Strider: Sega Mega Drive / Sega Genesis

Strider: Sega Mega Drive / Sega Genesis
Strider: Sega Mega Drive / Sega Genesis

Insert Disk collects Strider for the Sega Mega Drive / Sega Genesis.

Today’s retro game review is Strider for the Sega Mega Drive / Sega Genesis. This retro gaming classic helped define Capcom as a world class game creator back in the 1980’s. Take control of Strider Hiryu and battle the various waves of enemy to fulfil your ultimate goal of defeating the Grand Master. Strider is an important game as it saw arcade conversions to almost every home console, making it yet another game that proved Sega did what Nintendidn’t. Due to licencing agreements the history of the Strider franchise has an interesting development path and might have ended up differently to the series we see today.

Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. When I think back to the games I was playing in the 80’s and 90’s what often strikes me is how many classic games came out of this era. Today I’d like to look back at a game that I invested a lot of time in. Strider for the Sega Mega Drive. Now it’s true to say that the Sega mega Drive edition is perhaps the best known version of the game but it’s also fair to say that I actually spent more time with the Commodore Amiga version. Although not worlds apart in game play they both have a very distinct feel to them. Join me as we take a nostalgic look back at these memorable home conversions.

Capcom’s Strider was of course an iconic arcade hit of the day, futuristic yet grounded in gameplay, fun yet brutally challenging. It’s this mix of platform action that spilled out on to many home platforms and delighted home gamers. 1989 saw the launch of the arcade release but Sega had secured a home conversion by 1990. At the time famously doing what Nindendidn’t. There is also a Sega Master System edition but I’m choosing to forget is as I wish Sega didn’t. Just to muddy the waters a Nintendo Entertainment System version was made and but never officially released to cancellations. Although the ROM is still reasonably easy to track down for those interested. For many Nintendo historians this is a bitter sweet tale as Nintendo nearly secured the full rights to Strider with an exclusive deal between themselves, Capcom and the Manga studio Moto Kikaku. Once the deal fell apart Sega swooped in for the spoils and the right to publish on the home systems. It’s an interesting story for another time but worth mentioning here as I’ll be referencing the true impact of this deal later.

The plot of Strider makes it stand out from the crowd. Full of Soviet themes and portrayals of a bleak totalitarian future of 2048 the subject matter really seemed to connect with the children of the 80’s. It was a game of its time yet still relevant today. Although not specifically called out the Soviet style clothing, architecture and Russian audio samples in the arcade edition all hint to the subtext of the games meaning. Strider is essentially a futuristic ninja with a mission to defeat the games villain, the Grand Master. Technically speaking the Striders are the clan of ninjas and the game protagonist is simply called Hiryu. However, the box says Strider on it so like everyone else that grew up with this game I’m damned if I’m going to stop calling him strider now just to fit in with the youngsters that have played the re-release.

The game play is very much is the realm of classic platforming slash ’em up action. Strider uses his sword “The Cypher” to literally slash through enemies. It’s pleasing to this day. To top it off he’s acrobatic, can climb walls and is down right menacing and iconic as a leading protagonist. The Sega Mega Drive edition has been modified from the arcade edition. Sound samples removed, some levels modified and general tweaks to be slightly less punishing than the original. Interestingly you can still see references to the Soviet Socialist Republic with the red star motifs throughout the stages. If I’m honest, I’m not sure if I can say that the game has aged well. Strider isn’t as fluid in his movements as you would expect, some areas are unfairly staked with cheap deaths and other areas such as the bosses can lead themselves wide open to exploits. On top of this there are also noticeable loading times on some stages, something we don’t usually associate with cartridge games. Interestingly the game was advertised as one of the first 8-Megabit cartridges for the system. More expensive to produce and offered larger games. In terms of presentation the case artwork is average at best. The in game character is really quite distinctive and quite frankly deserves better than this.

