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Videogame Classics

Reviews of the greatest video games of all time, from classic to modern games.

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1990 - Capcom - Released on Sega Genesis
Strider - video game classics
Strider screen shots - click for closeup

September 8, 2004

Allow me, if you will, a little bit of nostalgia. The year is 1990 and I’m killing far too much time with my Sega Genesis. There were a handful of games that I and my friends were devoted to the most, titles like Thunder Force 3, Castle of Illusion, Fire Shark, MUSHA, Populous. They were all great games from the heady days when the Genesis had the 16-bit market all to itself. After years with the 8-bit Nintendo, this was the new state of the art.

Finishing up the pack was the latest, and greatest, of the Capcom arcade titles. Strider first appeared as a coin-op machine where it drew a loyal following. It later appeared on the NES, more or less, as a spin-off with more adventure elements, and then it finally found a home on Genesis. Sega had already handled a pair of excellent Capcom conversions, Forgotten Worlds and Ghouls n’ Ghosts. Strider bests them both by a mile.

When Strider was released, the cartridge cost $80. Read that again. Isn’t that completely insane? When I look back, it’s almost miraculous that anyone ever ponied up the cash at all. The reason for the high price was that the game used one megabyte, or “eight megabits,” twice the size of standard Genesis games. This was the new standard for console games; thankfully, it showed then and still shows now.

I can’t imagine what would possess someone to pay that kind of money, but the game itself is magnificent. The game consoles had always played catch-up with their more potent arcade cousins, and the 16-bit era meant that gap would be closing. Strider was among the first to close that gap, worthy of that coveted honor, “arcade perfect.”

Anyway, less about the history lesson and back to the present. Strider is a multi-scrolling action thriller featuring a sword-wielding hero who runs, slides, and summersaults across a fantastic variety of environments. You start off in a Moscow-styled city of the future (modeled in part on Kazakhstan), battling your way through soldiers, mounted guns and robots wearing raccoon-skin hats. You fight your way to a duel against a muscleman; scale a tower while taking down large insect-like robots; force your way inside, and square off against a battle against a metallic snake, carrying a hammer and sickle, and made out of a collective of soldiers.

The structure of the game, while linear, is much more episodic; each segment is a fully contained set-piece. This is what I believe gives Strider is unique style. I really can’t think of another game that has ever tried this, and that’s a shame, because it works so wonderfully. One would almost expect someone to try and top it.

The game is fairly short, with only five levels before the final showdown, but each level is perfectly paced, each set-piece memorable in its own right. There is a terrific amount of variety in where to go and what to do. One scene involves climbing a scaffolding against a beautiful backdrop of clouds. Another involves the hallways of a ship whose gravity reverses every few seconds. Still another takes place in a jungle, among swinging vines.

There are battles against flying mercenaries, attack dogs, Chinese dancers. You will encounter a massive power core whose gravity hurls you in every direction. You will face a large robotic gorilla and an even larger golden insectoid. Or maybe that’s a dinosaur; I never could say for certain.

16-bit games showed their muscle with larger sprites and character models, and the rush was always on for the “biggest boss.” For the time being, Strider had them all beat.

My favorite sequence in the whole game? A panicked run down the side of a mountain. It’s a short sequences, maybe six seconds long, but the vertical drop is tremendous, and in 1990 was simply stunning. I’m sure you could think of a couple other scenes that have a similar impact on you.

Why Capcom chose to hand these conversions over to Sega, instead of translating themselves, has always been a mystery to me. Perhaps they were still constrained by their licensing agreement with Nintendo, which forbid any work with the competition. Of course, in the 8-bit era, there was no competition; the arrival of the Genesis meant the end of that monopoly, and software developers gradually freed themselves from the old order.

When I remember Strider, I always think of the Sega Genesis version. When I have the option of firing up MAME and playing the arcade, I still reach for the home cartridge. Why is that, you ask? For me, it simply comes down to the music. The home version offers some of the best music of its era, searing chords, haunting melodies. There’s a certain sound to the Genesis that is fully unique, and you hear that in this game, especially in the extra songs unique to the cartridge. And, it must be said, I find Strider Hiryuu’s constant yelling to be annoying. I’m glad Sega cut it out. There, I’ve said it.

At its core, Strider is a genre game. It follows the conventions of the action-platformer; there isn’t too much that you could say was revolutionary. Still, what’s here is performed flawlessly, fast and challenging, and a prime example of what made arcades in the late 80s and early 90s so fun. Those arcades have become a relic from the past; the explosion of console gaming and the rise of the internet have seen to that. You don’t even have to throw quarters into a game like Strider anymore; you can just download the ROM for free.

Good news for the younger set, who missed out and can save the cash. The only catch is that they have to listen to us older folks wax nostalgic about the good ‘ol days.


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