Bringing a retro video game to a modern audience is so much more than just updating the graphics. Extreme “old-school” difficulty has largely been replaced by sheer length, stories are far more important, and there are more buttons than there used to be. If all you change are the graphics, you limit your audience to that of the original game, a significant portion of whom may no longer bother with video games.
Developer Double Helix Games has already shown a knack for updates of beloved retro properties with their take on “Killer Instinct,” the free-to-play fighter exclusive to the Xbox One. As such, they must have looked like the perfect studio to take on the fast, furious ninja action of “Strider” ($14.99; rated E-10), a side-scrolling jump-n-hackathon last relevant in the heyday of the Sega Genesis.
Double Helix was more than a good choice for “Strider” – it was a perfect choice. “Strider” is a beautiful take on an old game, tuned perfectly to the sensibility of the modern gamer.
‘Feel like a superhero’
Right off the bat, “Strider” shares much in common with its original arcade/Genesis iteration. As Strider Hayabusa, you are dropped into a dystopian version of Kazakhstan that comes off as a hyperbolic version of Cold War Russia, taken over by an evil dictator with unlimited technology and a smattering of magical powers at his disposal. Less than 30 seconds in you’re slicing robot drones in half with Strider’s signature semi-circular sword slice, and pulling off cartwheel jumps through bullets without thinking twice.
You immediately feel like a superhero, which makes it all the more exciting when you start to get new powers like Kunai (ninja stars), explosive sword swings, and a terrain-busting downward thrust.
“Strider” does one of the best jobs I’ve seen in years of balancing new powers with increased difficulty. You hardly notice how impressive some of the moves are until you start to backtrack through previous scenes looking for more upgrades and powers. The ease with which you slice your way through early enemies is a clear sign of progression, and applying that progression to the more difficult baddies in the endgame is extremely satisfying.
There’s a story here, too, though it doesn’t amount to much more than “kill these bad guys so you can kill these other bad guys and eventually kill the big bad guy.” That’s OK. A story in a game like this would just be a distraction to the acrobatics and sword slicing.
The “Strider” campaign can be finished in around five hours of straight game play, but figuring out the world’s many puzzles and finding the many hidden “fallen Striders” around the game’s world can easily double that.
Double Helix was recently bought by Amazon.com, even though it’s not yet clear what Amazon plans to do with the developer. (There’s a rumored Amazon-branded game console on the horizon, but nothing set in stone.) Regardless of Amazon’s endgame, it’s easy to see what makes Double Helix so appealing. This is quality gaming. “Strider” is a game not just to be played, but mastered, and is worth every penny of its extremely reasonable asking price.
Note: “Strider” is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.
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