Also, what’s with the bad guys? Again the curse of generic artwork strikes. The game has such a strong theme couldn’t we have had something better than this? Of course you get the manual and cartridge with the same designs. I’m no artist but for me it just doesn’t work to sell the game. What does work? The Japanese artwork. This is what we should have. He looks like Strider, he has the Cypher, climbing hook, the Grand Master, Robot Ape the centipede robot. This is what it’s all about. Not a generic Dave from down the road come to have a word with generic bad guy number 2.

So anyway that’s the Sega Mega Drive edition but I grew up playing a very different version of the game. In 1989 my gaming world was very much all about the Commodore Amiga. If there’s one thing and one thing only that the Amiga edition had it was the music. Simply brilliant. At the time this tune, at least in my eyes, simply was Strider. To this day it brings back the nostalgia for those school holidays spent trying to defeat the Grand Master. Now if you thought that the Mega Drive version of Strider was a bit choppy the Amiga conversion takes things to the next level. Sprites are smaller, frames of animation are missing and overall this makes the game brutally difficult. It did have a really cool sound when you extended you blade though. We all knew that the Amiga could do so much more. However, Tiertex had to convert the game for multiple home formats including the Atari ST. As so often happened back in the day the designers would have to cater to the weaker formats. It’s highly likely that this resulted in an Amiga version that never truly fulfilled what the system was capable of. It did have the Grand Master threaten you with speech samples though so that was a nice touch.

Now, remember earlier that I told you that Nintendo’s deal to release Strider fell through despite the NES version being almost ready ship. Well, due to game rights Nintendo were effectively locked out of the home market with Capcom assigning conversion and publishing rights to US Gold, Tiertex and Sega. As a result you could find Strider on Sega, Spectrum, Atari’s, Amstrads, Commodore 64, Sharp X68000, TurboGrafx, DOS PC and just about anything else you could imagine. Just not the Nintendo platforms. Some consolation came many years later for Nintendo fans in 2006 when the unreleased NES edition of Strider landed on the Game Boy Advance. Better late than ever. Personally I believe that the lack of a Strider game on the Nintendo platforms held the series back. The sequel is really quite poor in my opinion on all formats. Although I’m obviously a big fan of Sega’s back catalogue I can’t help feel that they didn’t really know where to take the Strider franchise at the time. I can think of very few cases like this in gaming history. The Strider legacy could have looked so different if the original deal had stood. It wasn’t all doom and gloom for Nintendo fans though. Sega might have done what Nintendidn’t but Nintendo would copy with pride and do what Sega did. Nintendo’s solution. Run Saber.

Published by Atlus for the Super Nintendo Run Saber is a very blatant knock off of the Strider series. The character design is very similar as are the move sets. It’s not Strider but it’s certainly aged far better than Strider could have ever hoped. It feels smoother, the settings are a little bit cooler and the game design and execution makes it the better game overall. It’s not the original but as a Sega fun I will tip my hat to Nintendo’s response in this battle of the exclusives. If you get the chance give Run Saber a go, it’s a neat little game.

As for the Strider series, well it did continue but after the first game never really caught my attention in the way it could have. Strider II was an abomination on almost all platforms. The game just felt soul less and in some ways the level design went backwards as did the graphics. Strider was re-booted on the PlayStation to some excitement but the franchise wasn’t exactly the triple A comeback it could have been. This thread continued in Strider 2 for later generations of consoles such as the PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC. Yes Strider was back but I personally felt that by this point Strider was playing on the games nostalgia that gamers of the PS4 generation simply weren’t aware of for the most part. The Strider series never really evolved gathering fans along the way it simply became a series of re-boots in my opinion. In 2014 the game Strider (sometimes known as Strider 2014) was released as yet another re-boot. It looked new, progressive and perhaps a new beginning. It’s a fair game but yet again it might be my age but it just didn’t excite me in the way releases like Sonic Mania were able to.

Anyway, this perhaps calls out the core of why I started this channel. There’s something about retro games that continue to delight us in the way that isn’t easy to replicate as you get older.
Sure, Strider is a bit badly designed in places and the controls are all over the place in terms of precision, yet there’s something about a classic game that never loses its appeal. If it’s been a while, take your copy of Strider down from the shelf and fire it up and have yourself an afternoon slice of retro fun by challenging the Grand Master.

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