Shock Troopers
by Polly

Awesome Neo-Geo games aren't hard to come by. You got your Metal Slugs, you got your large library of high-quality spacey shooty shmups, and you got your never-ending list of fairly good fighting games. Every once in a while though, a game will slip through the cracks and it's up to people who live in the future with fancy internet boxes with fancy pants videogame emulator floppy drive doohickeys to help shine a light on the past. I'm in no way the first person to ever mention Shock Troopers. Hell, it's probably been covered by 1800-something Neo-Geo sites already, but just like Contra gets recognized way more than the superior Super C, Shock Troopers was never able to crawl out from under Metal Slug's shadow, even when that series turned to shit for a few installments. It doesn't quite trump the better Metal Slug games either, but what the hell, I'll go ahead and write about it any gosh darn way, gee whiz, by golly!

Shock Troopers is a top-down run n' gunner. It's appropriate to think of this game as "what if Contra top-down stages had been done right?" That's how I relate to everything in my life anyway. Some kind of Contra reference. There's some evil organization of baddies and they've kidnapped a popular scientist and one of the main character's bitches. So the obvious choice is to send in a highly-skilled group of Blow-Shit-Uppers to set things right.

The game has a look similar to that of Metal Slug's, but with the detail, amount of character, and number of frames of animation scaled back a bit. All the main characters are decently animated and rather than flipped sprites for right and left actually have separate side sprites. Enemies are much the same and have a good variety of fairly graphic death animations to match how they were killed be it gunshot or explosion. The stages themselves are a true highlight. Not only are there multiple locales to marveled by, but they all look fantastic, packed full of great detail work, excellent use of color, and loads of animation to keep the whole thing looking slick. Shock Troopers also features a nicely rockin' soundtrack perfect for all the shooty and explodey action and a decent smattering of voice samples for enemies and the player characters.

Shock Troopers features a selectable roster of an almost unheard of eight characters. That's as many as most normal fighting games back in the day. Though they're not unique enough from one another to really unbalance the gameplay or make you feel like you chose the wrong dood (sometimes...), they do differ from one another in a few ways that makes checking them all out at different times worthwhile. Though every character has a machinegun by default and an up-close melee attack that varies between each of them, larger characters have a double-barreled machinegun making their normal fire just a bit more powerful than smaller characters. There are also differences in the amount of punishment a character can take, which can easily be deduced by the character's size. The big differences lie in each character's special bomb attack. Each one is unique in how much damage they incur, how many can be carried, and how the weapon actually functions. Some are better for putting a major hurt on bosses in a short amount of time and others are good for clearing out large groups of enemy forces should you find yourself a little too severely outnumbered. None of them are useless though, so again, there's a good balance.

All characters have access to the same weapon pick-ups throughout each stage including heavy machineguns, vulcan machineguns, flamethrowers, rocket launchers, you know the drill. The pick-up variety isn't quite as vast as it could be, but everything's still nice and balanced and you'll be too busy spraying the screen with hot fuckin' lead to really even care most of the time.

Spraying lead is made easy as well as maneuvering your character around to avoid incoming enemy fire thanks to the easy peasy controls. When you hold down the fire button the game locks you into an auto-strafe mode that keeps you facing the direction you're firing. It makes maneuvering around enemy fire and various other hazards a breeze while being able to continue your assault. Simply let off of fire and face another direction to continue the assault. Other top-down games that didn't use this method of firing or didn't offer it in any way have always been a pain in the bitch to keep under control, so it's great that Shock Troopers gets it right.

Shock Troopers adds even more to its formula by giving every character an evasion button. Much like Contra: Hard Corps' slide move, when you use an evasive roll, duck, or jump (depending on what the stage calls for) you're completely invulnerable to enemy attacks while in the animation. Learning to use evasion effectively is a huge key to being a successful Shock Troopers player. During stages dodges can be used to get close to your enemies and deliver a melee attack. Playing this way is most rewarding as enemies tend to drop lots of power-ups when defeated this way, including loads of bonus points (I know, who cares right?), those ever-so-useful health recovery items, and a very rare invincibility gem. So, it really pays to take a break from runnin' and gunnin' to do a little rollin' and slicin'/punchin'/etcn' since the game encourages it.

When starting the game you're given the choice of playing "Lonly Wolf" mode or "Team Battle" mode. Lonly Wolf is, as you'd probably expect, a solo mode where you pick one dood/doodette and roll with them until your next continue. Team Battle is a fairly neat mode where you can mix and match a team of three commandos to blow shit up with. They all share the same lifebar and that lifebar does seem to drain a bit faster (or I just really suck at this game), but this set up gives you more versatility because you have almost three times the special attacks (each character starts with five fewer than they would in Lonly Wolf) and can swap out faster and slower/more powerful character on the fly for whenever the job calls for it. I feel the game is much more enjoyable when played in this mode.

The game offers further options to the player after selecting their character by letting them select from three routes to go through the game. The Mountain Route seems to be the easiest of the three, while I can't really tell much of a difference between the Jungle and Valley routes as they're both ball-crushingly difficult. Each route is comprised of five stages plus the final base stage. After completing three stages, you're given another choice of splitting off to one of the other routes, though this doesn't really change anything other than what your last 2 normal stages will be. Though each set of stages contains a wide variety of scenarios, they all feature the same exact bosses but in a slightly different order each time.

The stages are pure fun on a bun. Every stage sends wave after wave of enemies and enemy vehicles at you from every direction, so there's always something to reduce to pretty pretty explodey pixels. While most stages have you progressing further up the screen and left or right, others put you in some unique situations like riding on the back of a truck fending off flying enemies, working your way toward the front of a train, scaling up the side of a mountain, and mowing down soldiers riding on a motorcycle. The game does a great job of keep things from ever becoming too stale by not holding you in the same locations looking at the same things for too long. The amount of variety in the stages is far more than most of these kinds of games offered back then.

Unfortunately the enemy variety isn't quite as impressive as it could be. You'll be fighting the same few types of enemy soldiers from the beginning to end of each route with some unique enemies sprinkled around special areas of each stage. And unfortunately the boss variety is fairly balls too. There are only about four or five unique types of bosses and you'll face a couple of them at least two or three times on any given route. For being bosses in rather difficult game, they dont't offer much of a challenge either. If you want, you can just unload on most of them with your whole stock of special attacks and either take 'em out or be 3/4 through the fight in seconds. The bosses do get a bit more aggressive and a new attack or two for their encores, but with the stages themselves being so good, the bosses needed to be really over the top and they just don't deliver. Even worse, the final boss is not only fairly anti-climactic, but one of the easiest the game has to offer.

While it lacks a bit of the character and over the top-ness that the Metal Slug games feature, I think Shock Troopers deserved a bit more attention than it got. It's tried and true to an old formula and does almost everything right. The perfect cure for a slow boring day that needs a good dose of action to liven things up.

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