Strider is a setpiece showcase hungry for your pocket change

Capcom Arcade Stadiums banner

One of the good things about modern compilations of classic arcade games is that you no longer need a pocket full of change to be able to enjoy them to their fullest. This is particularly important in the case of games like Strider, which feature sequences so unfeasibly difficult they doubtless burnt through many unsuspecting young players’ weekly allowances in the space of a minute or two!

I have somewhat mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it’s good that we’re able to see the entirety of these games by virtue of the fact we have effectively unlimited credits these days. On the other, revisiting some of these games from a modern perspective really drives home quite how unfairly unbalanced many of these games were designed to be — all in the name of making as much money as possible for arcade operators.

Capcom Arcade Stadium: Strider

Strider at least provides incentive for people to want to continue playing, because it’s full of some astonishingly stupid setpieces that are sure to surprise and delight when you first encounter them. It’s just a little annoying that between those setpieces are some truly, truly irritating sections that, thanks to the game’s use of checkpoints rather than on-the-spot respawns, you’ll still need to figure out a way to get past even with infinite credits.

But let’s rewind a moment and look at where Strider came from. First released in 1989, Strider was a collaboration between Capcom and manga publisher Moto Kikaku. Central character Strider Hiryu was first introduced in a 1988 manga volume of the same name, and the 1989 Strider arcade game marked the character’s first appearance in video games. Today, Strider Hiryu is best known for his video game appearances rather than that original manga.

Strider ran on Capcom’s CP System board, which also powered a variety of other classics, including Forgotten Worlds, Ghouls’n Ghosts, Final Fight and Street Fighter II. The intention behind the CP System board was to provide a console-esque solution for arcade games: rather than having unique boards for each game, the CP System could simply swap out games without having to completely replace an arcade machine’s hardware, making it an appealing prospect for arcade operators tired of having to scrap old machines to make room for new ones.

And indeed it was a solid plan for Capcom; the CP System board went on to power various games right up until the year 2000, though by this point it was mainly running simple kiddie rides and redemption games. In the late ’80s, however, it played host to some of the best, most technically impressive arcade games out there — including Strider.

Capcom Arcade Stadium: Strider's opening level

In Strider, our hero is tasked with the assassination of a mysterious dictator known as the Grandmaster. In an exceedingly transparent reflection of the Cold War political climate of the era, the Grandmaster is shown to be based in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic — though this being a video game, the chase heads to a series of increasingly bizarre locales as you progress.

The game is primarily a platform action game with a distinctive combat system and deliberately stiff controls. You have no control of Strider in the air; you can either make him jump straight upwards or perform a sideways cartwheel jump. To make up for this lack of control, it’s actually possible to kill weaker enemies simply by jumping into them. There are still a number of sequences in the game where you’ll need to be extremely precise while jumping, however; falling off the bottom of the screen causes you to immediately lose a life.

Thankfully, Strider is a little more agile and flexible than many other platform heroes of the day. He’s able to grab onto ledges from underneath and pull himself up, climb walls and hang from the ceiling. And you’ll need to make good use of these abilities to avoid enemy attacks — when the floor catches fire all around you, the only way to go is up!

Capcom Arcade Stadium: Strider fights a boss

Strider’s combat is based around the use of our hero’s plasma sword, known as a Cypher. This is implemented via means of a large, exaggerated “slash” animation overlaid atop the Strider sprite rather than, as we had typically seen in many video games prior to this point, a simple “attack” animation. Because the slash animation was so large — and could even be made larger with a particular power-up — it meant that Strider’s combat occupied a curious middle ground between close-up melee combat and ranged run-and-gun gameplay.

It ended up being rather influential; if you look at Japanese action games in particular even to this day, you’ll notice that there’s a strong emphasis on weapons leaving prominent colourful trails as they slice through the air; these trails are sometimes larger than the weapons themselves, giving the impression of the weapons unleashing energy at their opponents. You’ll see it in games like Ninja Gaiden, Bayonetta, Devil May Cry and God of War.

Strider is a bit less about fighting “stylishly” as in those later games, however; the combat is more a means of simply fending off the perpetually respawning enemies as you attempt to make it from one dramatic setpiece to another. Because this is where Strider really shines; as well as being a strong influence specifically on the character action genre, there’s also a strong argument to be made for it having a major impact on broader cinematic action games — stuff like Uncharted and its ilk.

Capcom Arcade Stadium: Strider leaping a chasm

By that I mean that Strider is full of sequences that are spectacular to watch, and which there’s only really one “solution” to. They’re not quick-time events as such because you’re still in full control of the character — but they do require you to learn what is coming up and respond appropriately.

A commonly seen example of this comes during any sequence where Strider has the opportunity to run at high speed down a slope. Inevitably, as he picks up speed, the slope will go back the other way — and the right thing to do is pretty much always leap into a long cartwheeling jump as he clears the crest of the “ramp”, thereby allowing him to reach a far-off platform that he’d never have been able to reach with a regular jump from a standing start.

Other setpieces are simply incorporated because they’re ridiculous, amusing and awesome. At the end of the first stage, for example, Strider runs into an assembly of Soviet dignitaries, who promptly all leap out of their chairs and fuse into a giant robotic dragon snake thing. What then follows is an enjoyably silly (and fairly straightforward) fight as Strider alternates between standing on the back of this robotic monster and hanging from its belly as it passes overhead, hacking and slashing away with his energy beam weapon until everything concludes with a huge explosion.

Strider: first boss

Strider is fun and beautifully presented — but one can’t help but feel it would be much more fun without the borderline unfair difficulty at times. The respawning enemies can make it difficult to make progress, there are frequent times when you take damage from things you simply can’t see, and some of the game’s platforming sequences require obscene amounts of precision which you simply don’t have with the game’s stiff controls.

It’s one of those games that, while the arcade version is enjoyable and worthy of your respect, actually works better as a game for the home. Capcom’s own NES version (which is substantially different from the arcade game and thus best considered its own unique game), Tiertex’s solid home computer ports and Sega’s excellent Mega Drive version are all arguably better ways to experience the original Strider these days — and follow-ups such as the outstanding Strider 2 for arcade and PlayStation refined the formula considerably after that.

Strider is still worth experiencing today, don’t get me wrong — just don’t expect to get through the game without at least a bit of frustration along the way! But at least it won’t clean you out of pocket money any more…

Capcom Arcade Stadium is available now for PC via SteamNintendo SwitchPlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

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Pete Davison
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