Ever had a game that totally blew you away the first time you saw it but you just never got around to owning or even playing? It was a regular occurrence for me through the eighties and early nineties, religiously buying Computer & Video Games magazine everything month, but three in particular spring to mind, and thinking about it, they were all Atari ST ports of arcade games! I think that was probably down to the reality of my own situation in those heady early 16-bit days though, with no money to buy what we’re now very expensive games, and by the time I did, something else would have come along to grab my attention! I’d eventually get hold of two of them on there though – The New Zealand Story and Buggy Boy – over thirty years later, but I never did track down a copy of the third one, and that was Strider… A dozen copies of the original on various Capcom compilations on various systems over the years, mind you, but never the one that totally mesmerised me in the September 1989 issue of C&VG!

This was the U.S. Gold conversion of the Capcom action-platformer that had launched in the arcades at the start of 1989, and was the result of a deal between them and a manga company called Moto Kikaku who had a character from the previous year by the name of Strider Hiryu who resides in the dystopian future of 2048 where an evil dictator known only as “Grandmaster” reigns supreme, and it’s up to the ninja “Strider” force to get shot of him. The action takes place across five levels that progress through a take on St Petersburg, then Siberia, then onto an aerial battleship thing, through a tropical rainforest and finally the Grandmaster’s lair, the Third Moon. While it looked stunning in a screenshot, seeing this thing in action is still a real treat, with a ton of spectacularly animated acrobatics on top of the mass of general violence, imaginative enemies and bosses, as well as cool power-ups to help you beat them. Great soundtrack and speech effects too but tough as old boots!

Overall though, an epic, cinematic beast of a game that blew a lot more people than me away, and fully deserving of a sequel, although the 1990 home-only versions of Strider II, licensed from Capcom by U.S. Gold, were alright but never really captured that thrill-ride provided by the original, neither on the usual home computers or later console remakes. Strider 2 then came to arcades and PlayStation in 1999, mixing the familiar 2D visuals with 3D backgrounds, and I really like it – it’s more of the same with a bit more pizazz even if there’s not a lot to it. There was a complete remake for the 2014-era PlayStations, Xboxes and PCs, and lead-man Hiryu has made regular appearance in Marvel vs. Capcom and the like fighting games, but to capture the real spirit of the original we need to follow the journey of original Strider director Kouichi Yotsui, who left Capcom just after its release, and his unofficial follow-up (or self-parody, in his own words), the 1996 Mitchell Corporation arcade game Cannon Dancer in Japan or Osman everywhere else! Unfortunately, though, that’s where the tale ends – unlike its spiritual predecessor, no home ports, no home release and no Mitchell Corporation compilations (unless you count Buster Bros. ones)… Until now, and ININ Games’ resurrection of the game on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation and Xbox, which is where I’m reviewing it here. I should also mention they kindly provided me with a review code for that very purpose! And there’s a very cool Collector’s Edition (as well as a standard one) by Strictly Limited Games too if you fancy!

With that, let’s set the scene, which kind of plays out through in-game cutscenes but also took a bit of external confirmation! It’s another dystopian future, this time towards the back end of the 21st century in some kind of cyberpunk Persian Gulf, and we’re all under the control of a single federal government, which has become a nasty little organisation only serving to corrupt the very foundations of modern, civilised, capitalist society. All sounds very familiar, but they also have a new threat called Abdullah the Slaver to worry about, whose campaign of terror has brought about the end of any economic activity anywhere, and I’m sure other unmentioned bad stuff too, but it’s your job as lone “secret style” assassin to fix everything!

Of course, apart from being told to go and “save our people” by a naked bloke in his luxurious robotic bathroom – seemingly called Jack Layzon because that’s written in big letters on the screen too – you’re not told any of this at the start, but what you do get is one the most bonkers attract modes I’ve ever seen, so let me try and talk you through it! I think it begins with a flying sword in a thunderstorm turning into a flying horse, which is also on fire, then a guy in black leather appears before everything is replaced by a brief waist-up pic of a magical-looking lady. Then a submarine appears, which I think is about to explode but another guy with a mechanical claw for a hand also appears and gets in the way of the view. Then magic lady flashes back on, but boobs-up this time, so it looks like she’s got nothing on but a hand-bra. Another split-second later, the horse is back, now flying over the sea, and then it turns back into a sword that I think Osman is now part-surfing and part-somersaulting on but all of this happens so fast I’m not really sure! However, it’s not as fast as the new lady who appears upside-down from the top of the screen with no explanation, although if you’d blinked you’d had missed her anyway because how we’re up close on old magic lady’s face. She appears to be crying now but the first tear is also quickly covered up by what I assume is Osman again, together with a bloke (possibly Jack Layzon) in a suit and hat that makes him look like an old film-noir private detective! The end!

This version is a new, faithfully ported version of the original arcade game – complete with attract mode – put together by ININ Games themselves with input from Kouichi Yotsui and original artist Utata Kiyoshi, and as such, you’re getting a bunch of modern conveniences too, like save and rewind, control vibration, customisable controls, a bunch of display filters and shaders, and some optional extras to make things a bit more accessible if you need them – double jumps, invincible jumps, invincible slides, auto attacks, extra credits and so on. These are all fully available in standard mode and but there’s also challenge mode for more or less the original arcade experience – you can choose up to two of these “enhancements” if you wish but no rewinds or saves. If you want Xbox Achievements though, this is where you need to play! You do have a choice of in-game English or original Japanese though, either by selecting to play Osman or Cannon Dancer. And while I wouldn’t dream of trying to make life easy for myself, as we’ll come back to later, this is one game that deserves to be seen as much as possible by as many people as possible, and all of this makes that a little bit more realistic…

Remember I said Strider was tough as old boots? Well, if that’s your thing then you’re not going to be disappointed with this, default settings as nature intended or not! Thankfully, the controls are pretty easy to get to grips with, with one button for somersault jump or down and jump to slide, then one for your martial arts attack and one for your special fatal attack. You’ve got eight directions to play with too, which makes for some really intuitive and fluid movement because what you’re travelling over often veers in as many directions, and helped out with a cool auto-climb when needed, you’ll be moving around it like a boss in no time! Well, you’d would be if it weren’t for the relentless stream of human and mechanical enemies, the fire pits, some unpredictable scenery elements and some tough but surprisingly enjoyable actual boss fights! It really pulls no punches in any department, and if you weren’t so at one with the controls you’d be having a horrible time, but luckily the opposite is true, and a bit of patience and a lot perseverance (and maybe one of those new invincibility features!) will see you making decent progress relatively quickly.

