A rather bizarre game, honestly! I think the difficulty is what throws me off, as there's basically two ways to play: For score, which for the absolutely maximum rank requires the player to not die once while getting a ridiculous number of points, or for speed / pure completion in which case you have INFINITE continues (you only get one life, so every death is a continue) that also does not refill health and gives you back your kinda broken Boost ability at the same time. This means it teeters between something more challenging or something very easy. While I know a lot of people think they're archaic, a lives system feels like it may have been beneficial for a more smooth difficulty curve, or at least being a little bit more demanding with the checkpointing. Note that while you need to never die for the highest rank, you CAN still get high ranks by only dying a few times, so it isn't some totally hit-or-miss thing here.
Leaving all that aside for a moment, I enjoyed this game much more than the original Strider. Hiryu feels smooth to control here (for the most part), and in particular the addition of juuuust a little bit of aerial drift on his jumps makes it a lot smoother to run through and makes you feel more like the futuristic ninja you're supposed to be rather than the lost cosplaying Belmont brother. While the cool options are (sadly) gone, Hiryu gets some secret moves like a backwards flip or a bunch of spinny slashes that add a little dynamicism to the gameplay. I will admit I didn't find THAT much use for them, mostly because Strider just cutting up enemies is so strong, but they have potential and the fact the multi-slashes give you more points encourages you to not just spam the slash button in score runs. Wall jumping and climbing feels niiice in this game, with the only exception being going around corners on a D-Pad sometimes being finicky. I did also have trouble getting the dash out a few times, but I suspect that is more of a Me issue. But with how buttery smooth his jumps and dashes are, it feels gooooood to just slice through hordes of enemies, jumping wildly and doin' some wall climbin' fun.
What's up with the fact enemies seem to just...mostly lack collision damage, though? There's multiple bosses where running into them and spamming the attack button led to easy wins, sometimes dodging their attack patterns, and it felt really weird. The game's entire difficulty curve is mostly low, outside of the end I'd say most stages are pretty easy, but then spiking pretty hard in only a few sections or bosses. Most didn't feel too challenging (I was shocked how easy Meio was!), but there was definitely some that kicked my ass. The game's difficulty only really starts to ramp up in the last level or two, with the final levels feeling particularly harsh (and swapping the game's usual dichotomy of easier stages but harder bosses).
Frankly, my favorite part of the game was probably the vibes and the art. The game for the most part looks goooood, an excellent PS1 spritework combined with some beautiful anime cutscene art. Seriously, look at these! and, uh, ignore the screenshotting making them look kinda worse fsr. Even when the game isn't being mechanically dense, the vibes and control make it a Fun experience. I do think the length is a major downside, being defeatable in under an hour pretty easily and with the end result being that it DOES feel a bit shallow. The game doesn't really expand on its concepts a lot in that runtime and it even ends up re-using some elements within that timeframe in a bit of a lazy way. It also felt disappointing how often the right option felt like just moving right and mashing the attack button, the Scientists miniboss in particular felt actively harder when I was trying to dodge them rather than just spamming. Also while I am going to bet Auto Fire makes the game easier, I think I should have used it because by god does it hurt your thumb to mash attack the way you should in this! They put it in the game, so I'll take advantage of it.
Honestly, I might go for a second playthrough with Hien later since it was short and enjoyable. Totally recommend trying it out of you want some fast-paced, low commitment 2D ninja action in your life!

Reviewed on May 03, 2023