I never questioned what was going on in Strider. I just took it at face value. A ninja hang-glides into some kind of futuristic Moscow, fighting guards, soldiers, and robots. Later he travels to Siberia and fights a giant robot gorilla. Of course, back in those days, not only did games not have to make sense, they usually didn't. I was so used to stuff like Kabuki Quantum Fighter (about a kabuki actor who lives inside a computer and attacks with his hair) that Strider didn't even register with me as weird. But hey, it's pretty weird!
Strider also happens to be an excellent Capcom action game, and one of the more popular Genesis games. It stands out especially in Japan, where Strider was one of the bigger releases on a Mega Drive that didn't really take off. Basically, if they're going to have any non-Sega game, it might as well be that one. Especially since it actually is a Sega game, in that it was ported and published by Sega. But it's not there!
Strider stars a guy named Strider Hiryu, on a mission to defeat your basic evil despot type named Grandmaster Meio. He fights his way onto an airship thing, then through a jungle on his way to Meio's hideout. The levels are short, but cover a lot of ground. Hiryu is suitably agile (as a ninja) and has to do a lot of long jumping, wall-climbing and platforming.
His only tool is a ridiculously cool futuristic sword called the Cipher that creates an arc of light in front of Hiryu and makes a totally memorable shing noise (despite apparently being some kind of energy weapon and not a metal sword).
A few powerups help in the fight against lots of guys that can be cut in half, including an item that temporarily lengthens the sword, health upgrades, and lots of little robots, including walking, laser-firing robots, robot panthers, and an eagle that just flies away when you activate it, then begins to swoop down on enemies.
The enemies start off as your average soldiers, but quickly move into "what" territory -- the first midboss is a wrestler who walks back and forth and poses, making a HGHUUAGHH-type noise, then kind of melts when you destroy him. This first level ends with what looks like some sort of governing council, the members of which jump out of their seats to combine into a hammer-and-sickle-wielding robot dragon. Then, later, you get to fight giant robot gorillas, dinosaurs, some Amazons, a few Chinese acrobats, and a ship engine that warps gravity.
Strider managed to be a big hit in the US despite the ludicrous boxart, which depicted a blonde Bruce Willis in spandex, swinging a sword that looked nothing like the real Cipher that appears one inch below it in the logo. It spawned two sequels. Capcom allowed U.S. Gold to create Strider Returns, released for various systems and to be avoided at all costs. Well, not "at all costs." I got one for like 99 cents, and that was okay. But it's a really bad game. The other, Strider 2 for PlayStation, is a gorgeous 2.5D action game that seems even shorter than the first game, but also includes the first game.
There was also the NES version of Strider, which is a completely different game, and which I'll reserve for a later column. It was a lot less arcadey -- not a surprise, since it wasn't an arcade game!
Virtually Overlooked is a weekly feature that spotlights games that aren't yet on the Virtual Console, but should be. Want more Virtually Overlooked? Check out the first year!