Retro Refined: Double Helix resurrects Capcom’s legendary ninja for a new generation.
Capcom’s agile azure assassin is back courtesy of developer Double Helix. For the first time in 15 years Strider Hiryu, the scarlet scarf sporting ninja has found his way to the console front to once again wage war against the evil, mechanized forces the nefarious Grand Master Meio. However, this supercharged reboot eschews the arcade classic series’ by the numbers stage progression in favor of a Metroidvania-styled adventure full of hidden passages to explore, upgrades to nab, and robots to turn into piles of twisted metal. All of this sounds good in theory, but does this reinvigorated reboot of the beloved Capcom franchise have what it takes to bring the cypher-swinging hero back from the the dusty annals of arcade history?
From the moment the nimble ninja glides into the snowy wastes of the Neo-Soviet fortification of Kazakh City it’s readily apparent that Double Helix have done their homework when crafting this nostalgic action-platformer. Strider Hiryu dashes swiftly through the game’s various industrial-themed stages rapidly slashing through waves of heavily-armed mechanical soliders, effortlessly performing his signature Star Jump through the air and latching onto walls with the speed and intensity of a mountain climber on methamphetamine. Controlling the deadly assassin is exceptionally smooth and responsive- a must for any arcade-inspired adventure- and while you start off relatively underpowered, the broad and ever-expanding repertoire of moves and weapons you unlock gives the player an exciting feeling of power and deadly prowess when exploring the sprawling city. And explore you shall, as seemingly every ventilation shaft, tucked-away catwalk, and supposedly bottomless crevice is littered with useful upgrades to increase your health and energy (needed for using your myriad special abilities), collectible pieces of concept art, and bonus challenges to undertake.
Unfortunately, while the city of Kazakh is sprawling, there isn’t a great deal of variety in the Soviet-inspired city’s scenery. Sure, the moments when you’re sprinting and slicing above the iconic minarets of the city’s Kremlin-esque palace look nice, as well as the mission where you scale the surface of a speeding airship at sunset, but much of the rest of the game is set within sterile corridors and factory scenery that, while true to the image of Kazakh’s militaristic Eurasian world, do grow stale after a while. Thankfully, the visual flourish of Strider’s varied moves and stylish animations do much to offset the occasionally drab environments. Besides, when you’re flying through the air at a hundred miles per hour on the back of an armored dragon as missiles rain down all around you, the scenery is the last thing you’ll be paying attention to.
While the backgrounds may begin to bore you, the game’s soundtrack is a treat that fits the action like a glove. The tunes are largely a mix of drum and bass and electronica tracks that match the industrial scenery well. However, you’ll also be treated to a few chiptune-inspired anthems that are sure to get your heart pumping as you sprint, slice, and dice your way to your next objective. Additionally, the game’s voice acting, while intentionally cheesy, fits the stylized characters well. I especially enjoyed hearing the bumbling General Mikeal’s incessant propaganda-laden diatribes over Kazakh City’s loudspeakers. The militant despot has all of the grace of a borscht-swilling Colonel Klink and is an absolute riot to listen to as he barks orders to the denizens of the mecha-communist city.
Speaking of armored dragons, fans of the arcade original will be pleased to know that many of the arcade original’s most iconic boss fights return. From the spindly-legged millipede to the classic encounter with the hulking mechanical ape Mecha-Pon and the evil Grand Master Meio himself, Strider is full of memorable boss encounters that offer an intense challenge, tasking players with utilizing the best combination of special techniques and Cypher abilities to tackle their imposing foes. While the game’s boss encounters can sometimes come across as exceptionally brutal, usually their challenge is greatly offset through experimentation with Strider’s various Cypher powers. Over the course of your adventure you’ll unlock various types of plasma upgrades for your signature sword such as the ability to bat projectiles back at your foes like a Far Eastern Jedi, explosive powers that grant your blade incendiary capabilities, a freezing cold slash that encases your foes in ice, and a magnetic slice that launches boomerang-esque waves of energy. Knowing when to use these powers often spells the difference between life and death for the game’s eponymous assassin.
In addition to upgrading your cypher, Strider’s repertoire of abilities is also expanded through his 3 powerful “Option” abilities he uncovers. These serve as multi-purpose tools that not only cause devastating physical damage to your foes, but they also allow you to traverse the game’s environment rapidly through use of their abilities. One such option is allows strider to launch a flaming eagle at his opponents with its offensive power, while additionally granting the ninja access to quick-travel locations through the use of various perches scattered throughout the world map. The mighty cyber panther offers a similar capability with its panther run, which also allows fast-travel, along with a punishing attack which causes staggering damage to land-based foes. These tools help to trim down the game’s sometimes excessive backtracking, though you’ll likely want to take the long way to your destination, as oftentimes the most recent item you’ve uncovered can be used to unlock a previously barred passageway in another area of the map that holds vital health and energy expanding upgrades.
Double Helix proved themselves last year when they successfully resurrected Rare’s long-retired Killer Instinct franchise, bringing the classic arcade beat ’em up to a modern audience while keeping the core mechanics of the beloved series intact. Once again the developer has proven themselves a trusted custodian to a legendary classic franchise with their handling of Strider. This HD reboot captures the essence of the venerated arcade original while expanding upon the core mechanics, adding a greater sense of depth and modern conventions to usher the storied series into the modern generation. While the game stumbles somewhat in terms of aesthetic variety and occasionally repetitive encounters, this reboot is a stellar love letter to the revered source material that proves that Double Helix is a studio that can go toe-to-toe with WayForward when it comes to resurrecting the most fabled gems of the 16-bit era. Strider’s roughly 6 hour adventure is an exhilarating campaign that offers an equal balance of addicting arcade action and exciting exploration that will keep you glued to your controller until the credits roll, earning the game an impressive 4.5 out of 5 sticks.
Final Verdict: 4.5 / 5
Available on: PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One; Publisher: Capcom; Developer: Double Helix; Players: 1; Released: February, 18th 2014; ESRB: E; MSRP: $14.99
Note: Review impressions are from the Playstation 4 version of the game.