By Sotenga

The late eighties were, in my humble opinion, the golden age of the video game industry. Despite the fact that several people think the golden age was prior to the horrible video game crash of '84, I saw the crash as a necessary evil in order to pave the way for a Renaissance in the gaming universe. Five years later, Nintendo would have a war on their hands against Sega, what with the Genesis coming into light as the new rival of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Sega was not going to take the failure of their sadly neglected Sega Master System while crying, and amidst all this, poor Atari tries to stay alive with the 7800.

It was a great time for the rise of home consoles, but the ability to play games within the convenience of your own home detracted a bit from the venue that put video games on the map: The Arcade. So, to stay alive, companies who lacked home consoles to call their own, such as Konami and Namco, worked hard to improve the quality of their arcade titles, and this would definitely show over the years. Capcom also strived to make their mark, thus leading to the birth of their CPS1 arcade system. Before they really hit it big with Street Fighter II, Capcom released some of the greatest action titles you could find on Earth, including, but not limited to, Forgotten Worlds, 1943, Ghouls N' Ghosts, Final Fight... And Strider. Sweet glorious Strider.

The Strider series is set in the future, a time of the Striders, an elite group of counter-terrorists working to fight the evils of the world. The series chronicles the adventures of Hiryu, the greatest of all the Striders. Second to none, Hiryu traverses the land with his cipher, Falchion. Ciphers are the standard issue weapons for Striders, and they're damned cool weapons. I can best describe them as the bastard child of a tonfa stick and a lightsaber. While Hiryu is damned good with his weapon, and he's an extremely acrobatic individual, he faces a diverse cast of antagonists, ranging from mechanical gorillas to reanimated mastodons, which makes his job all the more harrowing.

Strider Hiryu was initially conceived as a multimedia project, with an arcade game, a Famicom/NES game, and a manga published around the same time. While the arcade game has little to do with the manga, the storyline of the NES game ties in with the manga. (Strangely, the NES game was not released in Japan.) All appearances of Strider have always credit Moto Kikaku as the character designer. Moto Kikaku is not the same of a specific person, but rather a group of artists that share the copyright. While Hiryu wears a flowing red mask in the original artwork, he never actually appears in this in the games - at least, until his appearance in Marvel vs. Capcom and eventually Strider 2.

Strider (Arcade)

Strider (Arcade)

Strider (NES)

Strider 2

Strider - Arcade/Genesis/Sega Master/PC Engine Arcade CD/Playstation (1989)


Genesis Cover

Japanese Mega Drive Cover

PC Engine Cover

This is where the madness all began, and all it took was a badass hero, a completely evil villain, and a whole lot of greatness. Let's get the unimportant plot out of the way first: In the distant future, a small European nation known as Kafazu is ravaged and obliterated by a mysterious army. This army then goes on to take out all of Europe and several other continents before their leader is revealed, an enigmatic figure known as Grandmaster Meio (who bears a suspicious resemblance to Emperor Palpatine). Hiryu, the youngest Strider to ever reach the A-Class rank, is called upon to perform the blunt task of reaching and terminating Meio. It's simple in theory, but when it comes to practice, it's not an easy thing to do.

Hiryu's voyage begins in Kafazu, the city where the chaos all began. As he rides in on his glider, he jumps off as an alarm sounds, and suddenly, the whole Kafazu army is after him. Right away, the action starts up as soldiers rush our hero, but they're not that skilled. Hiryu, on the other hand, swings his cipher extremely fast. Gamers who possessed itchy trigger fingers were able to cackle with glee as they moved through the poor schmucks, slicing their torsos clean in half. Beyond Kafazu is the brutal icy hell of Siberia, the perilous airborne battleship, Balrog (Street Fighter fans will more than likely recognize this name), the savage fury of the Amazon jungle, and finally, Meio's main base of operations, the Third Moon.

