“Summer 1975. Nightmare awaits me. I am being recalled back to Natorm headquarters. Do I have to go back this hell again?”. Well soldier, you have to. I will simply leave it with this and say that the story is only there to give some sort of a plot and reason for going back to Vietnam. In trying to avoid any big discussions about the Vietnam war itself: let’s look at this as an old school arcade game for the lovely Neo Geo-system and not as a political message, okay? I just want to play a fun game.
Shooting from the sideline
Starring a soldier called “Silver” who is returning to Vietnam, it might not be surprising to hear that this is a shooter. However, we are presented with a fixed third person shooter, where you can only move left and right, and shoot enemies in front of you. You will automatically have your playing field moved through a stage or be stationary against a boss, with A to shoot a rapid fire machine gun, B to throw grenades, and C to either dodge roll or dash. When you move the crosshair, your character will also slowly move towards that direction. Due to having one button mapped to dash and making it so that when you shoot your character will stand still, it made it easy to control Silver’s position and be more aware of where he was. This is very important as there will be shots coming at you from everywhere.
In front of you, enemies will come from every angle and they want you dead. Bombing planes, soldiers with grenades, dodge rolling army men and plenty more. The variety of enemies is well done, making it so you will have to strategize who to shoot first. While the stages are similar in concept, they have some minor tweaks to them, such as one stage taking place in the air, with plenty of skydiving army-men, ending with a bossfight against a giant plane, and another stage where enemies will be hiding behind destructible buildings or in the grass. The amount of shots that can be on the screen is impressive as well, and while never hard to notice, it will test your reaction time. This is where the dodge-roll comes in as an important feature. It is not just a way to get out of harm’s way, but makes you temporarily invincible as you do the roll. While it is mapped to the same button as the dash, it requires a down-left/right d-pad press to be activated and I never mixed it up with the dash-ability.
While your machine gun and the limited amount of grenades will get you far, power-ups are always nice to have and thankfully: both killed enemies and destroyed objects will throw them towards you. They range from 3 different guns, 2 different types of grenades, twin cursors, points, and extra lives. For the guns, we have the rapid-fire vulcan, exploding missiles and a flamethrower, all having limited ammo. They all are powerful additions and none feels less useful than the other, but none of them are really unique. The grenades are a bit different as you can pick up either standard ones that will give one explosion or spark bombs, which sets off several explosions. Twin cursors will give you two cursors and make your weapon fire in both directions simultaneously and points can lead to extra lives. You can also save hostages, which will be shooting randomly at the ground. While her shots are not much better than a stormtrooper’s, at least she might hit someone.
If it had been just this, I would have said you were going to need every extra life and continue you got, as this is a very challenging game. While the dodge-roll will help, the game keeps you on your toes and you must be aware of your surroundings at all times, making it a fantastic challenge. You have a decent amount of continues, which will put you right where you left off, only making you lose all of your points. Losing a life in general will also make your power-ups go away. But there is unfortunately one big problem here: you can save your progress when you get a game over, which will only have you start at the same level as you died at. This makes the game too easy and because of this you will see the ending after only a couple of reloads. I wish this was left out, as it would have made the game much better in its challenge, giving you a reason to strive and become good at it. Another element I was not a big fan of were the boss fights. Some could be a challenge, but more often than not they were similar and even easier than the main-stages, which was a letdown.
Despite these issues, Nam-1975 provides a fun and enjoyable 30 minutes of game-time. While there is not much to really brag about or praise it for, it is still an enjoyable and hectic shooter that is fun from beginning to end. Even better is that it can be played in co-op throughout the whole game and we all know: it is dangerous to go alone. At least, if you don’t save.
Gameplay Score: 7/10
Creativity vs “realism”
Representing a warzone is not always easy. Nam-1975 plays it somewhat safe, giving us varied locations that fits the areas we are in, such as ruined towns, swamps, jungles and even taking to the sky. The areas are detailed and the enemies are well designed and fitting for this war zone, despite some wearing army clothes in pink. I suppose someone wants to be fabulous when they bite the dust. The most impressive part, however, is the fluent animation. Everything from dying to dodging looks impressive and the draw-distance with enemies getting smaller the further away they are is also very well done. The guns and explosions are all satisfying both visually and sound wise.
The music is good, utilizing a lot of drums and trumpets, which is fitting for army-troops. The soundtrack gives us both upbeat tunes for the action-heavy parts and more depressive tones when the area is literally dark. The pieces for the boss fights can be on the repetitive side, but they were never there for too long and most of the tunes were stuck in my head for good reasons.
However, it is weird how unimaginative it can be, when the deaths, the enemies and the giant machines can be over the top on a few occasions. It feels like a missed opportunity to not go a little bit further to make this take on the Vietnam war become unique. We are also presented with still-images for cutscenes, and they are terribly poor, with uninteresting visuals and literally phoned in voice-acting. Despite of this, it all looks and sounds good in general. It just feels like the opportunity for more creativity was possible, but not given.
Presentation Score: 7/10
Nam-1975 is a fun shooter that gives you a ton of bullets to deal with, and good enough variety to keep you entertained for half an hour. It could have been more personalized and I only wished it saved high scores and not progress. However, the title gives you exactly what it wants to sell and with good quality. This might not be the finest game for the Neo Geo, but it is definitely worth a shot.