Does his return to the next-gen era warrant a standing ovation or a total dismissal?

Review: Double Helix Games Infuses New Life In 'Strider'

Gaming fans have always loved Strider Hiryu. It's not because he has the wittiest catchphrases or the illest fashion sense, but rather because he has one of the coolest arsenals in video game history. Does his return to the next-gen era warrant a standing ovation or a total dismissal?

California-based Double Helix Games already had a win in their column for revitalizing the Killer Instinct franchise for the Xbox One / next-gen console era. As they turned their attention to the classic NES Strider franchise, the company utilized the best things from side-scrolling games, which resulted in an enjoyable and enthusiastically energetic game.

This new Strider Hiryu steps into the action-packed reboot a quarter-century after the release of Capcom's arcade hit, and our hero doesn't waste any time getting the fracas started. For those who don't know the back story to Strider, the sword-wielding ninja with the long flowing scarf is tasked with the assignment to assassinate a mysterious dictator known as Grandmaster Meio. After a brief introduction cutscene, Hiryu rushes right into the action as he begins his mission by infiltrating the Grandmaster Meio's capital at the Kazakh Soviety Socialist Republic. Double Helix instantly nails all of Strider's classic motifs: the searing sword slash, the nimble acrobatics, the smooth signature slide and cartwheel moves are all there and wonderful to use in battle.

Despite the game's Metroid / Castlevania layer of exploration, the 2014 reboot of Strider does suffer from being slightly unbalanced with the level design. As the high-tech ninja, players are able to traverse the area to find hidden rooms, but the game's sub-objectives are far and few in-between the action. Throughout our six-hour play through, Strider does look beautiful, almost art-like in its conceptual areas and enemies. Much like the 8-bit original, the game suffers heavily from the annoying mini-bosses that seem unbeatable and the unstoppable (yes, even on retries) dialogue from big bosses. Whomever was behind writing the script for Strider did not give any of them anything impactful to say. The voice work come off as average at best.

Double Helix's attempts to stay true to the original does mean that most of the weaponry at Strider's disposal is very straightforward. A set of plasma types allows for his sword attack to deal out explosive, ice, magnetic, or standard damage on foes. A drawback is that the cold cypher attack is too powerful, as it completely freezes enemies for a full seven seconds. While running right at most enemies and bosses and mashing your attack button as quickly as possible is typically the only strategy you need to complete the Strider reboot, the game can feel a bit dull and repetitive after a few hours of gameplay. Truthfully, the first game for the NES was a classic, and even Strider 2 managed to exceed expectations. But when finally given a chance to play Strider for the next-gen, our thought is that this game surpasses the previous iterations. It is great, albeit, not an all-around perfect game.

Other drawbacks include the missions themselves. While speed and fluidity are the key currencies to Strider, players find themselves backtracking and fighting through the same areas multiple times. Add to the fact that the enemies regenerate as well, the game flounders in its attempt at creating an open world structure. To Strider and Double Helix's credit, the new upgrades and abilities work to keep the gameplay exciting and fun, yet our hope would be for a more fulfilling plot. Another issue is that while players see a lot of Kazakh City (a prison, laboratory, subway station, airship and more), the confusing map layout creates a blasé look that runs together after awhile. Double Helix could've improved these stages by creating a bit more diversity, as some of the original game's most clever stages (snow-covered mountains, jungles filled with robot dinosaurs) aren't even included for exploration in this new Strider title. Lastly, the inclusion of a New Game+ would have served as a great option to have after replaying the game through Easy, Normal, or Hard difficulty settings.

All in all, Strider will last you around five-to-six hours — times that by two if you are a trophy hunter. Most of the extras included involve concept art, but there are a few nice inclusions like lore bits. There is also a survival mode and a race mode (where you speed dash through multiple beacons), which is more than most action games are offering nowadays. As reboots goes, Capcom and Double Helix have created one of the best ever. The latter company has truly come into its own, as they managed to capture what made the classics so much fun, while attempting to flesh out the story. Unfortunately, the voice acting and dialogue comes off as sack; too much of the game is spent indoors and there's too much fetch hunting, but Strider has new life infused into what we hope will be an ongoing series.

