Sega Mega Drive
Genre: Action Platformer
Back in the 80s, you could generally know three things about ninjas: they would take down hordes of faceless enemies with little to no effort, they weren’t good at hiding, and they were usually the good guys. Strider Hiryu is the protagonist in this story of a sort of dystopian future ninja in the year 2048, sent to assassinate the terrifying dictator known as Grandmaster using his mechanical animal companions, and his laser beam tonfa. This game was definitely written with every cool thing in the 80’s in mind, but how well did this hack-and-slash play?Strider hit arcades first in 1989, before shortly being ported to Sega Mega Drive, NES, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS and ZX Spectrum. It has been re-released in later ports for systems like Playstation as well (along with game sequels and classic collections). One interesting thing to note is that in many of the home ports, they swapped the third and fourth stages without changing the cut scenes. The version on Mega Drive had a different ending than the arcade, along with a music remix of songs that didn’t make it into the game. A fine example of needing to play through every version of a game to fully understand what was happening at the time.
On top of that? It was written in tandem with a manga.
The game opens dropping our deadly protagonist Strider Hiryu off on a hang glider, right into the action of a Gibsonesque, futuristic USSR (which, as we all know, will certainly survive until 2048). Your enemies are a mixture of intimidating and wacky characters – from gun toting, grim faced soldiers to wacky robots wearing coonskin caps. To the games credit, the intimidating enemies do outweigh the weirder ones. The bosses and minibosses tend to be a combination of the two.
After a force field is closed behind you to trap you in from your kamikaze hanglider drop, the game begins. Acclimating to the controls, you start taking out a few goons with your tonfa and jumping about like a circus acrobat. You can either jump straight into the air and attack everything in front of you, do a vaulting cartwheel while attacking everything in your path, do a sliding kick and hitting at things with your laser tonfa, or of course, the classic walking forward and slashing out at the baddies. To top it off, you can hang onto most walls and ceilings. For the time, this was innovation, and a considerable amount of variety over other games of the era.The music is unique and catchy. The graphics are also a real pleasure (as usual, better on the arcade than in the home ports). The controls for walking, jumping and sword slashing all being very smooth and fast motions, something which was not always the case at the time. Combined with the satisfying noise of your tonfa sword, it helped to make the game feel fast paced, and made Strider Hiryu feel like a swift and deadly ninja.
Strider’s gameplay is broken into a standard five stages, varied from all extremes: it starts off in crazy cyberpunk USSR fighting soldiers, robots and wrestlers, and you will eventually end up in the amazon fighting, surprisingly enough, amazons. You can pick up power ups in the form of your robopals Option A, Option B and Option C (an odd flying mushroom like droid, a robotic saber-toothed tiger and a robohawk, respectively), a lengthened version of your normal sword slash, a kanji that extends your healthbar, a kanji that restores health, a final kanji that restores all of your health, and the classic extra life. The game is more forgiving than other arcade ports, and even if it would take a few tries, doesn’t feel like the quarter muncher that many other machines had been.The game is a classic. The hero is fairly recognizable and used in other games, such as the Marvel Vs. Capcom series. It spawned a couple of so-so sequels – Strider II on Sega Genesis, and Strider 2 on Playstation. It’s been released for emulation on some of these shiny new gaming systems, so it’s easy to get access to, and a polished revamping of the game was released on the PSN, Xbox Live and Steam. If you haven’t played it, you can easily change that, and frankly should. It stands up well as a prime example of fun retrogaming. If you’re a bit strapped for cash, simply check out the link below.