This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Strider.
And now, an insight into the thought processes of your favourite videogame critic: "Pies, pies, pies. Magners Apple Cider. Masturbation. Play videogame."
But which videogame? I've still got one more week to fill before all the big, interesting releases kick in, and I'm running out of strings to my slow-release-period bow. Oh Christ, I might have to actually review a game, rather than pretend to and then use the space to talk condescendingly at Nintendo for five minutes, or review one from three years ago, and that everyone besides me already knew was good. I shall have to think on this. (Masturbation, pies, pies)
So what is actually new this week? Well, there's Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze, but I can see where that would go straight away; it's too soon since Nintendo's last go on my spanking saddle, which I find just stops being fun after it starts drawing blood. Well, there's always Strider, the remake of the classic Capcom arcade platformer, by Double Helix, the Silent Hill: Homecoming people. Ho, ho! A long-unsullied pair of virgin cheeks to redden! (Pies, masturbation, cider, I wonder what bra size Brian Cox would wear if he was a woman.)
Apparently, the now defunct Grin, of retarded Bionic Commando reboot fame, were working on a Strider remake for a while, but thankfully they cancelled that before they could add a plot twist where Strider's sword is actually his Mum, or something. I wonder if any of their version made it into this version, 'cos it does remind me in several ways of Grin's less retarded Bionic Commando remake, Bionic Commando: Rearmed. The music and the visuals feel somewhat Bionic Commando-reminiscent, although it could just be because they're both remakes of classic platformers in which you find a thinly-disguised version of an evil European bionic-commando regime.
You are a Strider, basically a ninja but less colour-coordinated, and you used to steal apples from farms when you were a kid, and one day a farmer caught you as you were running away and yelled "Here, you!". And so you decided to name yourself "Strider Hiryu" — well, that was awful, but what do you want, there is so little plot to work with at the outset — the game starts, you're flown into enemy territory, and you start chopping things in half before you've figured out what the Jump button is. These days, being light on exposition can either mean a really deep and well-crafted story or one that's like the fabric in a wet T-shirt contest — thin, and not what we're all here to look at anyway. Strider is in the latter category, if that's not obvious by the time Emperor Palpatine shows up and gives you one last chance to join his Quest To Rule The Universe; not exactly complex villainy afoot. But it's the gameplay that carries it; Strider Hiryu moves with a rather girly, excitable run rather than a stride, counterintuitively, and he can slash his sword as fast as you can mash the button, being a master of the less sophisticated Featherduster school of kendo, but it gets the job done.
Combat is rather appealingly organic; it just sets up a few rules and away you go, running about like you were a severe germophobe trying to minimise contact with the ground, rapidly slashing in all directions. And meanwhile, the enemy are all firing bullets that can't seem to motivate themselves this early in the morning, so crawl along the air giving you time to dodge or slash them away, which I like. It's combat that really makes the most of the 2D space and the wide range of high speed movement, marred a tiny bit by slightly fiddly climbing controls, so in the heat of things Hiryu might glue himself to the ceiling or wall to show everyone his dartboard impression.
Strider is a Metroidvania game; you can tell, because you keep finding brightly coloured doors you can't go in yet. Shadow Complex is a pretty clear influence; you pick up more abilities the more of the map you unlock, and the combat starts getting cluttered like a teenager's bedroom floor. I think because the combat starts out as perfectly elegant — you jump around a lot and you make the sharp bit of your sword go into the soft bits of everything else, the instruction manual could probably be kept under two hundred pages — some abilities feel like cupholders and digital clocks bolted onto something that doesn't need them, like a kangaroo or a bag of crisps. There's the power to summon a giant red ghost bird-thing that sweeps through the enemy, but the route it takes is kinda difficult to predict, and half the time it only gave the enemies centre-partings. And later from the same stable, you get a blue ghost panther that runs across the floor nibbling every bum in its way, but it doesn't seem to deal much damage. And in both cases, I found it far more expedient to just run up to the target and hack his thighs into luncheon meat, and let the Ghost Menagerie stay in Hiryu's ninja underpants.
As Metroidvania goes, it's definitely more Metroid than -vania; it does the Metroid thing where your weapon acquires four different elemental attacks that all open new doors, which I always think is a bit of a cop-out. Your double-jump and your teleport dash make new areas accessible organically, which is good, but a locked door that only opens when attacked the right way is just a wee bit contrived:
- "Master, I've completed the design for base security; these doors only open when you hit them with the Flaming Sword!"
- "But no one in my army uses flaming swords."
- "That's what makes it secure!"
And while the Flame-y Sword and the Icy Sword have their own benefits, the fourth kind of sword — I think it was the "Blackcurrent Jam" sword — is basically just a door-opener and occasional shield-remover. Yes, it fires projectiles, but it's slow, and here's the thing: you're a ninja, you ninny! Your body is a missile, and your willy is the fin! Just jump at the bad guy and hack his shins into Spam fritters! Having said that, the kunai ability is a projectile attack with an actual use, and that use is to turn the game into a sodding bullet hell shooter, especially when you're throwing six of the things at once; you must have a fanny pack on you the size of a walrus. And the Exploding Kunais, Fucking Hell! "Thanks for playing most of the game, now for Easy Mode'!" Boss fights became absolute chumps, even the final one. "Hey, want to use these launch rings to get up close to the boss and slash him about?" "I'm good, thanks, game. (Fling, fling, fling)"
But now I nitpick. It's a little bloated and clumsy like a bridesmaid on rollerskates, but the answer to the eternal question is "Yes, Strider's fun." The combat escalates well as the game proceeds, and most of the upgrades smoothly add new elements to it that are easy to adapt into one's fighting style, phantom zoo animals notwithstanding. It's always a good sign when by the end, you're actively seeking out difficult fights because the last time you cleared a room with minimal hits using a combination of slashes, Kunais and generic ninja flipouts, you felt like your bollocks sprouted pins and turned into little grenades (if male; otherwise your clitoris extended six feet and flew the American flag).
So I wouldn't say it brings much new to the table, but it did bring a lovely pie. And everyone's had pies, but we can still appreciate a pie that's well put-together as pies go. (Pies, pies, masturbation, Brian Cox.)
- He's got long legs: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I felt a bit bad about spamming kunais all the time 'cos I wouldn't want people to say I was kunai-ving.
- Bullet Hell is where Max Payne goes when he dies.