Check out our video review:
If you’ve read my past reviews I think it’s obvious that I’m a fan of action games. If I get to shoot shit and there’s explosions, I’m interested. I never really cared for arcade games because they’re all about eating money and I’ve never owned a Neo Geo system so I think I missed out on quite a bit of action games back in the day. If you love video games, SNK is a name you should know for both developing the Neo Geo family of systems and their many popular arcade games. Developed by Saurus and published by SNK, Shock Troopers was released for the Neo Geo in 1997. When it comes to Neo Geo action games, I think we’re all familiar with the Metal Slug series but those games never really did anything for me. Shock Troopers, however, always looked cool and I wanted to play it ever since I first saw it. Well in January, 2016, DotEmu released a port of Shock Troopers as part of a Humble Bundle and for Steam which is the version I played for this review.
As expected for an arcade game, the story isn’t all that exciting and it’s not the reason you would want to play this. A terrorist group known as The Bloody Scorpion have kidnapped a scientist and his granddaughter, Cecilia. The terrorists need the scientist to obtain or create a drug called Alpha 301 to turn people into invincible soldiers. In response to this, eight soldiers from different countries band together to take down the terrorists, save the scientist, and his granddaughter. The story is typical for a game like this and not very in depth. The cut scenes consist of images with overlapping text and the only voice acting heard in the game is from lines shouted by the characters during gameplay. I can’t understand a word they’re saying because I think it’s all in Japanese. Other than that, you’ll just hear the sounds of screams as you mow down tons of bad guys across a multitude of stages.
Shock Troopers is an isometric/top-down run and gun shooter that can be played in either solo or co-op. You can play co-op locally or online. There’s eight characters to choose from and you decide if you want to play in Lonly Wolf mode, which means playing as one character, or in Team Battle mode, which means you can choose three characters and switch between them at any time during gameplay. Each character on the team will share the same health, which is just odd. Anything to take your money I suppose. Speaking of money, this was an arcade game so you can decide if you want to play using five, ten, or twenty credits, which are equivalent to continues, or you can simply choose Freeplay if you never want to see the game over screen. There’s four difficulty modes – Easy, Normal, Hard, and Insane and since I primarily played in Freeplay, I chose the Insane difficulty. After choosing your characters you get to choose one of three routes of five stages to battle through – Mountain, Jungle, and Valley. Each route converges at stage six which is the final stage. So in actuality there’s sixteen stages total. After beating stage three in any route, you will be given the option to change routes if you so desire. Before starting each stage you’ll be granted a life bonus but for some reason you don’t actually start the game with full health. Also, each character starts each route with a set of medals with stars on them, and I have no clue what they mean.
The roster of playable characters is made up of both male and female soldiers and they each vary in appearance. They all carry a machine gun with infinite ammo and a unique special weapon like rockets, missiles, and grenades, among other types, and these weapons just do more damage and can clear out multiple enemies at once. The special weapons have limited ammo but ammo can be acquired throughout the stages. I think my favorite character is Rio simply because he reminds me of Rambo and carries an explosive crossbow. I did notice characters move at different speeds but, generally, the characters move pretty slowly. I really wish this game had a sprint button. According to what I’ve read online, each character differs slightly in attack strength and how much damage they can take but, honestly, I suck at this game so I didn’t even notice.
Typical of an arcade game, Shock Troopers is about two things – taking your money and trying to achieve a high score. If you manage to get close enough to an enemy you will automatically perform a melee attack which will cause the enemy to drop a blue gem for bonus points. You still need to watch out when getting too close because enemies can perform melee attacks as well but most of the time enemies will be shooting at you or throwing grenades. If you lose all of your health you die and either need to use a credit to continue or, if playing in Freeplay, you can just keep going. After dying you have the choice of choosing the Lonly Wolf or Team Battle modes, which characters you want to play as, and can just continue right from where you died. My only gripe with this is that the game doesn’t seem to remember which character you played as so if you want to play as the same one, you have to scroll through the characters each time you die. If you’re great at the game, this is probably not even an issue, but if you suck like me then it becomes a minor nuisance.
There are different power ups you can acquire like a speed boost, temporary invincibility, and if you pick up red gems, all enemies on the screen will be killed. But the most common pickups you’ll see are weapons and even health items like food. The health items don’t ever seem to give you a substantial amount of health but since I’m not pumping money into an arcade machine, it doesn’t bother me all that much. There’s all different types of weapon pickups including different types of machine guns, a flamethrower, rocket launcher, and even a weapon called 3 way, similar to the spread shot in the Contra series. There’s more weapon pickups I haven’t even discovered and they each have a limited amount of ammo. Killing enemies and breaking objects like crates within the stages will reveal weapons so you’ll want to blow up everything.
Mastering the controls is absolutely critical because shooting everything on the screen is only part of the gameplay. If you don’t learn to avoid attacks, you’re going to die quickly. You can aim in eight directions and as your shooting your character will automatically strafe if you move. Bullets and projectiles usually move faster than you so tapping that roll button to avoid getting hit should become second nature. The perspective would sometimes make it hard to dodge attacks but other than that, it’s a solid run and gun shooter, gameplay wise. You can blow up everything like crates, barrels, enemy sandbag bunkers, vehicles, and even buildings. There’s no shortage of shit to shoot so you should rarely be letting go of the fire button. Several stages have mines that need to be avoided and they seem to be the only form of environmental hazards. Each stage has an end boss but they just become tiresome after a while. It’s not that they’re horrible boss fights but you’ll primarily be killing soldiers and blowing up vehicles like tanks and the bosses are usually bigger vehicles, jets, or bullet sponge enemies. The bosses are still challenging as all hell and memorizing their attack patterns would be good idea but it’s just a shame that they lack in variety. A few bosses stand out but many of them repeat in each route and I think having a unique end boss for each stage would have been a better idea.
I don’t know if the visuals are quite as good as what you’ll see in Metal Slug but Shock Troopers is a visual spectacle. In addition to the fact this game looks amazing, it’s the little things like shooting the arm off an enemy or seeing enemies carry out injured soldiers on stretchers, and sometimes you’ll come across a soldier warming his hands over a fire. Little shit like this is a nice touch and just adds to the charm of the game. There’s also a few set pieces that really stand out. For example in one stage you get to ride a motorcycle while fending off enemies. Another stage has you riding on the back of a truck and you’ll even get to scale a large cliff wall as enemies attack you from all directions. None of these set pieces are quite as crazy and intense as anything you would see in a Contra game, but they’re still memorable.
Not everything about Shock Troopers is fantastic. Well at least when talking about this PC port in particular. For one thing the sound quality is just awful. I’ve read a few reviews of this version, specifically, and many have said the Neo Geo version has much better audio quality and I believe that because I’ve played other DotEmu ports of classic games. Let’s just say DotEmu is not M2. Since I’ve never played Shock Troopers on the Neo Geo I may not have noticed all of the problems but one thing I did notice is the stuttering background at the character selection screen. But the most annoying problem is that the resolution you select does not seem to save. So every time I would fire up the game, I had to set the resolution. It saves all other video options, just not that. I think there’s some minor button lag going on, too. But since I suck at this game, it’s not that big of a deal for me but I can see how that can be a big problem for some players.
In the end, Shock Troopers is a fantastic run and gun style game. Maybe not this port in particular, thanks to it’s technical problems but despite DotEmu’s terrible emulation, it’s still a fun game and you may not even care if you’ve never played the original. I can’t think of any other top-down or isometric shooter that really tops this in terms of action, visuals, and pure enjoyment. Sure, it has some minor gameplay problems but nothing that really brings the game down in any way. It’s a challenging game with plenty of replay value for those who can play these types of games religously. If you have the option to play Shock Troopers on an actual Neo Geo system, or on any other system it’s been ported to, I’d say go play that over this version. But if this is the only version you can get then, yeah, I’d say go for it.