I will immediately point out a negative of the game so I can gush over the many, many positives; this game's kind of short. It only has five levels, but considering that it was the late eighties, this was a rather standard amount of stages. Maybe the game just plays so fast for me because it's so awesome. Anyway, despite the short amount of stages, each of them are considerably lengthy. I can divide the first level into five short sections alone. What's even better about these stages are the extraordinarily impressive environments, which I shall now rant about while describing the game's graphics.

IMPRESSIVE. For 1989, and for the CPS1 system, this game had a huge bunch of visual appeal. Hiryu himself is nicely animated, as well as each enemy sprite, all of which contain many frames of animation. The enemy designs are impressive and bizarre all the same, but more on that later. Strider had some impressive environments for the time, and they really helped bring gamers into a whole new world. For example, Hiryu has to slide under spikes and climb a big spire before jumping down the other side in the first stage, and it gets better in Siberia where he has to work his way around platforms on gigantic moving gears! After a battle with one of the midbosses, he has to run down a huge icy mountain, quickly gaining speed on his descent, and the player would have to time his jump JUST right to avoid plunging off the bottom of the screen. WOW. In between each stage are cutscenes that mostly consist of Meio taunting Hiryu and our hero learning about Meio's evil plans. What ruled about these cutscenes were that they were supplied with actual voices, and they speak in different languages! Meio and his henchman, the bounty hunter Solo, spoke in English, Hiryu presumably spoke Japanese, Meio's other henchman (whose name I have lost, but he looks a lot like Gorbachev) speaks Russian, and so on. These really help augment the impact of Hiryu's quest.

Speaking of voices, I should talk about the sound and the music of the game. For the time, this was excellent sound. Falchion makes a nice clean "SHING!" effect each time it slices through the air. The explosions sound a bit muddled to my ears, but there's other great effects, such as clanging steel, sirens and alarms, and the chattering of the Amazon women in stage four - and even better, the scream they make when you slice Ďem up. The music is also good stuff to me. It's certainly an acquired taste, but Iíve played it enough to appreciate all the tunes given to us by the composer, whose name I cannot produce due to Capcom's wacky credits of the late eighties. The music also changes constantly - the first stage has five different pieces of music alone. My favorites would have to be "Raid" (the first level main theme), "Mass of Cloud" (second level song, with the electric generators) and "Roaring" (the jungle theme) but trust me when I say that it is all very great. Sometimes, it is atmospheric, and at other times, it comes off as stunningly dramatic. Good stuff, good stuff.

Back to the stages. My personal favorite stage is the third one, the battleship Balrog. After tearing through a turret that provides an entry point for Hiryu, he has to navigate his way through many platforms revolving on conveyor belts, climb up a pair of moving walls before he gets squished, deal with an improbability of physics when the ship changes gravity, destroy the ship's core, (which is apparently responsible for switching the gravity) and then hightail it out onto an escape ship before you go down with the exploding Balrog. This was beyond impressive for 1989, and it still manages to hold up today. Pure genius.

The Amazon level is also extremely well done, and the vines, which adhere to weird physics as they flip and jounce about, launching Hiryu all over the place. Then he gets to ride on dinosaurs. Brachiosaurs, if I'm not mistaken. Now is that fun or what? The finale, the Third Moon, combines elements and enemies from the previous four stages to make an excruciatingly difficult final challenge. If he can pass all that, heíll be granted an audience with Meio for the final battle. Sure, there are many manmade obstacles Hiryu has to brave, but what about the natural obstacles, the enemies? From regular human soldiers, to ravenous wolves, to robots bearing a strong resemblance to Robocop's ED-209, to freaking Amazon women, I'd say that our young Strider has a diverse cast to face off against. The bosses are nothing short of impressive, and for people who were relatively new to the game, they could take many continues to finally beat. I should know - when I first gave this game a try, the first boss, Urobolos, kicked my ass several times.

