There are few games that enjoy the sort of cult status Shock Troopers does. As one of the few Neo Geo games that was only released in arcades and not the Neo Geo console as well, the original Shock Troopers wasn’t as widely played as the likes of Metal Slug and SNK’s various fighting games. Those who did manage to play it loved it enough to justify a sequel though, and so Shock Troopers 2nd Squad was born.
Like its predecessor, 2nd Squad – which did get a home release, by the way – has you leading a squad of soldiers through a bunch of enemy-infested locations in order to defeat an evil force. In this case it’s the Dio Corporation, led by a chap called Nakatomi who decides to blow up an entire city. It’s up to the Shock Troopers 2nd Squad to fill Nakatomi up with an unreasonable amount of bullets so that he’ll stop trying to take over the world and just... well, die instead.
The 2nd Squad name isn’t just there to be quirkier than simply calling the game Shock Troopers 2, it does actually give you a completely new team of characters to choose from. While the original game offered eight different Shock Troopers to play as, here there are only four. That’s a little underwhelming, but at least this time there’s a bit more variety: in the first game each character had different special bomb weapons, whereas in 2nd Squad each has a distinctly different main weapon, too.
In fact, most of what defines this game is how much it removes from the original rather than builds on it. As well as the drop from eight characters to four, the Team Battle mode has been removed. This means you can no longer choose three different characters with one life each and switch between them at will, now you can only pick one character with three lives. This is a shame; Team Battle was one of the best aspects of the first Shock Troopers because it added a tactical element to proceedings as you could call up certain characters to handle certain types of battle.
There’s also less choice when it comes to selecting your route through the game. The first Shock Troopers was unique in that it let you choose between three different routes – jungle, valley and mountain – each offering five completely different levels followed by a standard final stage. This time you only get to choose between two routes – Naval Base or Air Base – and the first, fourth and fifth levels are the same regardless of which you choose. This means a total of seven possible different stages, compared to 17 in the first game.
The thing is, while this review so far sounds like it’s going to be lucky to hit a 5, Shock Troopers 2nd Squad is actually a very good game. Judged on its own merits, what’s there is entertaining and gunning down large swathes of bad guys is still greatly satisfying (although there’s a hell of a lot of slowdown at regular intervals).
To its credit, it also adds features that weren’t in the original. You can now jump in and out of vehicles like tanks, jeeps and even mechs, giving it a bit of a Metal Slug feel at times. The boss battles are also much larger than those in the first Shock Troopers, with enormous screen-filling enemies to defeat – many of which have multiple weak spots that have to be taken out.
It also goes with a different art style, though whether it’s better depends on personal taste. Gone are the standard, hand-drawn sprites from the original game, and replacing them are pre-rendered 3D characters that have then been turned into sprites (similar to the technique used in games like Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario RPG). Some will think it’s an improvement, others will think it removes a lot of the first game’s charm. All we can say is it’s different: look at both games together and judge for yourself.
Ultimately, Shock Troopers 2nd Squad’s biggest setback is that it’s a sequel to Shock Troopers. Had it been a standalone game there would be nothing to compare it to, but anyone who played the original to death won’t fail to see the cuts that have been made in the sequel. That’s the thing, though; a lot of people didn’t play the original to death. Switch owners in particular, many of whom are discovering this game for the first time, will be able to enjoy it with fresh eyes instead of constantly comparing it to its predecessor.
2nd Squad takes some things away from the first Shock Troopers, but adds some elements of its own. The result is a game that’s either better or worse, depending on your own personal taste. Regardless of that, both games are underrated shooters that are packed with action, and instead of choosing between them, fans of old-school run ‘n’ gun games should really consider adding both to their Switch library.