While trying to break from my obsession for video game completion, I kicked out Capcom and Double Helix from my support group. They are classic enablers. Turning Strider (releasing on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC) into a Metroid exploration game is a great idea for healthy people, but it’s going to be hell for my OCD.
Yet I accepted the PlayStation 4 disc anyways, so I have to accept responsibility for my problem. The accompanying paperwork confirmed that only 20 percent of the map would be playable for the press. Those words crunched slowly through the heavy gears of my brain for an eternal minute. Twenty percent of the map: I wonder if I can find every item and secret area there is to find in that small chunk? Can I find more items than the other writers? Could I do it quicker than them? Better? Oh, no — the obsession has started.
Completion vs. domination
The game starts with Strider Hiryu diving out of the clouds via his hawk-like wind glider and gracefully dodging enemy fire before landing onto the platform of a fictional dystopian fantasy land. If only my fall off the video game wagon was as graceful.
Button-checking shows that Strider starts off with several abilities missing, primarily Kunais (throwing knives) and Options (selectable special attacks all with different pros and cons), but what actions he does show up with are varied enough to provide for some adaptability in his first few offensive encounters. His classic quick-sword swinging attack is here (both mid and low), as is a ground slide and a hard attack that looks like his air launcher in the Marvel vs. Capcom fighting-game series.
And where there’s an air launcher, there’s an aerial combo system. I quickly run around looking for the first enemy soldier. I pop him into the air, leap, and dice him up in midair. My eyes dart around looking for a combo counter, but I appear to be filling up a Charge meter instead.
The Charge meter fills as long as I’m inflicting hits on an enemy without taking damage myself. Taking a shot from an enemy bullet empties the meter. Filling it to maximum activates Charge mode, where Strider Hiryu’s attacks have twice the range and deal out twice the damage. I begin thinking about challenging myself to try to do the entire game without taking damage and maxing out the meter as much as possible.
On my initial run, I demolish a few groups of enemy soldiers but wind up eating a bullet. Damn it! I restart the game. I get a little bit further but wind up winged by a stray projectile. Damn it! Restart the game again. I get a little bit further and … damn it! By the eighth reset, I slap myself in the face for being stupid. This isn’t the old Strider formula where the primary goal is to memorize and dodge every bullet while perfectly assassinating platoons of robots for a big score. The key to this game is exploration. So I reset one last time and absorb my first of many hits. I sigh, shake it off, and remind myself that a perfect run is ludicrous.
So it’s time to explore.
Tickling the OCD
I reach the game’s first unattainable area, where a grate with red blinking lights and what looks like a breakable floor panel is hypnotically enticing me to investigate. I can keep moving in another direction, but I really want to see what’s behind these quite obvious secondary paths. I try every attack in my arsenal to break open the grate, but nothing cracks it. I check out the breakable floor platform, but again, nothing really works. I desperately want to see what’s beyond these barriers, but I am forced to move on.
I plow through a few more rooms and discover that I cannot advance any further unless I figure out how to crawl through a small opening on top of a wall. This is where I discover another of Strider Hiryu’s capabilities: He can climb up anything — the walls, the ceilings, the stuff attached to buildings, etc. This makes almost every nook and cranny of a level open to exploration. I climb through the small opening and obtain a slide attack power-up. A power up that happens to smash through grates.
I know exactly where I am going to try this thing out.
Getting that “tease” just right is huge for a Metroid-like exploration game, and in this preview build, Double Helix has nailed it. As I climb rooftops and slip through narrow passageways searching every corner along the way, I always find some area that’s just out of reach, mocking me. I can try to cheat my way to some area that’s unreachable, but if Strider Hiryu doesn’t have the correct abilities unlocked, that area will always remain just out of reach. Patience and perseverance through the portions of the game I can traverse eventually awards me with the power-up I need. During my excited run back toward the unreachable area I’ve been obsessing over, another closed area shows itself in just the right way at just the right time. It’s classic bait-and-switch that keeps me moving from one discovery to another — not to frustrate, but entice me to explore.
Marking the end of the first major area is the series’ iconic robot dragon boss battle. As the beast flies into the clouds, banking and weaving in an attempt to throw me off, I climb up its back while dodging electrical spikes. Once I finally reach its head, I mash the attack button like a mad man trying to inflict as much damage as possible. Eventually, I am thrown into the second stage of the battle, with the dragon picking up significant speed, sliding me back toward its tail. This time I work my way back toward the head among an onslaught of helicopter robots. Again, I spam the back of his head until he flings me back for the third and final round of the fight: heat-seeking missiles.
As is the Strider norm, a boss battle of some sort bookends every significant area. The thing is, it isn’t all as epic and over-the-top as the series’ robot dragon. Some boss battles involve a group of bounty hunters known as The Four Winds, which play a lot more like a Mega Man boss fight. They are enemies that are much more Strider Hiryu’s size, and although they come down to the same pattern memorization and recognition gameplay, the conflicts are a bit more intimate — they’re almost like a fighting game.
This contrast also makes an appearance in the level design. The main cityscape can have a sense of massive scale. Although the fighting is mostly horizontal, exploration can be incredibly vertical in nature, with Strider Hiryu often hanging high off the side of a lumbering antenna or a gigantic skyscraper. In some cases, the camera dollies back the higher we climb, giving the sense of a vast world with huge heights. Then, when I find an opening to sneak into, suddenly I’m in a cramped alleyway of air vents and sewage pipes, with the camera zoomed in to give a sense of enclosure and claustrophobia. These elements keep the game visually interesting, but they also enhance the feeling that this world has a lot to discover. As if among the massive towers of this future dystopia, tiny cubby holes are hidden from the world filled with items and obstacles worth searching for.
I’m in trouble
I’m not sure if there is such a thing as a Strider purist (I haven’t met one), but if they do exist and are worried about the exploration aspect of this new chapter, you should hold off on writing that Facebook rant. Yeah, the Metroid homage is an old trick for stretching out a classic side-scrolling design, but it brings with it a fantastic structure for pacing, which Double Helix is managing pretty well so far. It took me about two hours to finish my first play through of 20 percent of the game, which was with a lot of that time spent hanging off a lot of ceilings looking for secret areas and items. I’ve gone back through a couple more times, just double checking that I haven’t missed any secrets. I just restarted for a third time on the hardest mode available, which is a positive sign for Strider, but my therapist is frowning in disapproval.
Someday, I’ll defeat my obsessive disease, perhaps through aroma therapy or medication, but it won’t be with Capcom’s or Double Helix’s support.
Capcom’s Strider is releasing on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC in 2014. Capcom and Double Helix provided a preview build of the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which Stephen is still playing and has nicknamed “Strideroid”.
Founded in Japan in 1979 as a manufacturer and distributor of electronic game machines. Since then, Capcom has expanded in all areas of the videogame industry and has offices in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan; Sunnyvale, California; London, En... read more »
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