I always find sequels to a first instalment interesting to look at, because of how hard it can be to figure out what to do next. Should one try to simply improve upon the original’s concept or create something different to become more revolutionary? Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad does both, as it fixes faults of its predecessor and trades some of its unique features for new ideas. Was this for the better or worse?
More focus, less quantity, still lots of bullets
Nakatomi and his terrorist group called DIO are threatening every world’s leader with destruction unless they all bend to their will. Only you as one of the four playable soldiers can stop them and save the day. This is the story for this arcade game and that is all the excuse needed to cause some mayhem! Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad follows in the footsteps of the last entry by being an overhead shooter where each character has a health bar and you are given three lives per token.
Gone are most of the cast members and the ability to customize a team of three from the first title. Instead, you can only pick one out of the four heroes to play as. While this might sound like a step back, each of these units differs vastly from one another due to their unique main firearm, such as a laser rifle or a spread gun, as well as their special explosive weapon. They also have four stats that cover speed, attack, defence, and evasion, which clearly varies between them and are all balanced. Because of these changes, finding a playstyle that fits you is greatly implemented and adds to simultaneously make each protagonist exciting to try out.
It is from here this instalment will present a theme of doing more with less. You can still strafe, fire rapid shots, use limited explosive tools, and leap out of harm’s way. Holding down the shoot button makes you lock in one direction and it is easy to shift where to aim by letting it go for a split second, with a melee attack being performed if an enemy is too close. The new jump move works similar to the dodge from the previous game where you become briefly invincible, which comes in handy against the thousands of bullets flying everywhere. However, it is also used this time for hopping into vehicles.
These include tanks, jeeps, and walkers. Even if they might not change up the formula much, they are a fun addition thanks to the amount of power they hold. Each has special ammunition, can charge their attacks, and are sturdy with unique stats accompanying them. They also feature their own health bars, functioning as a supplemental defence! A neat detail is that they will explode upon losing all of their health, with you needing to jump out in time for some extra tension to the fights.
With the barrage of foes in your way, you are going to need all the firepower you can get. These opponents are more varied this time around because of the plenty of different machines, weapons, and soldiers you will be up against. By making the battles consists of diverse units that might use electric guns, missiles or actually dodge your shots, this truly enhances the strategic manoeuvres the combat demands, while keeping the action constant due to the number of bullets and terrorists on the screen. In other words: if you are not concentrated, you will easily die.
Despite that your health bar and dodge move are wonderful supports, you will be tested in the shootouts since the enemies can take a huge amount of your health and there is little room for error. However, this makes the fights fair by giving you helpful benefits and there are no cheap hits to suffer from throughout this journey. Should you bite the dust, you can also change which character to control as if you want to try out a new approach, which is a solid inclusion.
In case that was not enough, there are also optional firearms to find that have limited ammunition, ranging between missile launchers, flamethrowers, boomerangs, and another spread gun that can be charged. These are powerful weapons and you can even level them up by picking up three “P” logos, with the maximum level being three. This is a great extra since it is hard to hold onto these with one life, and you lose one “P” on the ground if you get hit and have to pick it up again. Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad throws you thankfully a bone if you die and must use a token, by giving you max power level for good measure.
Adding to this brutal shooter, are the bosses that come in many forms, such as huge aeroplanes or buildings packing more heat than any army could. You will be shown their weaknesses for a second before being pushed to the edge with plenty of shots coming towards you, and it is all beautiful rushes of adrenaline. One interesting part is that most bosses have a main weakness where you can kill it quicker, but also plenty of minor ones that will decapitate one of the weapons they have. This offers layers of strategies to these battles, as you can either make the fights easier or quicker depending on your decisions and skills.
What is unfortunate, is that this sequel is quite short and only contains five stages. Admittedly, it can also go overboard with its harsh difficulty and the new vehicles to use are rather neat power-ups than intriguing inclusions. Luckily, by focusing on fewer characters with unique assets and varied firepowers to use against tons of foes, this arcade title goes to show how you can become so much more out of being less.
Gameplay Score: 8.5/10
Gorgeous pseudo 3D
3D is something I find age worse the earlier you go back, but Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad’s take on using a pseudo version of it is impressive. The lovely cartoon style makes everything pop up, especially the environmental details such as billboards falling down after an explosion. Furthermore, the stages are exciting to venture through due to their diversity. A mountain climb will take you to a military base with huge jets and one town has plenty of unique districts with civilians being killed or barely escaping, just to name a few. Sadly, you will not be visiting many distinct locations, but the few places to see have enough content to be engaging.
Despite some being victims of colour swapping, it helps that the enemies come in many forms and the war machines are certainly sights to behold, with the enormous water vehicle and the metallic trains being my favourites for the number of weapons attached to them. The animations are outstanding as well. Be it the crumbling sceneries or characters sporting different and expressive animations like unique melee attacks, it is phenomenal what amount of creativity is incorporated. The number of bullets and explosions that can appear on the screen is mesmerising, but slowdowns will occur and it can happen by the flying ammunition alone. Luckily, they are not too bad or common.
What will hit you first, is the terrible Engrish. The actors sound unexcited and almost asleep, but at least the protagonists have distinct voices and some decent directions in their tones, but that is the nicest thing I can say about this part of the game’s audio. One of the composers from the first entry returns, but this is more than just a step up in comparison. Masaki Kase’s music is incredible here with a lot of variations in notes and a huge focus on rock, using electric piano and guitars as the main instruments with the satisfying drums being back. Even the more repetitive melodies contain exhilarating beats, making this soundtrack one of the best on the system. Complementing this is the diverse effects of firearms and explosives, adding to the magnificent calamities.
Presentation Score: 8.5/10
Here is your rank soldier!
Multiple paths to take make a comeback, but this changes only two out of the five stages you will venture through, meaning it will be easy to see everything in just two playthroughs. It is still a decent inclusion, but at this point, all of the stages could have been added into one structured campaign. Thankfully, co-op is still an option for letting you cause chaos with a friend, which is always pleasant. A new element to this instalment is being ranked at the end of the journey. This is actually more than just about picking up points, since you must look out for letters to spell out different names depending on which hero you are controlling, adding to a big bonus. If you pick up the wrong letter, you must start over again. This is surprisingly challenging and does help the replay value, besides that it is entertaining enough to revisit on its own.
Extra Score: 7/10
Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad is interesting as it focuses more on being a quality entry and neglects the quantity its predecessor had. It has fantastic music, diverse characters, more difficult battles, and better boss fights, but less variety in stages and reasons to return. This is still a wonderful and hectic shooter, if a bit short. As for which one to choose, it really comes down to your preference between quantity and quality, but both will offer exhilarating action that will test your skills properly!