There is such a sweet beauty to arcade games focusing on creating total carnage by having bullets flying everywhere or letting you beat meanies up for the sake of points. While these machines are known for stealing your money due to unfair difficulty, there are also those that give you a legit chance to see the ending with only a couple of dollars spent. One of these is a great shooter for the Neo Geo that is not Metal Slug; Shock Troopers. This is a criminally underrated title that I simply believe deserves more love.
Fun bullet hell
A terrorist group called The Bloody Scorpions have kidnapped a scientist and his granddaughter in order to gain a powerful drug that turns people into superhuman warriors. It is up to eight soldiers from around the world to save the two hostages and take down these evil scums. Definitely good enough reasons to go all guns blazing and the gameplay is just as straightforward in its overall concept too!
Being an overhead shooter, your goal is to fire at everything in your path and get to the end of the stage where there is a boss to kill as well. With eight characters to choose from, you can either have three different protagonists to play as or go solo with one that has three lives. This is an interesting design choice, since they vary in terms of their speed, strength, health, and most noticeably: the type of limited special weapon they hold. It becomes quite tactical to decide between going with just one preferred hero that has one health bar and three lives or juggling between three soldiers that each has their own health bar and only one life. Unfortunately, this title does not tell you about their stats except for the limited special weapons, which is bizarre.
You shoot rapid-fire and simultaneously strafe by holding down the A button, which works great due to how quick it is to change the direction of your aim by releasing it for a minor second. There are even some nice implementations for making the combat more comfortable, such as how you will automatically do a devastating melee attack instead of shooting if a foe is too close to you. However, you can also avoid bullets by performing a dodge manoeuvre, making you briefly invincible. This alongside the added health bar and the unique forms of three extra lives, truly makes you prepared for the danger that awaits you.
There will be an onslaught of enemies firing shots at you, forcing you to be on your guard at all times. These fiends might not vary increasingly, but some will learn to also dodge your bullets or get new tools like jetpacks for flying around or huge tanks that can take out a big portion of your health bar. Thankfully, you can also find power-ups for some helpful benefits. Items for enhancing your movement speed, nuking everything you see, replenishing your health, and those that make you invulnerable for a short time are severely effective, but rare because of this. Instead, what you will most likely pick up besides points, are firearms to replace your regular one with.
All the traditional ones are here, such as the spread rifle, flamethrower, rocket launcher, and machine gun. They have limited ammo, which makes it so you have to play defensively and conserve your shots in order to keep these strong weapons for a long while. Not to mention, ammunition for them is also uncommon to find. Despite that it might be strange that going with three different protagonists on your journey will have them share the same taken firearm, I personally do not mind this as it makes selecting only one character you enjoy just as much of an ideal choice as jumping between three.
What is truly the highlight of Shock Troopers, are the creative stages. You might drive a motorcycle in an auto scroller segment, climb upwards a mountain or walk slowly in a swamp with terrorists hiding in the water. This adds to make no stage dull and the gunplay always a focus, with even some neat additions included such as letting you duck away from bullets while riding your bike. This diversity can also be seen in the special weapons that come with different concepts, such as boomerangs flying in a big arc or grenades causing harsh explosions.
Then there are the bosses that can cover the screen in fired ammunition. While the levels themselves are hectic, these engaging fights are more dangerous thanks to how much damage they can do. Sadly, many of the bosses are similar in execution which makes them repetitive, despite some imaginative takes like the ninja duo that will make copies of themselves. They are still fun battles though, and should you bite the dust and get a game over, you can change your setup of characters each time you die, which is a nice touch.
Even if this shooter is challenging and will make you pay attention, it is never frustrating or unfair due to your own versatile capabilities. However, the co-op will give you twice the amount of firepower and can make this adventure quite easy. You still might have to shell out a couple of dollars, but far from as much as if you played alone. Luckily, with great varieties to the stages, a bunch of characters to try out, and a constant adrenaline rush, Shock Troopers knows how to be entertaining. The opponents could have been better designed in general and I really wish for a stat screen to explain the heroes’ differences, but what you get is an enjoyable arcade title with some neat spices to it.
Gameplay Score: 7.5/10
PS1 demo music and cartoon violence
Going for a cartoon style was a wonderful choice for giving each area huge amounts of colours, clear identities, and diverse locations within! A favourite example of mine is when you travel through a jungle that takes you to a market and ends with a boss fight at a bar, adding fantastic immersion. Despite that the stages do not have many details to them, each one is unique from another and presents some memorable landscapes that are visually connected. Unfortunately, the enemies are repeated and consist about 70% of the normal goons with the occasional recolouring. The 3D tanks and the huge machine bosses are intriguing contrasts to make them noticeable forces to be reckoned with, but are also recycled too often and becomes underwhelming.
That being said, the playable soldiers have each their own designs and animations to the point of having different melee attacks, making them more personal. I also adore how the foes will do varied things before being shocked at seeing you, such as reading a newspaper or drinking coffee. However, the best part about this whole presentation is the spectacular amount of bullets and the explosions that can take up the entire screen. This can lead to slowdowns, but it adds to the intense moments oddly enough, similar to how slow-mo does to action movies! Most likely not intentional, but it is still effective.
Although, the music consists of weird electronic tracks that can best be described as rambling messes. They are quite short and not good, with the only exceptions being a couple of rocking tunes that are repetitive, but at least fits the chaotic shootouts. What is interesting, is that even the terrible melodies have excellent drums that work to enhance the carnage on the screen. Sadly, that does not make them automatically solid, and I believe this is also a reason for why the soundtrack is at a low volume. If nothing else, the sounds of the diverse firearms, explosions, and screams from fallen terrorists, are all satisfying to witness.
Presentation Score: 7.5/10
Choose your fight
Here is where you will spend more than just one token, since you cannot see everything in one go. There are three locations to start your journey from and you can either go through the intended road or change midway to another path. Because of how each playthrough provides something unique and lasts about 30-40 minutes, this title lends itself easily for multiple visits. I just wish there were more exclusive bosses as they do repeat or are virtually the same even in these different routes, but that is the only criticism I have for this project. Combine this with the multiple characters to try out with each having their own ending and the mentioned co-op, and you are definitely getting your money’s worth.
Extra Score: 9/10
Shock Troopers offers a fun arcade experience with strong reasons to come back to it, diverse levels to encounter, and tons of firepower to witness. There could have been more variety to the opponents you face and the music is simply bad, but it has enough small details to make it an entertaining run that relies on the player’s skills and reactions than anything else! With the gorgeous amount of bullets to dodge and the mesmerising action stages, this is nothing less than an exhilarating shooter.