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Monday, September 5, 2011

Retro Review: Shock Troopers (PSN’s Neo Geo Station)

Why do they always have to take the girl? The violent gang known as the Bloody Scorpions have kidnapped a scientist and his granddaughter in hopes to obtain the ultra-powerful drug Alpha-301 – allowing the owner the power to transform typical human beings into near unstoppable ultra-soldiers that could easily take over the world. Thank God we’ve got eight heavily armed super-human soldiers at our disposal to bloody up the Scorpions, and of course save the girl in the process.

Many gamers missed out on the Neo Geo games of years past, because of the high prices of the systems and games themselves – some games costing as much as $US300 - but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t great games on their systems though. Neo Geo’s libraries were slam packed with well-known hardcore fighters and shooters galore (e.g. King of Fighters, Metal Slug, Ikari Warriors, etc.) and Shock Troopers is one of Neo Geo’s best little hidden gems that so few have heard of, or better yet, played. But, PSN’s Neo Geo Station is about to change all of that.

An isometric shooter in the likes of Neo Geo’s own Ikari Warriors, or most any of today’s dual-analogue shooters, Shock Troopers blasts its way to the top of Neo Geo Station's games list with its over-the-top action and online co-op functionality. Taking control of one of the eight heavily armed super-soldiers – each with personalized special weapons – and blasting away at everything onscreen is great fun, but nothing special in today’s world. What sets Shock Troopers as an above average shooter isn’t just the amount of action onscreen, it’s exactly what’s onscreen that matters the most. Throughout the three branching storyline paths - chosen at will - players will frequently be blowing giant helicopters and armed cargo planes out of the sky, facing iron-clad tanks head-on, and fortifying massively armed fortresses in-between the army of armed jet packed and foot soldiers, keeping the explosive action constantly fresh and oh-so challenging.

It doesn’t matter how many awesome boss fight a game can pack into its download size though, or should we say, cartridge, if the controls don’t hold up it’s a wasted effort. Thankfully, Shock Troopers controls fit the bill and do a good job of handling the intense action. While today’s dual-analogue approach to shooters is the preferred way to control these types of games, in 1997 this type of control scheme wasn’t available. Instead, the left analogue stick controls the 8-way movements of both weapons fire and character movements, and before you get all roused up over this archaic control method, developer Saurus found a quirky way to actually make it functional; by making the character strafe when the fire button (square) is held down, and by using slower character movements, quickly tapping the fire button and aiming in the direction of the enemies only moves the characters a few steps, keeping you from getting too close to enemies. Also, if you do get in close, a powerful melee attack can be performed with the same fire button. Another great control gimmick featured is the ability to roll, which gives a moment of invincibility to evade incoming attacks, and mastering this ability is paramount to surviving this vicious gang. It does take a few minutes to become acquainted with this somewhat unorthodox control scheme, but once you do, you’ll be blasting down enemies in all directions with ease.

Graphically, the game is still impressive today. While younger gamers used to the HD ‘shine’ might disagree, the old-school look and play style combined make for a truly nostalgic shooter experience that will please any fans of the genre that grew up during this time period. The sounds are a mixed bag of sorts though. While the explosions and gunfire sound great, and the synth-rock soundtrack fit the explosive action on-hand, the characters repetitive dialog does get a bit annoying after a while. It’s a minor gripe, but not something unexpected for a game of this time period. Overall, the smooth character animations and large, colourful enemy sprites had us coming away quite impressed, especially when this game released so long ago.

A few nice touches heighten the overall experience found in Shock Troopers: not only can the game be played with a single hero (Lonely Wolf), but also as a 3-man team as well (Team Battle), which allows for the player to swap between three different heroes at will. If that isn’t enough, the game can be also taken online for some co-op action as well, and this is where Shock Troopers truly shines the brightest; dropping armoured helicopters out of the sky with exploding boomerangs is fun, but bringing a buddy along for the action doubles the fun. The game is also jammed packed with lots of levels to bring destruction too, each with its own unique environment and setting, and it does a fantastic job of keeping the repetition at bay. While some slowdown is found here and there, there’s nothing game breaking to be found. Limited continues keeps the difficulty high and only those with the utmost skills will actually stop the evil gang and save the girl. The only real game changer we could find here was that if you do bring a buddy along for the action and end up saving the girl, who gets to keep her?

Explosive action, intense fire fights, whacked out storyline, and a cast of heroes armed to singlehandedly take down an entire army, Shock Troopers just oozes the nostalgic shooter action from the late 90’s era that we adore so much. Don’t make the same mistake again and miss out on this hidden Neo Geo gem. No longer do you have to face the high prices to play this awesome game, so head over to PSN’s Neo Geo Station and download away. Oh, and grab a friend and few rations too, because if you survive this fight, one of you just might win the girl in the process.

-Christopher Ingram

Retro Review: Shock Troopers (PSN’s Neo Geo Station)
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