In some ways, Strider is a very faithful throwback to the 1987 arcade classic of the same name: many of the enemies, bosses and sets appear in both. It also modernizes and expands upon the backtracking elements of the otherStrider game that released on the NES, a clear inspiration from games like Metroid or the more recent Shadow Complex. You steadily gain new abilities and then backtrack to places on the map where they'll clear a previously impassible barrier and let you move forward. It's an appealing chemistry at first, but Strider is often lost in its own reverie, unable to nail down the essentials of the action of its forebears or its new exploration-based design.
The developers have nailed the sort of fluid, capable movements that make the best kinds of these games such a pleasure to traverse. You can run fast, jump high and scale most any wall with your climbing picks from the outset, and Strider wastes no time adding to that arsenal soon after. Your "cipher" energy blade can eventually take on different forms to penetrate thick defences and power up mechanisms around the city. You'll learn to double jump high and powerslide down low. There are smaller trinkets and passive upgrades for you to collect too, though way too much of the former was functionless concept art for my liking - enough that I eventually stopped venturing too far off the broken path, a feeling a game like this probably isn't trying to impart.
Regardless, it's no small amusement to just send Hiryu flying across the screen and poking around for collectables. It's a shame that assets get reused too often, because the aesthetic is great; I loved the neon-drenched Cold War aesthetic, and outside of some muddy cutscenes it looks sharp and runs great on the PS4. But even when the cool designs start repeating enough to get you lost in the monotony and scrambling for the map screen every minute or two, the base act of getting yourself around always feels fun.
Strider insists upon pushing those elements further and further into your periphery as you play. Combat feels a bigger part of this series' identity than the other games it draws upon, but engaging with the Kazakh City guard is the weakest part of the whole adventure. You get the impression survival may be tough from the first few sequences, but the going soon gets easier once you find a few conspicuous health upgrades and start accumulating your overpowered special moves. Most enemies fire laser rounds at you that can be pretty tough to avoid, but the amount of health each felled enemy coughs up mitigates almost all of the potential challenge. Boss encounters are the worst offenders; outside of dodging a few telegraphed attacks, standing next to them and hammering the attack button is the strategy. Not so unlike the original Strider, though it doesn't make the resulting fracas any less disappointing. Nor does the fact that nearly every lame boss encounter repeats several times throughout the adventure more or less verbatim.
The imprecision of the analog control scheme unfortunately proves more of a challenge than your adversaries, especially once Hiryu is decked out with most of his extra moves. It wasn't uncommon for me to try and slide only to leap into an attack because I didn't push the stick down enough for its hotspot to register. Aiming your ranged kunai attack similarly begs for the rigidity of digital control, but the game only lets you play wih a stick. Eventually I adapted, but it never felt fully comfortable.
I had a great time with Strider in the beginning, but that satisfaction went on a steady and disappointing decline from the start. There's a great-looking game with some compelling exploration elements here, albeit a flawed one that almost always plays against those strengths in favour of more flat combat. The Metroid-style design could be a great fit for Strider, but this first outing comes up a little lacking.