The great part about the Internet is the ability to see and hear different people’s thoughts and opinions on a wide variety of subjects. Criticism of media and anything of subjection has existed for centuries or longer, and the Internet has allowed a whole mess of people, from many, many walks of life to voice their likes and dislikes in a number of ways, from these written reviews (HAI GUIZE) to videos and song and more. It’s important to put everything in perspective before going into this review, because I felt that Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad, a recent NEO GEO Switch port, is one of the worst gaming experiences I’ve had in a long time.
The premise and ideology is decent and pretty standard for a game of the run and gun genre. You are a team of mercenaries who’re going in to deal with a corrupt military and you won’t stop till everything that’s evil has been shot to hell. Each of the mercs has slightly different abilities and strengths, from either a wave-like bullet formation to a self-immolation attack that does heavy damage to those directly around you. Get though several waves of enemies before finding a mini boss and, finally, a boss, and then also shoot the shit out of them, too. If you’ve played literally any 2D game with a gun for the last thirty years, you have an idea of what you’re getting into. Plus, unlike some other games in the same vein, I didn’t see or encounter any civilians that I would accidentally cap and lose points, so everything that moved was open season.
Graphically, Shock Troopers is pretty good for the time as well. It’s got a Metal Slug feel to it, with Japanese animation style characters for everyone human, and the vehicles are bordering on a little cartoony, but still alright. The four mercenaries are all distinctly different and interesting people, and you may end up sticking with one character simply because they appeal to your visual sensibilities instead of their actual shooting style. Giant flashing arrows and signs let me know what was safe for me to board and take over, and anything that wasn’t given the seal of safety meant I could shoot it. And I shot a lot of things. The levels change settings cleanly, from military compound to desert base and deep into the jungle. There was effort and time put into Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad, which makes some of the shortcomings so dissatisfying.
For one, the controls are backwards and non-intuitive. You can hold down the fire button to shoot continually, but then you can’t change the direction you’re shooting, either causing you to strafe in a bizarre way to avoid being shot or to awkwardly mash the button infrequently to fan the area. If this was the only option, I would understand, but, when you board a tank, you have no problem changing your firing direction mid-stream. After holding the fire button for a moment while in a vehicle, you then begin charging a heavy shot, so you can’t even continually fire that long. It’s like the developers wanted to show that they thought it was possible and could absolutely make changing shooting direction work, but they just didn’t feel like it for reasons that begin and end with “I dunno lol.”
Jumping is also this weird thing that your character can do. It’s certainly not to get to extra areas, and it doesn’t move you faster or get you someplace secret, but it does make you immune to bullets for a split second. If you remember the original Contra, there were moments when the game changed from 2D side to a 2.5D corridor situation, and jumping was critical to weaving inbetween bullets. I’d like to believe that’s what inspired programming jumping into this game, but it simply doesn’t work. For one, you’re pretty likely to come down on a bullet anyways. For two, certain bullets and explosions simply don’t care if you’re jumping, which makes the whole process a trial and error quest with no victor and no prize. You just leap around like an idiot.
Speaking of shooting, there are a lot of enemy troops that you run into in this game that aren’t shooting at you and, in several cases, weren’t even actively seeking combat. In the first few levels, you run into enemy “troops” who either run at the sight of you, are actively hiding from you or are busy tending to their other jobs as soldiers, such as feeding horses. I don’t know quite what to call it, but there’s something uncomfortable about putting in a variety of unarmed, non combative enemies in firefighting situations where you will either shoot them on accident or on purpose. This isn’t a game that questions the morality of war and the deeper meaning of “who’s the real victim of war,” thank God, but I was a little disquieted by how many guys got shot without even showing interest in shooting back at me.
What ultimately broke this game for me was the core mechanics of how the game worked on the Switch, and, I imagine, how the game must have run on the NEO GEO. I haven’t mentioned it before, but some NEO GEO games will experience slow down in certain areas. For some games, it is either unnoticable or simply not a problem. Some frames drop, the game lags a bit, but then we pick up and move on and it doesn’t become a factor for my review. But Shock Troopers ends up with terrible, dragging slow down right from the beginning when you essentially have more than a few enemies on the screen. Everything gets all bullet-time without anyone turning into Neo or having two forgettable sequels. You just move and try to fight through the inconvenience like you’re stuck in a tragic flashback that you don’t know when it’ll end. Usually, it’s when an enemy bullet kills you and makes you drop a ton of power ups that the next you can immediately juice off of.
And that’s the final nail in the coffin: no consequence. Again, as an arcade game port, SNK brought Shock Troopers to life with the plan to milk quarters out of players. But they also wanted Shock Troopers to be completely and wholly forgiving so that people could feverishly dump money in to beat the game. So when you run out of lives, not only can you continue right where you dropped, but you can change characters on the fly and just pick up where you left off. I don’t mean at the beginning of the battle, either, I mean the exact moment where you died. I beat one boss without shooting, just running into them and doing the strong melee attacks and then dying a lot, changing characters and doing it all over again, running down his health bar one measly stab or shock at a time. Why? To prove to myself that I could actually do it, and, by God, I could. Sure, you could impose a limit on yourself for how many credits you issue, but you could also play Uniracers with a blindfold on. Just because you can create new parameters for increasing a game’s difficulty doesn’t fix the game. It’s why we don’t judge games on their mods, or at least shouldn’t.
The Switch’s library is growing by leaps and bounds in recent weeks, and more and more is coming down the pipeline all the time. For the purposes of novelty, I fully support Nintendo bringing every last monkey fighting NEO GEO game to the Switch because I am simply tickled by the idea. But I don’t know who this game is for. It’s certainly not for Metal Slug fans, it’s not for new players, and it’s not even for veterans, as the Internet universally agrees that the first Shock Troopers was better. Still, there are a fair number of reviews that paint this game in a positive light, and I simply cannot agree with them. If you had to choose between this and another game, I would almost reflexively tell you to get another game without even asking what it was. If you must build your NEO GEO collection, do what you need to, just don’t cry to me afterwards.
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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