Capcom's top-down shooter Commando was something of a trendsetter when it arrived in the '80s, and was quickly imitated by a host of clones. The appeal of the concept isn't hard to grasp; you're one guy against many, shooting your way through a series of levels and generally causing as much destruction as possible along the way. It was like an '80s action flick in video game form.
Shock Troopers sticks to this tried and tested blueprint almost slavishly, and on its original release in 1997 it was rather late to the party - the top-down shooter genre was arguably on the way out. Despite this, the game takes the foundations laid down by Capcom's classic and polishes everything up to create one of the most enjoyable run-and-gun blasters of the period. This particular release of the game is part of Japanese company Hamster's ACA Neo Geo series, and is based on the arcade MVS edition rather than the AES home version.
The controls in Shock Troopers are easy to grasp but give you an impressive degree of movement. You can shoot in eight directions but holding down the fire button allows you to "lock" your aim and strafe targets. Grenades are on-hand for dealing out major damage, but these are limited in supply and should be used sparingly. Your basic weapon has unlimited ammo but dotted around the levels you'll find other armaments such as heavy machine guns, 3-way shotguns and flamethrowers. These have limited ammunition but are well worth picking up for the additional damage they deal.
Perhaps the most important element of the control system is the evade button, which allows you to quickly roll along the ground to avoid incoming threats. You won't get very far without mastering this move, and it gives the game a fast-paced feel which is missing from other titles of this type, like Capcom's MERCS. Finally, when you're close to an enemy pressing attack will automatically trigger a melee strike - but be warned, your opponent will most like attempt to do the same, so timing is critical.
Shock Troopers offers multiple routes through the game and two modes of play - Lonely Wolf and Team Battle. The first forces you to pick a character - each with different skills - and stick with them for the duration of the game, while the latter allows you to select a team so you can switch after each level. Being able to toggle your character gives the game some variety but there's not that much difference between these modes once you're actually in-game.
Visually Shock Troopers is workmanlike rather than striking. The hand-drawn 2D graphics are a little basic in places but there's some neat scaling in place, and some of the humour which is found in fellow Neo Geo title Metal Slug is also present here; at one point, you attack an enemy hospital camp packed with wounded soldiers on stretchers. Shoot the enemies carrying the stretchers and the wounded soldiers fall to the ground in pain, complete with comedy bulging eyeballs. The animation is fantastic throughout but some of the bosses lack impact. The audio is very much the same story; the rock-style tunes suit the action perfectly but they're not exactly memorable.
Like Hamster's other ACA Neo Geo titles for the Switch, Shock Troopers benefits from a raft of new features and options which weren't present in the Wii Virtual Console edition of the game. You can pick between the Japanese or western versions as well as choose from a range of screen filters to get the image you want. High scores are recorded and submitted online, and it's possible to create a save state at any point - a handy consideration given the portable nature of the Switch itself. Infinite continues are included but if you're feeling really hardcore you can try the Hi-Score mode which limits you to a single credit and tasks you with attaining the best score possible. Caravan mode is a variation on that theme but you're restricted to a certain amount of time and have to rack up as many points as possible. The ACA emulator is pretty much flawless (following the recent patch, at least) so everything looks, moves and sounds just as it should.
There's a two-player mode that can easily be accessed using the console's detachable Joy-Con controllers, which means that friendly co-op is a possibility no matter where you happen to be. When played with a friend Shock Troopers' entertainment value skyrockets, so make sure you have a willing companion close at hand at all times.
Shock Troopers may not add much to the top-down run-and-gun genre but it's enjoyable while it lasts. The visuals weren't particularly awe-inspiring back in 1997, but everything moves at a slick pace and neat elements of humour prevent things from becoming too serious. In single player you might get a week or so of play out of this, but with two people involved it becomes a lot more appealing - and thanks to those detachable Joy-Cons, co-op sessions are easy to arrange. Shock Troopers 2nd Squad may be considered the superior release, but the original is still worth checking out if you like your old-school arcade blasters.