Don't believe us? Well, check out the trailer and see for yourself!

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'The Old Guard' Celebrates Women On Both Sides Of The Lens, Says Director Gina Prince-Bythewood & Actress KiKi Layne

Gina Prince-Bythewood is not new to this. Her decades-long screenwriting credits go back as far as 1992 when she contributed to the Cosby Show spin-off, A Different World. Her directorial debut happened nearly 10 years later with her 2000 film, Love & Basketball which grossed over $27 million in the U.S. box office and went on to become a black cinematic classic. Since then, Bythewood directed more films like The Secret Life of Bees (2008) and Beyond the Lights (2014). Today, Bythewood is stepping away from the dramatic and romantic films of yesteryear and making her mark in the genre of action films with the new Netflix movie, The Old Guard.

Based on the comic book by Greg Rucka, The Old Guard stars lead actresses Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road, Hancock) and KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk, Native Son). Theron plays Andy, an immortal mercenary recruited for a mission to protect the mortal world. Layne plays Nile, a U.S. Marine recruited to join the badass task force. Before her "rebirth" into her new eternal life as a soldier, she learns about life as an Old Guard, what she'll stand to gain and lose as undying warrior and more.

Upon receiving the script, Bythewood was "incredibly excited" and happy to have an opportunity where she could not only take on a different type of cinema but also bring a young Black female hero to life and into the spotlight. "I knew the type of action film I wanted to do, an action drama," she says in an interview with VIBE correspondent Jazzie Belle. "And I knew absolutely when I got the opportunity, that I wanted us [Black people] to be in it." And that we are. With actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) taking on a supporting role, Layne holds her own in the action-packed feature film as she tests her body's limits in scene after scene. The rising star would be sure to let you know how physicalities set her and her character apart.

"I mean I love the opportunity to be that physical," she says. "Nile still has so much heart and, being led by Gina, being encouraged to dig deeper into that and to not be afraid of her vulnerability, which was exciting. So I kind of play that, but then still play that physical strength and being a Marine and all of that. So I would say that would actually be the biggest difference between us."

The Prince-Bythewood and Layne sat with Belle to discuss the limitations around the term "Black cinema," being a part of a film that has Black women in front and behind the lens, and what they hope for The Old Guard's impact 20 years from now.

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On how music inspires her screenwriting:

Prince-Bythewood: Music is everything to my process. When I start to write, I create soundtracks for myself too. If it's just songs that either speak to what I'm writing or open me up emotionally to what I'm about to write. I have soundtracks for myself for directing, and then I create soundtracks as I'm editing. It's everything and I love doing songs for score. I love the traditional score, but I also love songs for scores. And those are songs that just help elevate the scene, add a little bit more emotion. It doesn't take over the scene, but it absolutely aides it and songs tell such a story...I love soundtracks, it goes back to Purple Rain. Where you could listen to that soundtrack and then watch the movie again in your head because the songs were that distinct, that's what I love to do with my films.

On the Black women she pulled influence from when preparing for her role:

Layne: Black women who I find to be strong and just maybe haven't seen it represented that way on film. Honestly, just thinking about my mom. Angela Bassett was the biggest example of strength. Who else was I thinking of? Those are like the first students to kind of pop in my head of just like, especially with Angela, the way that she just carries herself. There's such pride and dignity and integrity to her that I just, I mean love. Period. But it was definitely something that, when thinking of Nile, trying to bring some of that in there as well.

On the limiting term "Black cinema" as it relates to Hollywood:

The term "Black cinema" is not a negative to me, nor to us. My issue with it is with Hollywood. In terms of Hollywood using that to describe any film that has a black person in it. So suddenly they feel like, "Oh, we've done our one black film." As opposed to, "We should be in every single genre. Sci-fi, Western, love stories, period pieces." That's who we are, that's the breadth of our humanity, that's what I want to see. I just don't want to limit us, but I revel and celebrate black cinema and black film.

On how they would like The Old Guard to be remembered 20 years from now:

Layne: In 20 years from now, I would hope that it would be, you won't necessarily remember, but as a, I don't know, a piece of getting Hollywood to tell more of these types of stories with women at the lead in front of and behind the camera. I'm hoping that it will be an opportunity that leads to more doors like this being opened. Just showing that we're just as capable and it's just as interesting when we do it.

