Posted by Damien McFerran
From Russia with love
When you consider that he hasn’t starred in his own game since 2000, Strider Hiryu’s popularity in Capcom fan circles is impressive, which is largely down to the high regard in which players hold his 1989 coin-op début. Powered by Capcom’s CPS hardware, Strider was an arcade action platformer that redefined the genre; the lead character was so nimble and acrobatic that the mere act of jumping from platform to platform felt exhilarating in itself. Unsurprisingly, Strider found a receptive audience in the arcades and was converted to almost every home computer platform of the period, including the Genesis.
Because Capcom was yet to officially sign up as a third party developer for the Genesis back in 1990, this 16-bit port was handled by SEGA itself. The result remains mesmerising; it manages to capture all of the excitement, scale and grandeur of the coin-op, and arguably manages to improve the already sumptuous visuals in places.
Set against the backdrop of a near-future Russian Empire, Strider still succeeds in dazzling you with its diverse range of locations and set pieces. From the opening stage’s cityscape to the dinosaur-infested Amazon Basin, no two levels are the same thematically or aesthetically.
Some of the most detailed enemy sprites ever seen on SEGA's 16-bit machine are introduced for just a few seconds before being dispatched by your character’s deadly plasma blade, and are never seen again. To some developers, such use of graphical assets would be considered insanely wasteful, but there’s so much content crammed into this title that there’s always a fresh new foe to contend with. Few platform titles of this type can boast such an incredible degree of variety, and it keeps you glued to the screen, keen to discover what surprises the next stage will bring.
Of course, it helps that the gameplay is also astonishingly slick. The main character controls like a dream and has all the agility you’d expect from a well-drilled futuristic ninja. Every single movement is coolly exaggerated, from Strider’s iconic mid-air somersault to his deadly sliding tackle. It’s also possible to cling to walls and ceilings thanks to Strider’s grappling claw, allowing you to negotiate your way around each level with cat-like grace. With the addition of razor-sharp responsiveness, the game’s control system simply dazzles. Even by today’s standards, few video game protagonists feel as enjoyable to command as Strider Hiryu.
SEGA did a fantastic job of bringing a cutting-edge arcade game to domestic hardware, but this facsimile isn’t entirely perfect. When the screen is packed with enemies — especially large ones, like the famous mecha-gorilla on level two — sprite flicker is rife. Almost every single level suffers from this issue to some degree, and while it doesn’t impede your enjoyment in any way, it does take some of the shine off what is otherwise a superlative conversion.
It’s a matter of conjecture, but many feel that SEGA's Strider sprite is actually better-looking and more detailed than the one found in the original arcade machine. Despite the high standard of SEGA's work, corners still had to be cut to bring the game to the domestic market. The game’s brilliantly atmospheric cut-scenes lack the delightfully mad digitised speech of the coin-op, and are undoubtedly poorer because of this. You'll also notice that some levels look a little less imposing on the Genesis than they did in the arcade edition. Such shortcomings are to be expected when the disparity in power between the Capcom’s CPS system and the Genesis are taken into account, however.
With its gorgeous visuals, excellent music and surprisingly stern challenge, Strider’s magic hasn’t diminished one jot, despite the passage of over two decades. It’s a feast for the eyes, and the responsive and acrobatic main character controls with amazing grace and fluidity — only the unofficial sequel, Cannon Dancer, comes anywhere close to attaining the same balletic brilliance.
Although many will argue that the availability of the arcade edition on collections for the PS2 and PSP renders the port redundant, this is one of those rare cases where a conversion actually adds something to the original. SEGA’s talent is evident from the moment the title screen appears, and this effortlessly ranks as one of the Japanese veteran’s finest conversion jobs — ironic, when you consider that it’s another company’s game.