Forget Sonic the Hedgehog, Strider Hiryu was the first superstar on the Sega Genesis. With his arcade-quality good looks, inventive level designs and unparalleled weapon, Strider was amongst the first must-own games for Sega's fledgling 16-bitter. Despite its short runtime and relatively simple storyline, this port remains one of the very best games to come out of the 1990s.
You play Hiryu, a member of a futuristic ninja squad that has been brought in to member of an elite-class of ninja-like agents trained in espionage, sabotage and assassinations. His weapon, the Cypher, is a plasma sword that whips across the screen so fast your eyes can barely see it. In this adventure he has been tasked with infiltrating the Grandmaster's capital at the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic.
Our hero ends up making his way through five of Capcom's most interesting levels. It's not just that the attention to detail is strong, that's the kind of thing you expect from a 16-bit arcade game; the real surprise is how much variety there is in each stage. The game has so many ideas that it has a hard time spreading them all. By the end of the game you will have tussled with a dinosaur, walked on the ceilings, orbited a flying sphere and flown off into the darkest of space without an oxygen mask.
One stage starts with our hero racing the snowy mountainsides being chased by dogs, only to come face to face with a metallic gorilla. And just when you think you're safe, we have to fight through an electrical field and snag a ride on a helicopter that takes you to a floating airship. There you'll battle a trio of Chun Li-style fighting women and kill the airship's pilot. All that happens in the course of just one stage.
Despite there being so many compelling ideas in each stage, there aren't that many challenging boss battles. The best battles involve the first and fourth stages, both offering up large robots to contend with. Other bosses are pushovers at best, including a couple that hardly count as real boss battles. Still, I would rather not spend several minute memorizing patterns. Strider is about fast-action and that constant momentum forward.
Strider was the first time Sega advertised their 8 Mbit cartridge, an impressive amount of storage for the time. While it doesn't sound like much these days, it was enough to capture a near-arcade perfect port of one of Capcom's best action games. The visuals are impressive, offering gorgeous backgrounds and large enemies to slash into pieces. The atmosphere and near-future art style manages to hold up well all these years later.
The controls are also solid, despite being extremely simply by today's standards. You attack with one button and jump with the other, and that's about it. Thankfully you can climb up walls and slide past your enemies. The real fun is wielding the fast-moving sword. It moves so quickly that all you see is its outline. Best of all, our hero can extend the size of his sword and even employ some robotic animals to take down the Grandmaster.
Strider is Capcom at its best. With compelling level designs and one of the best characters of all time, Strider remains a must-play Genesis game. No matter if it's on the Virtual Console, in a Capcom compilation or on the actual Sega Genesis, you owe it to yourself to take down the Grandmaster for the the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic!