ACA NEOGEO ‘Nam 1975 was the very first game released for the Neo Geo way back in 1990. But putting it into a category is somewhat tricky; it is a third person shooter, but with a twist. This game then is genesis for the Neo Geo range – but how does it hold up today, 27 years later?
The story is the usual throwaway nonsense. A team of crack specialists are sent back into Vietnam after a U.S. scientist, Dr.Muckley, is kidnapped along with his daughter. Impressively, the attract sequence, and the intro to each level are fully voice acted, which back in the day must have seemed like some kind of witchcraft. When I say acted, they sound like someone performed them with a Speak n’ Spell (remember those, kids?), but for the time period, it was a huge achievement.
Again, as is usual when starting these ports up, you have a choice of modes as to how to play. You can play in the Original Mode, with either English or Japanese language. Hi Score mode meanwhile lets you chase scores on the global leaderboard with a single continue, and Caravan Mode allows you to do the same, but with a five minute timer. There is nothing here which we haven’t seen in the other recent Neo Geo games that have been released.
Now we come onto the game, and the gameplay. I can honestly say I have never played anything quite like ‘Nam 1975, and this is down to the unique way in which the controls are used. The left stick, when no buttons are pressed, moves your character around left and right, viewed from a third person perspective. When the fire button is held down, a cross hair appears on the screen and the left stick now moves that around instead, while your character remains stationary. Basically, if you are moving, you ain’t firing, and vice versa.
This does cause some odd moments of confusion, as the screen is constantly scrolling from right to left, and your character keeps side stepping to maintain his place on the screen, but doesn’t move within the screen unless you stop firing. Clear? Excellent. The second and third buttons that are mapped throw grenades and either sprint or dodge, depending on what you are doing with the left stick. If the dodge button is held and the left stick is tilted forwards, the guy will move faster, if it’s tilted back then he will execute a Para-roll and dodge incoming fire. As you can imagine, in the heat of battle, it’s quite easy to mix up a roll with a run, and quite often I jogged to my death, instead of rolling to freedom. It is largely my fault, I can’t deny it, and I’m sure with more practice I’d get the hang of it. But it can be somewhat confusing.
Furthering the gameplay angle and we’re basically left with scrolling the screen, shooting enemies ranging from simple grunts to tanks and helicopters, getting to the end of the level and fighting a boss. There’s a lot of variety in the enemies though; soldiers take only a single hit to down, the beefier guys take more, helicopters even more, and the bosses define the phrase “bullet sponge”. As you’d expect from a game of this ilk, the enemies occasionally drop powerups for your gun; my personal favourite being the flamethrower, which sweeps a bar of flame based death across the screen, immolating anything in its path.
Now and then, you’ll see a large enemy holding a lady hostage, and if you manage to kill him, but not her, she’ll transform into a fearsome lady soldier, standing shoulder to shoulder and shooting where you shoot until you inevitably die. At this point, she seems to remember she has an appointment somewhere and disappears. Having another gun by your side makes a difference, so trying to stay alive while she’s in play makes a lot of sense.
So I carried on, shooting wildly hither and yon, using continues and wasting bosses. Then I got to the final boss where there is a twist in the story, which obviously I’m not going to spoil. Here I found a very strange design decision that was taken by the development team: on the run up to the final boss, you can use as many continues as you like, but in the last boss fight, if you don’t beat him in one continue, the game ends. Finito. Start again.
The first time it happened, I thought it was a glitch, so ran through again and it happened again. Cue some internet research and this mechanic is apparently the thing that ‘Nam 1975 is remembered most for, being called “the infamous last boss fight”. Having battled through, then being denied at the last fight due to bad luck or rubbish playing (the latter being the most likely excuse) did rankle with me, I can’t lie. However, the game is what it is, and has been for 27 years, so if they changed it you can imagine the outraged screams of retro fans everywhere.
All in all, weird control system and all, ‘Nam 1975 is a game that deserves attention. It has a real “one more go” appeal, and for £6.39 it is hard not to recommend it. It won’t be for everyone, but it’s a worthy challenge, and I think it’s stood the test of time pretty well.