Prince-Bythewood: And then I'll just add in 20 years, if people are still watching this film that says it all, that this film had longevity, it spoke to them and it was a world and it's characters that they wanted to see again and live with again. And as artists, I think that's a pretty incredible thing.

Interview's music bed provided by Gus.

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Watch: Rodney Jerkins Talks Producing On ‘The High Note’ Soundtrack, Andre Harrell And How His Dad Sparked His Career In ‘Billboard’

When you think of your favorite R&B and pop hits by Brandy, Destiny's Child, Mary J. Blige, and Michael Jackson, you can't help but think about the musical genius behind the tracks: Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins. Since his start in the music industry at the young age of 14 (under the mentorship of legendary musician Teddy Riley and his father Pastor Fredrick Jerkins), the Grammy-winning producer has created songs across countries, genres, and mediums.  To date, Jerkins has contributed to over 115 movie and television series soundtracks with his first credit for Joe's "Don't Wanna Be a Player" (not be confused with Big Pun's hit) on the 1996 Booty Call soundtrack.

His latest accomplishment is serving as the executive music producer for the new video-on-demand film, The High Note, starring actress Tracee Ellis Ross, daughter of the legendary Diana Ross. In the Nisha Ganatra-directed  film, Ross plays Grace Davis, a diva and iconic singer who has to "choose between playing it safe or listening to her heart in a decision that could change her life forever." Weeks prior to The High Note's premiere, Focus Features and Republic Records released "Love Myself," the lead single from the movie's soundtrack, which features Ross singing on her very first musical recording. As the film's executive music producer, Jerkins worked with her on another track, "Stop For A Minute," and helped Ross become comfortable with laying down tracks in a music recording studio, an experience she'd only witnessed second-hand while her mother worked on music.

"When we first started, that was Tracy's first time in the booths," says Jerkins about working with Ross. "That can become somewhat intimidating. I said, 'Tracy just trust me. I've worked with every artist. I've worked with actresses who had to sing before.' I said, 'This is what I do. Just have trust that we'll get through it.' As we started to work, her confidence started to build and she started to understand what it took."

VIBE and Cory Taylor of R&B Spotlight had a chance to sit down with Jerkins to talk about his extensive career, working on the official soundtrack for The High Note, his advice for upcoming producers, and more.

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On when he got the call to be a part of the film's soundtrack:

I was in Florida at home and Mike Knobloch, the head of music at Universal, he called me one day. He was just like, "Man, I got a prize that I think you would be perfect for. Would you mind reading the script?" I said, "Yes, send me the script." And this was crazy. I was actually working with an artist at the time. I have this artist named Jac Ross and I was just listening to Lee Moses because Jack has this super soulful voice. In the script, the first scene had a Lee Moses song. I called Mike before reading the rest of the script. I was like, "Yo, this is mine." I said, "The first song. I just studied Lee Moses two days ago." So the fact that the first song in the scene was a Lee Moses song called "Bad Girl," I was like, this is mine.

On how his Dad sparked his start in the music business:

I got started with Teddy Riley working in Virginia Beach. I was kind of this apprentice down there. I was 14 when I first met Teddy. Every summer I'd go down there and just kind of sit and learn. I would go back home and work on stuff and work on ideas. It wasn't really until I was probably 16 or 17 when I really got my first songs heard by record companies, and people started paying attention saying, "Yo, there's this kid in New Jersey." I think what really sparked that and my father, who was mentoring me at the time, I think I said to him one day, "I got all this good music, but nobody knows who I am, because I'm from South Jersey, Pleasantville." There's no outlet down there. My dad invested money out of his own pocket, and he bought this ad in Billboard.

At first, people thought he was crazy because there were no ads in Billboard. Like if you looked through Billboard, it was just charts. For some reason my dad, he bought this ad and in this ad it said: "Super producer." I was young and wasn't a super-producer yet. He put this ad in and 50% of the people laughing at it were saying, "Yo, this is crazy. This dude is crazy." You had the other 50% of people calling and saying, "Yo, we want to meet."

