Shock Troopers is probably the best run and gun video game that you’ve never played. Beyond its original release on the MVS arcade board and AES home console back in 1997, Shock Troopers has only made one appearance since, on the Wii Virtual Console in 2012. If ever a game deserved a wider audience and greater recognition, it’s this absolute genre classic. The likes of Metal Slug might get all the credit, but as brilliant as that series is (and it really is brilliant), Shock Troopers, while perhaps falling just short of such a high watermark, is unquestionably in the same ballpark when it comes to quality. In fact, the only real negative about this long overdue re-release is that this isn’t its superior sequel, Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad (although many would disagree with me on that).
Whatever your view as to the comparable quality of Shock Troopers and its sequel though, the fact remains, Saurus’, Shock Troopers is an exceptional game; its 2D visuals might have seemed somewhat behind the times when it was released in 1997, but unlike the majority of the 3D games that were in vogue that year, Shock Troopers has aged like a fine, if somewhat explosive wine.
Like many games built for the Neo Geo MVS in the mid to late 90s, Shock Troopers’ chunky art design and exceptional sprite work still looks fantastic 20 years on. With its distinctive combination of Western 80s action movie tone and its anime inspired art direction, Shock Troopers retro top-down, 2D gameplay arguably feels more at home today than it did upon its original release.
Despite the mechanics being relatively simplistic and the aim of the game rarely going beyond the need to destroy everything in sight, the 8-way shooting, and in particular, its carefully implemented dodge mechanic, help to make Shock Troopers more than the sum of its admittedly limited parts. Of course, the usual array of power ups make this an immediately enjoyable arcade shooter, but it’s those refined core mechanics that give the game that little bit of extra depth that helps set it apart from its peers.
Of course, the fact that the game looks absolutely gorgeous doesn’t harm either. Shock Troopers benefits greatly from its fantastically imaginative art design and constantly eye-catching visuals. Yes, it’s a military shooter at heart, but like SNK’s Metal Slug series, it’s home to the kind of incidental details and visual flourishes that make it so much more memorable than the comparatively bland likes of NAM-1975, Mercs and Commando.
It’s also surprisingly varied – yes, you’re always shooting bad guys, but beyond the three separate routes that can be switched between from stage to stage, it’s also delivers a host of visually diverse locations that, while doing little to change your approach to gameplay, do serve to break up the standard repetition that can often set in relatively quickly in other run and gun games of this ilk. Whether it be riding a motorbike or taking down enemies from the top of a moving train, Shock Troopers does more than most to keep the gameplay fresh for as long as the experience lasts.
Like all of Hamster’s recently released collection of Neo Geo classics, Shock Troopers is an almost perfect port of the arcade original, and with the option to play through the Japanese version of the game alongside a hi-score and Caravan mode (essentially a timed hi-score run), Shock Trooper’s continues Hamster’s recent habit of expanding beyond their previously barebones ports.
As welcome as these addition are though, it’s ultimately the Switch itself that provides the most effective change to what is now a 20-year-old game. It might be fun to play on your own, but Shock Troopers is undoubtedly at its best when played in co-op, and with the ability to play this classic arcade shooter with another player wherever you want really does make all the difference. Sure, the likes of 1-2-Switch might get all the attention in the press, but in practice, few games are as perfectly positioned for impromptu bouts of on the go co-op than classic arcade games of this ilk. Playing on the sofa in front of the TV is great, but there is something special about assembling what amounts to a mini arcade machine just about anywhere you want.
Shock Troopers is one of those rare retro games that arguably feels more at home today than it did when it was originally released. With it gorgeous sprite work and fantastically charming art design, Shock Trooper’s visuals have an undoubtedly timeless charm that make the game as good-looking today as it was back in 1997. Yes, the mechanics are relatively limited, but this is pitch-perfect arcade gaming that delivers quick thrills married to a subtle depth that elevates it above the vast majority of its peers. It might not be as recognisable as Metal Slug or Contra, but this run and gun shooter deserves a place at the top table, and above all else, a place on your Nintendo Switch.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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