You’ll also want to be looking out for the frequent power-ups, which not only have the effect of changing the colour of your trousers, but will create a ghost-clone of yourself too, Ninja Spirit-style, and they’ll stack up to create quite the formidable fighting force around you, mimicking your actions but slightly behind you, so if you’ve jumped, attacked and landed, they’ll still be airborne dealing damage in the rear. Keep it going with a maximum of four of these and you’ll get an extended range to your attacks too (indicated by black trousers). Take a hit and you’ll lose one power-up “level” though, as well as one of your three health bar blocks, and you’ve got two lots of those to get through before it’s game over. You’ll occasionally pick more of those up too, and also in your favour is your fatal attack, which is a kind of bomb that’s going to send Osman in five directions, leaving a trace of himself at each point that will then collide into a big pentagram explosion in the middle, and you’ve also got three of those. Just remember to use them because you’re going to need too sooner rather than later!

Once you’ve passed the initial robot goons, there’s a huge array of enemies to get your teeth into, and they’re often nearly as bonkers as that attract mode, from veiled golden heads to alien dinosaurs, and geometric oddities with chainsaw limbs to, er, tigers. And tons more robot goons! They’ve got nothing on the continuous appearance of mini- and full-fat bosses though, and it’s so continuous they’re often hard to tell apart! Maybe something like “psychedelic-Arabian” would be a suitable description of their overall aesthetic, but that doesn’t even go halfway! I mean, what wordplay can describe a stretch-limo that turns out to be attached to the back of some kind of giant golden goddess on all fours who shoots magic butterflies out of her mouth ? It goes on (especially at the end!) but there is respite from the insanity – if not the chaos – with a load of Middle Eastern folklore also at play, bringing more regular sword and sorcery-type bosses who are reliant on their environments for their uniqueness, as well as a parade of giant mutant robot zombies with monstrous home-made attachments. Being generally rubbish at games, I’m not the biggest fan of boss fights, but some of these are really clever, and while I’m nowhere near nimble enough for a couple of them (at least without some modern assistance), they can also be genuinely exhilarating!

The variety we’ve just discussed in enemies and bosses is more than reflected in the Cannon Dancer’s environments, which aren’t always especially rich in detail but are consistently atmospheric. That opening cyberpunk metropolis is really rich in detail though! The rest is a bit of a mixed bag – incredibly striking desert, monotonous jungle, wild oceans, generic sci-fi thing and so on. It’s always very polished and very vibrant though, with well-lit metallics and thoughtful architecture giving a cartoon-realism to often overwhelming arrays of platforms to navigate. And speaking of cartoon-realism, while the animation could occasionally do with an extra frame or two (but no more than that), your attacks are so solid, and the juicy, bloody or explosive impacts so over the top that when you’re chaining these in quick succession, you might have no idea where you are or what you’re killing anymore, but it feels great!

Cannon Dancer is a game in constant motion, which applies as much to everything going on around you as it does to you yourself, as you effortlessly switch between run and jump, slide and climb. As well as the visceral outcomes of your non-stop destruction, there are enemies moving around everywhere too, and each is full of movement, whether they’re climbing up stuff or simply rotating or activating a shield or just flashing some lights, and then there’s flames and sprays, somersault motion effects and magical energies… It really is full of life and beyond! And I guess that’s why I’m a bit disappointed with how it sounds – it’s fine and the sound effects are certainly almost equally as dense as what’s going on visually, but it’s missing any real weight. Kicks have a whipping sound that seems too high-pitched to convey the impact you’re seeing as they cave in something’s face, and similar for explosions and gunshots – it all needs a bit more bass! And the “ha” sound as you somersault can get annoying when you realise it’s there, although it does work a bit like how you always see your nose in front of your eyes but forget it’s there until you notice it again. You’re welcome! Similarly, I found the soundtrack to be fine but forgettable – pleasant enough electronic-rock but you’re not going to be humming it anytime afterwards.

I’m possibly being as harsh as the game is with that kind of criticism though, and going out of my way for something to criticise because I know it hates me! Cannon Dancer or Osman (which I’ve somehow naturally come to refer to it as in my head) is a wild ride from start to however far you get and every time you play. There’s such a precision to the controls that offsets the general chaos and persistent lunacy going on all around you, and that keeps things feeling fair no matter how tough it gets. And how quickly! Such good-looking chaos and lunacy though… I’ve wanted a legitimate copy of this for almost as long as I’ve wanted a copy of Strider, and with all its bells and whistles this one makes it worth the wait. Easy for me to say though… Is it worth £24.99 to you is the question. If you’ve also been waiting for it for that long, then sure, fill your wellies. If not, maybe wait a bit longer for a sale would be my honest recommendation, especially when you compare it to the cost of something like, just for example, Strider, which was £1.69 on Capcom Arcade Stadium the last time I looked. We’re talking about a 1996 arcade game after all. Even if it is a really fun one!