It was with more than a little excitement that I downloaded the trial for Steel Strider, Astro Port’s latest “Real Robot Action STG”. The previous entry, Gigantic Army, was both a fantastic homage to SNES classic Cybernator (AKA: Assault Suits Valken) and an excellent game in its own right so seeing them revisit this successful formula set my mech-loving heart aglow.
I just want to take a brief moment to point out that everything below has come from playing the trial version of the game. Until I buy it I can’t say how the game progresses or if anything’s been changed, but logic would dictate that an experienced doujin team like Astro Port wouldn’t release a demo that wasn’t generally representative of the full game.
On the surface it’s business as usual – blow things up, get to the end up the level and then blow something even bigger up – but there’s some fundamental changes too, giving Steel Strider a not unwelcome “same but different” feel. Perhaps the biggest one is the controls: aiming and firing is now done via the mouse, allowing for super-quick 360° firing while manoeuvring the Gemini. The other major change is in the weapons system – rather than decide on what to bring before the level this time everything’s picked up on site and can be switched between at will so long as the player’s got the ammo to spare. There are a total of eight selectable weapons in the main game, with the demo containing the first four. The first ranged weapon is a basic handgun – not especially useful but seeing as it has infinite ammo it’s always there in a pinch. The other weapon that’s always to hand is a beam sword; very powerful but you have to be right next to the enemy to use it. The other weapons are all gun variants with their own unique quirks – the assault rifle is the general jack-of-all-trades, the shotgun fires in a wide spread and the grenade launcher shoots in a slow arc. Weapons seem to be upgradeable, but as it’s not a feature in the demo I can’t really say more than that.
There are four difficulty levels to choose from, starting at plain old “Easy” and working up to “Insane”. There are no lives and unlimited retries from (invisible) checkpoints, the catch being that you always restart with however much health and ammo you had when you first passed the checkpoint, so if you limped into the next area with barely a clip’s worth of ammo then the only way around that is to restart the level from the beginning and use your experience to hopefully end up in the same place but a bit better off! Hard and Insane add more enemies and make the ones that were already there more aggressive – this is pretty much as anyone would expect. Steel Strider doesn’t leave it there though as you’ll also find far fewer health pickups, a bit of extra ammo and the helpful warning notices that appear before bits of ceiling fall and crush you have mysteriously vanished.
I’ve finished the demo several times now and… I’m not really sure what to make of it if I’m honest. I do like the new control scheme – zipping your mouse in one direction while moving the Gemini in another brings Treasure classic Bangai-O to mind – but it feels incredibly linear and boxed in, with no secret stashes or rewards for the curious as there’s simply nowhere for them to wander off to in the first place. There are also far too many insta-kill crushes and bottomless pits for my taste, especially considering that this is meant to be the introductory level. With the advance warnings for ceiling crushes being turned off on hard or above (but oddly not for the virtually harmless enemies that spawn out of tubes) progress sometimes felt more like Kaizo Mario than Assault Suits Valken. There’s also a feeling that there’s a few missed opportunities too, like the little red exploding enemies that could have perhaps been lured over to damage groups of larger mechs or blast open doors, but instead simply run straight for you until you they die.
With Steel Strider leaving me a bit underwhelmed I made a point of downloading the Gigantic Army trial, just to make sure that I wasn’t giving that game more credit than it’s due. Unfortunately for Steel Strider I wasn’t. Gigantic Army’s trial was exciting, fast paced and didn’t require me to see into the future to avoid death at any point. Being forced to stick with particular weaponry throughout the level also meant I didn’t always have the very best option to hand all the time either, although that feels like more of a personal preference than any actual flaw in Steel Strider. I should say that the official trailer does make a game look far more enticing than this first level demo, but I can’t help but mentally append “Isn’t that what trailers are meant to do anyway?” onto the end of that thought. All in all I don’t think Steel Strider is going to be a bad game, but I don’t think it’s currently got the “omph” its prequel had. But the great thing about doujin games is that they tend to get some serious loving from their creators in the form of free updates, so there’s no reason to think that the issues I’ve got with this trial version aren’t going to be ironed out in the future.
If you’d like to have a look at the official Steel Strider website you can find it here - click me!
You can download the playable demo directly from here - link!
And if you’d rather stay right here you can watch a video I made of the full demo right below (normal mode) - let me know in the comments section if you try the game out!