Actually, I’m not entirely sure where or when I first came across Shock Troopers, but I think it was in the arcade. It was in the same MVS unit as King of Fighters ’97, and those were the two games that got the most of my play time, by far.
Some people describe Shock Troopers as an overhead Metal Slug. There are some similarities to be sure, but Shock Troopers is really a lot more than that. There are a ton of levels, with multiple paths through the game. There are eight different characters to choose from, each of which is unique in some way. Perhaps even taking a page from King of Fighters, you can choose to play in “Team Mode,” where you pick three different characters and switch between them. The variety is amazing, and gives the game a lot of replay value.
Shock Troopers was a post-prime release on the Neo Geo, coming out in 1997. Unlike Metal Slug, it didn’t really catch on in popularity at the time, and remained fairly obscure for several years. Poor distribution probably didn’t help, either. It didn’t even get a proper home release on the AES. I feel lucky that I lived near an arcade that had the game. (Meanwhile, Metal Slug was everywhere.) It wasn’t until Shock Troopers started popping up on compilations like SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1, and digital distribution stores like PlayStation Network and Wii Virtual Console, that it finally started to get the recognition it deserved.
Still, it seems it was popular enough to get one follow-up in 1998: Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad. The plot and characters have nothing to do with the original game, but it still has the same overhead run-‘n-gun gameplay. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have anywhere near as much variety, with fewer levels, characters and weapons, and no Team Mode. It does add vehicles, making it feel even more like Metal Slug, and it has a different graphical style, using pre-rendered sprites.
I never had the chance to play 2nd Squad in the arcade, and it wasn’t until just recently that I was able to buy it on Wii Virtual Console and try it for the first time. I think I agree with the majority that it doesn’t quite live up to the original, but it’s still a superior run-‘n-gun in its own right. One thing is for sure, though: I would definitely love to see the series come back with a third installment.
Shock Troopers may have never gained the popularity of Metal Slug or King of Fighters, but it is definitely one of the Neo Geo’s hidden gems. In fact, I would say I actually like it better than Metal Slug. The large variety the game offers gives it a lot of replay value. You can always try different characters and different paths through the game. It’s definitely a series to check out for any Neo Geo or shooting game fan.
Next time, I’ll talk about one more classic series on the Neo Geo, and of course, it’s another fighting game…