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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Retro Review: Shock Troopers (PSN/PSP)

Shooters have taken many different forms over the years, whether that be first-person, third-person, isometric, 2D platformer, or even space shooters. Given all the variations on such a basic formula, it’s not hard to see why SNK invested into the shooting realm by developing or publishing titles like Ikari Warriors and Vanguard. Shock Troopers, though, is the definitive example of a polished shooting game that exceeds most of its peers - regardless of whatever subgenre it may be.

The core gameplay on offer here is the same run-n’-gun action that many NES games featured back in the days of yore. Dodging bullets whist firing them at rapid rates is not the only key to victory, as you also need to master the fine art of controlling your character. Each trooper has his or her own individual characteristics, most of which noticeably affect the how the skirmishes play out. You can choose to go the route of a lone wolf or suit up a team of three to take down your adversaries. In short, what you’re getting here is some of the finest action the Neo Geo has to offer, and it’s only improved by all the additions to the regular formula.

While most screenshots seem to showcase simply running through the environments, there’s a remarkable amount of battles that take place off your feet. Some of these detours include climbing a mountain, manoeuvring across a rope, or riding a moving vehicle – all while fending off troopers who are out to get you. These segments help to keep you on your toes and offer subtle variety that helps keep already invigorating gameplay even fresher.

The controls may take some time for new-age gamers to adapt to its non-dual-stick aiming approach, but it’s as good as a control scheme as you’re going to get. This is to say that Shock Troopers has the most fluid and comfortable controls I’ve ever felt in a retro run-n’-gun game. Holding down the square button will expel an endless stream of bullets, but beware that you can’t change your direction mid-fire. The ability to shoot in eight directions definitely comes into play habitually. Rolling out of the way to escape enemy fire is tremendously satisfying to the point where I accidentally end up killing myself just to see that fluid animation.

Shock Troopers has its fair share of subtleties that add to the overall experience. When you die and have to use a continue credit, you’re able to switch characters or teams on the fly and resume from the same place you died. There’s no need to return to the selection screen like most games before and after this one (which is a shame, as I would like to see this trend become more prevalent). Speaking of the character selection screen, unlike with World Heroes, the screen actually shows character names and the time limit. The 20 second time cap can be a tad annoying, but at least you know to hurry up since you’re given on-screen feedback this time around.

In between battles, you get to see a bit of the game’s story. It’s nothing special, but it offers a nice break from all of the intense scuffles. The gist is that a scientist and his granddaughter have been kidnapped by a menacing group called the Bloody Scorpions. Their goal is to obtain a drug that transforms humans into super soldiers. Aside from three unique story paths, the plot really takes a backseat here - that’s a good thing.

Shock Troopers can be challenging, but it almost always feels as if you’re suitably equipped to deal with any ordeals that may come your way. Even if you find yourself struggling, you can make use of save points offered in this edition to ensure your victories. Heck, you can also grab a second player to join your adventures via the PSP’s Ad-Hoc multiplayer. With four difficulty levels to choose from, the more hardcore among us can max up the challenge while newcomers enjoy the scenery and get the basic fun experience. Put simply, it’s got quite the appeal for fans of shooting things on the fly.

Like with most Neo Geo games, the visuals still shine brightly today. In this PSP port, you can change the background that is displayed behind the square screen or adjust the size to your heart’s content. The action is effectively communicated to the player, with little to no problems regarding direction and gauging distance. There is slowdown on some occasions, but the effect is minimal and rare to the point where it’s hardly worth mentioning. It’s really a treat to play this on a handheld, regardless of its arcade nature, as it converts well to a portable game.

Sonically, you can look forward to a track of synthesized rock and yelping characters. The former is a treat for the ears, while the latter is more like a lingering poison. As is customary with Neo Geo ports, you can listen to the soundtrack in the options menu as you wish, if you’re the type to utilize such functions.

If you’ve never played a run-n’-gun shooter before, Shock Troopers should be one of your top contenders, regardless of your skill level. It takes what gamers love about the subgenre and adds nuances that increase playability exponentially. Unless you’re clutching that twin-stick controller and refusing to let go, give this one a try.

- Clark A


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Retro Review: Shock Troopers (PSN/PSP)
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