Well, that’s one way to solve a problem. Our time with an in-development build of Double Helix’s reboot raised concerns over how much damage Strider Hiryu took. That’s still the case: our hero is fast, flighty and powerful, but he’s a glass cannon. Double Helix’s solution? Health pickups are everywhere.
At the start anyway, when a slight early moveset means Hiryu needs all the help he can get. Things soon change, however, the designers ensuring you’re rarely more than half an hour from a new ability. As Hiryu becomes stronger, so do his foes. By the time you’re fully tooled up, the drones that spent the opening hour politely firing weedy machine guns at you are riddling you with lasers instead. And while standard cyborg grunts are easily dispatched – the butter to your Cypher light sword’s knife – right up to the end of the game, some carry shields that can only be destroyed with a charged attack.
Those shields will later change colour, inviting you to switch between your four Cypher powers using the D-pad, with Hiryu’s scarf and sword trail shifting hue accordingly. Your default red slash reflects bullets when powered up, orange sets enemies on fire, blue freezes them in place, and purple sends out a boomerang projectile. Each also grants you access to new areas – the blue Cypher, say, freezing a rapidly revolving door in place.
Combat’s not all melee, either. Option powers are your special moves, summoning help to attack everything onscreen. Most useful is the Dipodal Saucer, a series of plates that orbit you, protecting you from missiles and loosed off as projectiles. It’s a vital tool in the boss fights that punctuate the Metroidvania rhythm. There are screen-filling nods to the series’ early days – robotic dragons and gorillas – but the fights against human enemies are delightfully pure battles between two movesets.
Games like this live or die on their pacing, on the rate at which new gear is doled out. Double Helix finds no small success here, while also ensuring that Strider respects its heritage. There are times when it leans too heavily on antiquity – checkpoints are erratically spaced, and you’ll often respawn on the wrong side of an unskippable cutscene – but with this and Killer Instinct, Double Helix has positioned itself as a sort of anti-WayForward, seeing retro IP not as an excuse for chiptunes and pop culture gags, but a chance to update old games for modern fans. Strider, then, is a sensitive update for a series many thought would stay stuck in the past.