Maybe I was distracted by its amazing design, I dunno. The formation of Urobolos goes like this: In a room with enemy officers sitting down in chairs, the commander, who stands in front of his troops, gives a signal, jumps into the air, and one by one, each officer jumps right in and transforms into a section of the entire boss! The end result is a giant mechanical centipede with two arms in the front, armed with, and I swear that I am NOT shitting you here - a hammer and a sickle. This makes a concealed fact rather obvious: Like the Badds in Bionic Commando who were really supposed to be the Nazis, Kafazu is apparently a futuristic version of Russia, making Strider a Cold War-themed game in a sense. I find it rather ironic that the Berlin Wall was taken down the same year as this game was released, but irony is one of the more common aspects of the world. Anyway, Urobolos roved all about the room, shooting bullets from its mouth. The player would have to ride on its back and slash away at its head to defeat the beast.

Other bosses include Mecha Pon, the giant mechanical gorilla, the aforementioned Solo, the bounty hunter (who has inspiration in design from Boba Fett) who Hiryu has to fight before running down the icy mountain in Siberia, the Kuniang M.A. Team (a trio of Chinese female martial artists, FYI), the core of the battleship Balrog, Captain Beard, the owner of Balrog (and definitely the biggest pussy of a boss in this game), Lago, the huge mechanical T-Rex (in contrast to Beard, the HARDEST boss of the game, IMO) - and you'll have to face them ALL over again in the Third Moon before you get to the last boss himself, Meio. While they can be difficult at first, experts who have practiced a lot on this game and who have extremely fast fingers can chop any boss down to size in a matter of seconds. Personally, I think the final battle against Meio is mainly one of attrition. If you work fast to attack him and collect the life power-ups lying around the arena at the right time, then the finale is actually somewhat of a letdown.

Still, Strider cannot be mastered overnight. The controls are tight and easy to learn. Hiryu can scale any of the walls and ceilings he sees thanks to the assistance of a grappling hook. Holding the hook in one hand cuts down on how rapidly he can swing Falchion, but man was not meant to both climb AND fight on walls. At least he can defend himself. Holding down while pressing the Jump button allows Hiryu to slide under any dangers that may befall him, and he can STILL use the Falchion, even in mid-slide. He can't change direction while jumping, but he can attack in midair, and he makes a nice somersault when jumping left or right. An interesting aspect of physics here is that he moves slowly up steep inclines, but runs rather quickly when going down. He can also jump rather far if he's moving fast.

Despite these good controls, the enemy forces, combined with the fact that Hiryu can only take three hits before dying (with a cool death animation and an even cooler sound to accompany it) make the challenge of this game pretty high nonetheless. It's a pretty decent curve, with each level becoming increasingly difficult, and finally reaching a zenith of frustration around the middle of the Third Moon. Thankfully, Hiryu has some power-ups to help him along, such as the basic life ups, one which increases one lifebar, another completely refilling it, and even a third one that adds an extra lifebar, allowing him to take one more hit than normal. Other power-ups include an extension to his cipher, robot helpers that fire energy rings when he attacks, a mechanical panther that tears through most enemies in one attack, and of course, the good olí bonus life.

Strider is many things, but if I had to choose one word to sum it all up, I'd have to go with "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." The luscious graphics, the powerful sound, the fluid mechanics, the astounding enemies - just beautiful. Some may disagree with me on this opinion, but I think Capcom's heyday was in the late eighties, and if I needed to show one example in front of the masses who think otherwise, I'd display Strider on a giant screen in front of their eyes, and get right to slashing Communist drones in half with my plasma sword. Gaming seriously does not get much better than this.

There are but minor discrepancies between the Japanese and America/European versions. The Japanese game is called "Strider Hiryu", while it is merely shortened to "Strider" for the rest of the world (although the kanji is still in the logo.) The Japanese versions also have voice samples of Hiryu yelling when he slashes his sword - for some reason, this is absent from all of the other versions.