 

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Dad, Thanks for instilling in me Christ at an early age. It’s because of you I choose to lead my family in that same direction. You’ve given me so many great moments as a child growing up. Believing in me when others didn’t. Pushing me to greatness. Being unconventional with your approach is exactly the way I do things to this day. Demanding respect from my counterparts. Not being taken advantage of, and being prayerful about everything. These are the life lessons and qualities you have given me. By watching you apply all of these things in your life I’ve learned to do the same. I appreciate you and love you dearly! HAPPY FATHERS DAY DAD!

A post shared by Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins (@rodneyjerkins) on Jun 21, 2020 at 4:51pm PDT

On his fondest memory of the late Andre Harrell:

He would call me up when I wasn't working with him. I remember when I did "Deja Vu" for Beyonce and Jay-Z. I was in New York City, the song was out, and Andre called and said, "Yo, where you at?" I said, "I'm in this old studio." "I'm coming to see you right now. I'm coming to see you right now." I ain't know what he wanted. He came up to the studio. He was like, "Playboy, playboy. Do you know what you just did? Do you know what you just gave this girl?" And I was like, "Nah," because I'm just keeping it moving.

He's like, "Man, you gave her Michael Jackson, 2005, like you gave her the Michael Jackson 'Don't Stop Til You Get Enough' for a female like this." I was like, "What you mean?" He was like, "The way you put the horns with the live bass and the drums, and still knocking with the 808, people aren't doing that." He was so animated when he spoke to you. He made you believe there's something much greater in yourself. That was my guy, man. He did that constantly with me. He would be like that all the time. I'm talking about even like three months ago, like in February, we had a similar conversation.

Advice to up and coming producers looking to get their foot in the music business:

First, I would say study all the greats that came before you. I'm not talking in the last 10, 20 years. I'm talking about going back, going back to Barry Gordy days, and study them. Study sound. Every sound and every genre possible. Don't be a one-trick pony. Be able to produce any type of genre. I would also say be different. What I mean by that, a lot of technology has allowed it for producers to become easy, but it's also become easy in the same sonic, in the same sound. All the tools are the same. You have everybody using the same tools right now. It all starts to sound the same. I would tell producers to challenge themselves to be different. Be unique, be different.

On his future plans to produce music for films: 

I'm going to continue to do movies. I've made it my thing. I can't say it right now, but it looks like I got another movie coming my way right now. With the same company, by the way. I'm going to continue to do it because I love it. I think it brings out a whole different side of emotion for me. It allows me to create differently. Sometimes we get caught up in what's popping at radio, what's popping streaming...I would love to do more in the TV and film realm because I just think that's the natural progression for me and my career.

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Zendaya And John David Washington Quietly Filmed A Movie In Quarantine

Zendaya and John David Washington shot an entire movie while in quarantine. According to Deadline, Malcolm & Marie was filmed over the course of two weeks at the Caterpillar House, an environmentally friendly estate located in California's Monterey County.

The idea reportedly came about after production on the HBO series got shut down due to the global pandemic. Zendaya reached out to Euphoria creator, Sam Levison, who cranked out the script for Malcolm & Marie within a week. Zendaya, Washington, Sam Levison and his wife and business partner, Queen & Slim producer, Ashley Levison, helped bankroll the film’s pre-production and production costs.

In addition to starring in Malcolm & Marie, Zendaya and Washington executive produced the project, alongside Aaron L. Gilbert, Will Greenfield, and Kid Cudi, the latter of whom also invested money in the film.

Although the film plot remains under wraps, Malcolm & Marie is said to be similar to Netflix’s Marriage Story, about a couple getting a divorce.

To make sure that production followed proper safety guidelines, Ashley Levinson consulted with doctors, lawyers, the Writer’s Guild of America, the Director’s Guild of America, and the Screen Actors Guild. The film's cast and crew stayed at a quarantine location and were shuttled to set every day. The crew was not allowed to be near the actors, and no more than a dozen people from each department were allowed on set at one time.

Malcolm & Marie could change the way movies are shot in post-pandemic Hollywood. Filming reportedly went down between  June 17 and July 2.

The production also took on-set health precautions including wearing masks, twice-daily temperature checks, and physical distancing.

 

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