request of a prisoner locked in the dungeons. I only learned the identity of this character, and his significance to the plot, after looking him up on the Strider wikia page. I do not feel that the identity of this character was properly conveyed to me while playing this game, and every other character is just as poorly developed.
Despite its flaws, I would highly recommend Strider; it is still a very compelling game. The incredibly well implemented action platforming brings enough to the table to make it worthwhile, and it also has just enough exploration sprinkled on top to keep you running in directions other than just left to right. Huge bosses, and Strider’s cool scarf flowing in the wind, as you cut through hundreds of robots, are also very cool.