Sometimes I can’t help myself, I have feel this primal need to gush about great games in an enthusiastic if ultimately pointless kind of way; paraded about like the wonderful slices of joy they are - and Strider 2’s one of them.
But before I dive in at the deep end there’s something I need to make very clear, especially as a Amiga fan: when I say ‘Strider 2 is awesome’ I am absolutely not ever talking about this awful waste of a disc. You know a game’s bad when someone who grew up playing European computer-based platformers won’t even give it the time of day, and I was more than happy with Capcom’s decision to bulldoze over US Gold’s stain on gaming history with a Strider 2 of their very own, even if it did take them an entire decade to get around to it.
While Strider 2 may be an experience of vibrant intensity, hidden strategy and fine design I think the thing that really underscores the whole game most of all is something I feel it shares with Virtua Fighter of all things, and that is the joy of movement. There’s a real sense of connection to Hiryu even when you’re making him smoothly slide underneath a robot horse or leaping over landmines on a bridge bathed in the light of a glorious sunset; the perfect combination of Capcom’s stunning 2D animation with an intuitive control system that lets you effortlessly dash-leap across rooftops and scale vertical surfaces in a Numan Athletics kind of way using only a single button and a bit of joystick waggling. Hiryu looks good even when he’s doing something as mundane as walk down a slight incline (a non-event he has a unique animation for), which in turn makes you feel good too even though you’ve done nothing more than move around.
It’s a damned good thing turning Hiryu into a whirling ball o’ doom is so easy, because Strider 2’s pace is absolutely relentless. One moment you’re making him leap across flying cars on a future-city night battling recurring rival Tong Pooh and her sisters, the next you’ll find Hiryu fending off a scientist-werewolf in a level where normal gravity is more of a general suggestion than an apple-dropping rule. But these unique set pieces shouldn’t be mistaken for a stream of gimmicks thrown in to try and bulk out what is ultimately a shmup-length experience, they’re more like the designers are giving you the opportunity to stretch Hiryu’s abilities and your own to their fullest.
If you’ve survived reading this far you might be thinking the best things about Strider 2 are all about it being a bit flashy – a showboating bit of nothing created to help use up Capcom’s remaining supply of ZN-2 arcade boards – but of course that’s not true. Not content with creating an exciting game that you’d want to come back to purely for the pleasure of getting to experience it one more time, the team also thought to include an extensive and unforgiving ranking system that demands training, focus, and skill if you ever want to receive more than an E grade (my favourite grade, apparently). This optional extra layer of difficulty takes a game anyone could bumble through in thirty minutes and turns it into a challenge that lasts as many months or years as you want it to; to get the very best grades Strider 2 doesn’t just ask you to play quickly and not die, it demands you don’t even get hit in the first place.
Off-putting and unfair for beginners? Maybe. It’s true that the ranking system is swift to punish the score-obsessed simply for getting hit, but newcomers or those playing purely for the thrill of working their way through bad-future city slums to an evil orbiting moon base will find Strider 2 the sort of game that really doesn’t care how many credits are used as when you continue after dying you’ll pop back up exactly where you were before, free to run past penguins and ninja-leap in outer space to your heart’s content. It’s a rare game that manages to straddle the line between good casual fun and an enthusiastic score attacker’s dream, but I think Strider 2 pulls it off perfectly.
The original Strider may have won the hearts of gamers back in 1989 with its big sprites, digitised evil laugh and the constant sching of Hiryu’s iconic Cypher, but in my opinion it wasn’t until this sequel that Capcom truly mastered the art of the hyper-athletic future-ninja genre. Whether you’re playing because hanging off the back of a mecha-dragon in the Neo Tokyo moonlight’s a damned cool thing to do or dream of cutting Grandmaster Meio to ribbons in record time, I think Strider 2’s absolutely brilliant.