Still waiting patiently for that first killer Xbox One title? Aren't we all. But while the world gazes longingly at the upcoming major release schedule there are a few worthy, cheaper games on offer that might prevent too much dust from settling on that new controller. Into this spotlight now steps – well, strides probably – Strider, a jazzed-up remake from Double Helix of the 1989 platforming hack 'n' slash arcade side-scroller. While it's still not that first great game that everyone's waiting on, it does just about enough to keep the Xbox light turned on, but will also act as an effective stress test for those controllers as well.
'A' is the button mapped to the game’s basic attack, and players will be pounding that little green sucker a lot over the course of Strider. Our hero sprints, leaps, hangs, climbs and flips about during the game, and also spends what seems like days hacking through vast swathes of enemies like a world champion woodchooper in a hurry to get home.
It's a dystopian future and the evil Grandmaster Meio rules over Kazakh City with both an iron fist and a matching iron army of robots for keeping the downtrodden population downtrodden. But a populace can only take this kind of tyranny lying down for so long apparently, and so the secret high-tech ninja organisation known as the Striders sends in its star prospect, Strider Hiryu, to assassinate the Grandmaster.
Double Helix sets the tone early. Strider himself remains true to his roots as the kind of classic 80s-futurism cyberninja who thinks nothing of brazenly hang-gliding into battle through a hail of laser fire, and who intends no irony when he names his attacks things like "Robot Eagle" and "Ultra Cold Plasma Catapult".
Those players who can get on board with the vibe the game throws out from the first second will likely only find plot developments like the recurring attacks of the villainous Pooh sisters (no, really) and dialogue such as "To enter that door, you'll need a key to a key!" all the more enjoyable.
Strider starts his deadly mission with standard platforming movements, a basic slash and secondary attack and little else, but these will continue to serve him and the player pretty well throughout the rest of the game. (In fact even the secondary attack often seems surplus to requirements, and is more useful for providing visual variety than a change-up in tactics.)
Unlike many other platforming heroes though, Strider has no problem scaling walls and moving along ceilings, opening the game up for some sprawling level design and player exploration.
As Strider chops his way through the skyscrapers and underhalls of Kazakh City, leaving a trail of bisected robot troopers and Meio's defeated lieutenants in his wake, he starts to improve his attacking and movement options. The problem here is that the screen is often so busy, the combat so frenetic and the standard attack so effective that despite the odd enemy type that requires a different approach, most of the time it's easiest just to flip Strider around the screen frantically mashing the A button until everything is dead.
It's actually easy to forget that special moves are even available, and although some of these can come in handy in the game's regular boss fights, even these are more often about learning attack patterns to dodge so that Strider might live long enough to get close and start wailing away with his basic attack again. In keeping with Strider's classic arcade roots, these boss fights can be tough, but victory always feels achievable, even if some checkpoints are positioned an inexplicably long way before boss encounters however.
Despite these occasional frustrations, Strider is often a joy to play, mostly because its eponymous hero is so often bouncing around like a whirling dervish of death.
Before long, it's possible to pull off feats such as charging into a room, slashing the nearest robot in half, firing off an energy burst to take out two more across the room and then quickly deflecting an incoming shot back to blow up the gun turret that fired it, clearing the whole place out in about three seconds flat. Satisfying.
For those with the patience, backtracking to areas that become accessible as Strider gains new powers and hunting to find collectables will pad out the play-through clock, although at the risk of having the scenery wear out its welcome – this '80s dystopian future is appropriately Blade Runner-esque, but it starts to get very samey after a while. For those that want to break that 'A' button properly though, challenge modes are available post-campaign, allowing keen ninjas to test themselves with both a horde/survival mode as well as timed challenge runs.
Strider doesn't offer much new, but in a way, that's kind of the point. It won't be setting the gaming world on fire, but it is easy to recommend as the gaming equivalent of a between-meals snack. If the dearth of quality Xbox One titles to date has left you peckish, pick it up and quell those hunger pains.
Boss fights and especially checkpoint placement can frustrate.