Strider naturally saw several ports to the home systems (and several computers, although those versions are negligible.) The best - and most popular - was the Genesis version, reprogrammed and published by Sega. While certain concessions had to be made - the color palette was slightly reduced, some background scrolling eliminated, all of the voices removed, and a solid black bar was put over the status bar - it otherwise looked and played exactly like the arcade. You have limited continues too, making this rather tough to beat, especially in the final stage. For people sick of 8-bit graphics on their NES, this was a big selling point for the Genesis, which promised to put the experience of the arcade in your home. The rare Sega Master System port obviously needed to be scaled down, and while it looks okay, it slows down horribly every time you slash your sword, making it uncomfortable to play.

The PC Engine also saw a release of Strider in Japan, ported by NEC Avenue. While Strider required the Arcade Card - something of a misnomer, because games that used the card were never as good as their arcade counterparts - this version didn't turn out quite as well. The PC Engine just doesn't have the same high resolution of the Genesis, plus nearly all of the multiplane scrolling was removed. The game plays fine, however, and there are lots of little bonuses. Every level has a cutscene with different art and voices than the arcade version, plus boss characters give short speeches, complete with portraits, before you fight them. All of the music has been remixed in redbook audio as well. The biggest addition is an entirely new level exclusive to the PC Engine. Stuck right after the first stage, you run through the desert, fighting against antlions, sandworms and tanks - it shares the same exuberant creativity as the rest of the game, and helps pad out what is otherwise a horribly brief experience.

Strider was also ported to the Playstation and included along with Strider 2 on a separate disc (although a printing error mislabeled it.) It's almost arcade perfect, but the music sounds a little off. Capcom included an "arranged" version that upgrades the synth beyond FM bleeps, but the choice of instruments is terrible and it sounds pretty bad.

MP3s

Raid - Level 1 - Arcade
Raid - Level 1 - PC Engine

Strider (Arcade)

Strider (Arcade)

Strider (Arcade)

Strider (Arcade)

Strider (Arcade)

Strider (Arcade)

Strider (Arcade)

Strider (Arcade)

Strider (Arcade)

Strider (Arcade)

Strider (Arcade)

Strider (PC Engine)

Strider (PC Engine)

Strider (PC Engine)

Strider (PC Engine)

Strider (PC Engine)

Screenshot Comparisons

Arcade

Genesis

PC Engine

Sega Master System

PC Engine Screenshots

Strider - Nintendo Entertainment System (1990)


American Cover

Strider (NES)

Strider (NES)

I could imagine that when Strider Hiryu's move to the NES was announced, millions of Capcom fans did Irish jigs and Mexican hat dances in celebration. Said dances were probably cut short when the fans played the game for themselves and found it to be a huge departure from the style of the arcade game. It's not a bad game at all though, quite the contrary. Strider was one of the many high-quality titles released for the NES amongst the tidal wave of great games made for it in both the late eighties and the early nineties. It was releases like these that proved Capcom ruled both in the arcades and on consoles.

First off, the pure frenetic action of the arcade title will not be found here. What will be found here is an action/adventure/RPG quest that actually has a developed plotline. Said plotline is set far after the original Strider takes place (by at least five years, I'd wager), and Hiryu is still the greatest Strider of all time. At the Strider headquarters, the awesome looking Blue Dragon, he receives a message from the Strider vice director, Matic, which is rather disturbing. Fellow Strider Kain has been captured by Kafazu forces, and Hiryu expects a rescue mission - quite the contrary, he is instructed to find and kill Kain! Hiryu has to at least find him, and he does, but he does not kill his comrade. Instead, he extracts information out of him, and our hero learns of the mysterious "Zain" project. Whatever that is, that can't be good. When Hiryu learns that Zain is a superweapon that gets the job done by brainwashing, hypnotizing, and making Communist zombies out of the world, Hiryu MUST stop the project and eliminate those responsible.

As enterprising a plot as that sounds, I can't really say that the translators did the best of jobs with transforming Japanese symbols into English characters when this game was shipped overseas. The speech is not as flagrantly screwy as the arcade shooter Battle Rangers (which has Engrish so bad that I'm almost convinced it was done on purpose), but it's still a bit confusing at times. I nearly plotzed when I read this, and I quote, "You'll be sent to your grave by me Mr. Kain." Yes, that is actually said in the American version, those exact words with the same lack of punctuation. Still, the plot isn't totally nonsensical, but you've heard enough about the faulty English.

