The Expendables 2 is soon upon, and as such, we’re taking a look back at some of the best military-themed action games that have graced video gaming. We’re not talking realistic first-person shooters like Call of Duty; it’s all about hardcore, near-mindless twitch soldiering that dominated the 8-bit and 16-bit era as the Cold War thawed. No need to carefully manage supplies or call for back up: Simply check your brain at the door, grab the AK, and prepare to leave a foreign body count higher than anything Stallone, Arnie, Dolph, or Norris ever tallied. During my “research” (which consisted of me playing naked, at 3AM,with a box of Dominos at my side), it became obvious that these war games were more than simple recreations of humanity’s flawed (and recurring) activity; they were also snapshots of time. It’s no coincidence that these titles emerged in a period where the threat of global nuclear annihilation had combat on everyone’s brain, particularly SNK, a company that takes half of the slots if this countdown. Go, America!
There’s no denying that Predator, Ahnuld’s ultra-manly take on Beowulf, was a heavy influence in this alien slaughter-fest, (as well as Aliens, and to a lesser extent, Rambo), but in the eyes of most Gen Xers weened on a steady diet of muscle men in jingoistic action flicks, this is a testosterone-filled positive. Contra is all about shootin’, shootin’, and shootin’ some more as you and your hard-bodied partner wipe out waves and waves of alien invaders that, for some reason, thought it wise to set up shop on an odd remote island that somehow managed to have both jungle and arctic environments. Flaws in alien logic aside, Contra is a helluva game for run-and-gun fans who thrive on a constant supply of targets, kick ass weapons (spread gun, anyone?), killer music, varied levels, and extreme difficulty. Show of hands: How many of you actually brought down Red Falcon without utilizing the Konami code? 99% of you should be shamed for fibbing and need to one credit the game in order for your other testicle to descend.
Guerrilla War (SNK, NES)
It’s simple to dismiss Guerrilla War as SNK’s attempt to milk the Ikari Warriors engine for all it’s worth, but I declare it the superior title. Why? SNK gave gamers unlimited grenades and continues, awesome special weapons (such as flamethrowers), and a load of tanks. Think that makes the game breeze? Think again. While you can mow down anything that dares breathe in your vicinity, you will die (a lot), as the game is filled with cheap deaths; the unlimiteds just make it more fun, especially when you’re teamed with a bloodthirsty partner. By eliminating the need to carefully meter ammo, you’re free to tackle the game in any matter that you wish; you can plow through for a (somewhat) quickie victoly, or take your time and pick apart the enemy waves so you can rescue hostages for big bonus points (they can be remarkably easy to slay while bucking your AK maniacally). Plus, all the godless socialists among us can take pride in playing as the massively commercialized Che, as Guerrilla War is entitled Guevara in the Land of the Rising Sun – - and player two assumed the mantle of the seemingly immortal Fidel Castro. YOU GOT SERVED.
Metal Slug 3 (SNK, Neo Geo)
Along with Garou: Mark of the Wolves, King of the Fighters ’98: Ultimate Match, and Samurai Shodown 2, Metal Slug 3 is one of SNK’s crown achievements. Metal Slug 3 is the least military-heavy themed title in this line up with the yetis, zombies, UFOs, and such, but Marco and company pack enough heavy metal in this game to qualify. The plot involves alien kidnappings, Nazis, The Illuminati, anal probes, Mulder, and Scully–or something of that ilk. Seriously, in a game entitled Metal Slug where you main mission is see how many rounds an average soldiers body can take before shredding, storyline isn’t particularly essential. This title also introduced the world to the Elephant Slug, Ostrich Slug, Slug Copter (among others) and helped solidify Metal Slug as the side-scrolling shooting franchise. It out-Contra‘d Contra (which anyone that knows me will identify as no small statement), when Konami’s classic series dropped the ball in the move to the third dimension.
Bionic Commando (Capcom, NES)
Commando‘s Super Joe proved incapable of living up to his name when The Baddz (who were no way inspired by the Nazis) captured him, so the U. S. government had no choice but to rescue’s America’s formerly premier bad ass by sending in its real super soldier: Rad Spencer. Sure, a metal grappling gun replaced an arm, but the reason he’s the man is his totally tubular name that evoked ’80s surf slang and Robert Urich’s greatest TV show. Although Rad Spencer couldn’t jump, his arm enabled him to latch onto objects and swing through levels while popping off his pistol; he’s like the love-child of Spider-Man and The Punisher, really. The enemy grunts are just that, easily-disposable (and forgettable) Spencer fodder, but when you defeat Bionic Commando‘s embodiment of evil, Master D (who could have moonlighted as an MC), you’re rewarded with his head exploding in an awesome display of 8-bit violence.
Iron Tank: The Invasion of Normandy (SNK, NES)
Let’s see if this plot rings a bell: a hardcore combat vet named “Snake” undergoes a mission to bust up an enemy’s stronghold while battling heavy artillery, and chatting it up on a radio. Ok, the lead character’s name is “Iron Snake,” but I’ll be damned if this doesn’t sound like a Konami production despite SNK’s label slapped across the front of the cart. But once you pop in the game, you realize that Iron Tank is real a high-end version of (surprise, surprise) Ikari Warriors where you blow up rival tanks and, in a one of the greatest thrills in the 8-bit era, run over baddies with your treads. Sweetness. Note: Iron Tank‘s hero, Iron Snake, is also known as Paul (one of the stars of Ikari Warriors), who is also known as Ralf (striking star of the King of the Fighters series).
ShockTroopers (Saurus, Neo Geo)
Consider it the overhead version of Metal Slug, spiritual successor to Ikari Warriors, and one of the most overlooked run-and-gun titles in video game history. After a terrorist squad named the Bloody Scorpions (awesome!) kidnaps a world-class scientist and his daughter in order to gain hold of a powerful drug, you’re sent in to clean up shop. Typical storyline, but oh, the playability. ShockTroppers offers excellent gameplay: When you power the game on (or drop a quarter into the machine if you can actually find a Big Red in your area), you choose whether to go through the game in “Lonely Wolf” or “Team Battle” mode. In “Lonely Wolf,” you control one character with multiple lives, while “Team Battle” lets you pick a crew of three soldiers, switching between them on-the-fly, and exploiting their special abilities – - but you share a single life bar. Shocktroopers utilizes an Ikari Warriors-styled 8-way joystick and four buttons (fire, dodge, special weapon, and switch characters), so you can strafe by holding down the fire button. Visually, the top-down, 3/4 game bristlse with colorful sprites and exciting animation, which culminates in stage 3′s badass motorcyle battle in which you pump hot justice from your hog.