Games ported from the arcade to the Nintendo is nothing new – we’ve been getting these conversions since the day the NES hit store shelves back in 1985. Gamers have become accustomed to receiving watered down home conversions of their arcade counterparts for years now. In most cases the graphics receive a major downgrade, and in other instances features, such as two-player co-op as seen in Double Dragon, are completely gutted. With the release of Strider Capcom took an entirely different approach by developing the NES and arcade versions simultaneously and playing to each of their strengths. What this means is that the home game is completely different from the arcade one, and for once this isn’t a bad thing.
One thing that has become apparent over the last few years is that NES players want and even expect longer gameplay experiences. That’s to be expected with the rising costs of Game Paks. We started this generation with $20 – $25 price tags and they have now ballooned to $40 – $50, so it’s not surprising that we expect more bang for our buck. Had Capcom simply tried to port the arcade Strider to the NES, we would have no doubt received yet another straight up side-scrolling action game. Instead they created an adventure game that requires thought, skill, backtracking, and with multiple powers and ways to level up your character, I actually prefer the home version to the arcade. Sure it doesn’t look as pretty, but there’s more than meets the eye here.
You play as Hiryu, a sort of futuristic ninja that belongs to a special secret group called the Striders. You’re at the top of your game and among the best trained guys out there, but as you were enjoying an early retirement you were forced back into action by the Vice Director, who gave you a new mission: find and kill your friend Kain. Of course, as is often the case with secret agencies, spies, and the cold war iron curtain, things aren’t always as they appear and it doesn’t take long for you to ferret out that a double cross is in the works. It turns out that Kain isn’t the enemy, but your Vice Director is, and so it’s up to you stop his evil plan of taking over the world with mind control devices. Sure, it’s not the most original story in the world, but hey – it’s better than most games out there.
Strider is sort of a mix between Bionic Commando and Metroid. As is popular with Capcom these days, you’ll be able to select which area you’d like to tackle – after you’ve completed your first mission that is. Each stage has hidden information disks that you must retrieve and bring back to your spaceship, the Blue Dragon. You’ll uncover new plot points and destinations that you can then warp to in order to tackle new challenges. You begin the game with limited moves and equipment. You can jump as well as attack enemies with your sword, which is called the Cipher. There are plenty of enemy soldiers and other defenses standing in your way that you’ll have to slash your way through.
As you progress through the different areas you’ll eventually acquire new skills, strangely called Power Tricks in the instruction book. These take energy points to use, which you can acquire from killing enemies that drop special pellets. Some of these powers are offensive, allowing you to strike down enemies with fire bullets or spark balls. Others will heal you or even give you a longer jump. One of the most useful ones allows Hiryu to warp back to his base, which is a lifesaver because you always have to return back after finding new Intel, and it’s a pain to have to go back through the entire level to teleport back.
Other boosts you’ll find in your adventures include the ability to slide and another where you hold your sword high atop your head and utter the words “By the power of Grayskull!”, which will then allow you to launch plasma arrows at your foes (word uttering optional). Other equipment upgrades include different types of boots. One set allows you to walk on water and another utilizes magnets so you can walk on metallic structures (even walls and ceilings). Attack Boots will combine with your slide power to take out enemies’ kneecaps and kill them in style.
All of this adventuring means you’ll revisit locations several times to fully explore the map. I like this sort of nonlinear approach as it’s fun to discover new secret areas and access places that were previously blocked off. It also means you’ll probably learn each stage inside and out, which is no easy task given the levels are somewhat large and confusing thanks to the strange elevator system in place. You’ll often come across these tubes that will whisk you away to different rooms, which is very disorientating at times. Gone are the standard move from right to left in a straight-line stages of yesteryear. With several different areas of the country to explore, you’ll find yourself globetrotting to exotic places like a pyramid, a jungle, and even the cold night air of Russia.
Graphically Strider is sort of all over the place. The characters are nicely detailed and the backgrounds are usually visually striking. But the scrolling of the stages is very jerky at times (especially when moving diagonally) and the animations leave much to be desired. I’m not sure what the designers were thinking when creating Hiryu’s running animation, but it just looks comical, almost like he’s got a stick up his butt. The hit detection is a bit off as well, with the game registering some of your attacks and other times your sword seems to slice through the enemy to no effect. Capcom’s patented flicker is present here as well, which isn’t too distracting now that we’re so used to seeing it, but it definitely shows the limitation of the NES hardware.
The sound department is actually pretty good here. Capcom has proven time and again that they have some talented musicians (especially with the recently released Mega Man 2). While Strider’s soundtrack never reaches the same high points as some of the other Capcom classics, there are some very memorable tracks throughout. They tend to repeat far too quickly, but they definitely set the tone for each area of the game. I’m a really big fan of the ending music, so you have that to look forward to!
In the end Strider is a futuristic tale combined with hack and slash action with a slice of adventure. Any other year this would have probably elevated it to the top of the Game Pak heap, but the competition is stiff this year. From the outside it looks a lot like a ninja game, and with TMNT and Ninja Gaiden recently released, it’s going to be a hard sell. Combine that with an unknown name and not nearly as much marketing, and we’ve got ourselves the making of a sleeper hit. Strider will appeal to a certain segment of the market, but it doesn’t do enough to stand out from the other great games already on store shelves. Although I enjoyed my time with the game, there are better alternatives to get your action/adventure fill. Having said that, you could also do a lot worse than this one, and if Capcom had ironed out a few graphical hiccups and fleshed out the story a bit more, this one could have been truly something great.
- Graphics - 7.5/107.5/10
- Sound - 7/107/10
- Gameplay - 7/107/10
- Lasting Appeal - 7/107/10
Final Thoughts: GOOD
If you’re a frequent arcade gamer then you might be disappointed to find out that the NES version of Strider has nothing to do with its big brother. However, I’d argue that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as Capcom has delivered a fun and entertaining action/adventure game that, while won’t light the world on fire, is still worthy of your time.
Craig has been covering the video game industry since 1995. His work has been published across a wide spectrum of media sites. He’s currently the Editor-In-Chief of Nintendo Times and contributes to Gaming Age.