The graphics are nothing special, but they do get the job done. They're colorful, and you can tell what most of the enemies are. There's no background parallax, but this game wasn't made in the nineties, so you can't expect any graphical wonders to knock you out of your seat. I will say that the character faces that pop up on your monitor at the Blue Dragon are quite detailed, and while they don't move, the Zain machines are huge and have a rather eerie appearance to them. Character animation is a bit stiff, though, and it does get a slight tad glitchy from time to time, but the graphics are indeed adequate for its time.

I am quite fond of the music of this game, though not so much the sound effects. Most other sounds are drowned out by the flashing of Hiryu's cipher, which might get a slight tad annoying from repeated use. However, the music, in my humble opinion, is AWESOME. Right when the game opens up, the loud background music playing somewhat sounds like muffled explosions are going off in the background, at least, that's how I can describe it best. Kafazu's music gives me the impression that I'm about to infiltrate a highly protected Russian base, which is what you have to do several times in the game. The train to Egypt has an extremely awesome tune that ends too quickly, but Egypt itself has music that sounds... well, Egyptian. China's BGM also makes me feel like I'm invading a secret base, Bond-style, and I'm doing a good job of being covert too. Overall, the style is indescribable, but I'm a sucker for Capcom compositions, so I quite like it.

And now - the gameplay. To break it down, it starts with going to Kafazu through the means of the Blue Dragon's transportation system. After exploring the level and finding a couple of useful files, Hiryu has to go back to where he began and jump back up to the Blue Dragon. After analyzing files at the base, he is able to travel all around the world to Egypt, Austraila, Japan, China, Africa, and even Los Angeles. It all ends at the enemy leader's base, the Red Dragon, and Hiryu must eliminate him and his evil once and forever. Each stage is nonlinear to an extent, and some of them even have to be returned to more than once to explore everything that can possibly found. It may get tedious when trekking through Kafazu for the third freaking time, but it has to be done. By performing certain feats such as capturing enemy officers and destroying Zain machines, Hiryu gains levels, and with it, more energy and more special abilities which can be selected by going into the SELECT menu and choosing which one to use, though an expert at this game can waltz through it without the use of these abilities.

As developed and meticulous as everything is in this game, it just has this feeling of incompletion that I can't shake while playing it. It's not that the game isn't long enough, but the programmers must have had several naps when it came time to check for bugs, as things can become incredibly glitchy at times. One of the most notable problems involves jumping up walls, which is an incredible pain, due to the awkwardness of "wall physics." Wall jumps can be frustrating to perform, as Hiryu inexplicably plummets when he touches a wall in mid-jump, and the whole process of scaling a wall this way can be extraordinarily irritating. Like the arcade game, there are also several high jumps you can only make by running down a slanted surface and gaining momentum, but the physics are so wonky that the experience is made unnecessarily annoying. It just seems like the poor NES couldn't handle the sloppy programming. But there's more issues too. Enemies can suddenly appear out of nowhere without any fanfare, Strider doesn't have any invincibility time when getting hit (resulting in many quick, unfortunate deaths), and character animation has a tendency to be stiff and jerky. It just feels like the game could have been much better with just a little more effort.

But as it stands, Strider is still an incredible action-adventure title, and was certainly one of the better games designed for the NES around the middle of its lifespan. While it's not everything fans of the arcade game expected to be, many could still find enjoyment in it regardless. It is highly recommend for Capcom fans and NES lovers alike. Besides, who doesn't love a game loaded with ridiculous Engrish? That's just the icing on the cake. Interestingly, this game was only released in the West and never saw a Japanese release.

MP3s

Intro

Strider (NES)

Strider (NES)

Strider (NES)

Strider (NES)

Strider (NES)

Strider (NES)

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