We all have to start somewhere, don’t we? The first works of every artist and creator need to make an impression, however shallow, and it’s up to the audience to remember or disregard it in favor of what comes next. The NES famously started with both Mario and Duck Hunt ready for play, and the rest was pure ecstasy for children of the 80s. But can anyone remember what the Sega Genesis’ first game was? Believe it or not, Golden Axe, Space Harrier II, Ghouls N’ Ghosts and a couple others could be obtained at the beginning, but everyone would probably figure “Sonic” would be a good choice. And I highly doubt anyone would be held in incredulity for forgetting the very first NEO GEO title, Nam-1975.
Right away, you kind of know what you’re in for here. As a 1990s port of an arcade game, the plot is very tenuous and kind of dopey. You’re a scientist military mega soldier who may or may not be retired, but you’re coming back for one last mission to save a doctor’s daughter. Where is she? Why, kidnapped by the North, of course! North Vietnam that is, which was a big deal back in the 70s and now we all kind of have focused our attention on another northern country. So you hop in your helicopter and fly down to the southernmost part of Vietnam, ready to shoot your way to the top and rescue this girl. And, yes, it’s seriously just you. Go get em, tiger.
Nam-1975 is a side-scrolling arcade shooter, which means you statically move left and right in the foreground and all the enemies, ships and planes appear at staggered distance in the background. You can run side to side, but you don’t control the progression of the game, as it automatically scrolls you along rivers, mountains and the villages of fictional Vietnam. You have a very wide amount of screen to cover with fire, and a lot of soldiers shooting at you and, oh yea, you can’t walk and shoot at the same time. What happens is a situation where you have to make a lot of flash decisions to move, shoot and keep moving. You will almost certainly get shot, and Nam-1975 plays by Contra rules: one bullet, you’re dead, three dead, you’re done.
As far as an arcade shooter goes, the appeal is immediate. There’s a ton of targets that pop up and being accurate and fast results in a fast coast down easy street. Enemies rarely start shooting the second they appear and you can usually get a bead before the first bullets come. A majority of shots from the opposition also move slowly, so, as long as there aren’t too many, you can dodge with a certain amount of wiggle room. The problem comes when you have any more than four enemies onscreen at once, and that will happen several times within the first minute of play. Once that happens, you probably don’t have a window of escape anymore, and then you’re street pizza. It can get very frustrating to be doing so well and keeping up a high survival rate, then suddenly hit an unlucky patch and get shot multiple times in a short window.
There are weapons powerups that Nam-1975 gives generously, but they’re really debatable in quality. The machine gun, obviously, is the weapon of choice, giving you rapid fire for a period of time and allowing for total blanketing of the area ahead. The flamethrower, though it looks cool, feels like it just wastes time with burning animations and the incinerated outlines of the foes. I think this was meant to be an homage to things like Apocalypse Now! and it’s own fascination of fire, but I often felt like bullets from not-on-fire foes. There’s also grenades that the game drops like candy, but it’s totally a matter of success in accuracy. You’d assume a grenade would have a large blast radius, but you’re be completely mistaken. Many a grenade was lobbed to absolutely no effect.
Graphically, I think we’re seeing some incredibly low effort on the part of the NEO GEO. This may have been their premiere title, and it is, arguably, much better than the 8 and early 16 bit graphics of this time, but it really looks incredibly dated on the Switch. Sure, it’s an emulated title, but the renderings and design are just…hokey. The soldiers are little more than stick figures, the grenades are like baseballs that were hastily colored differently, and I urge you to skip the cutscene at the beginning of the game. We do a close up of our protagonist that makes him look like he’s actively experiencing a cocaine bender and should be the last person we send into war torn Vietnam. Everything after that is still ok, but that first opening shot really sticks in my mind in a negative way.
And, as an arcade shooter, Nam-1975 does benefit a lot from Hamster’s inclusion of the online leader boards and time attacks. Interestingly, the entirety of Nam-1975 can be completed in under 30 minutes, so it stands to reason that a good time attack score would be hard to compete with. This is an instance where I feel the game benefits a lot from being thrust online, because I can’t see people commuting from other locales to play an old Nam-1975 machine, but I can easily see people wanting to play this by themselves, slightly ashamed but deeply enjoying a good point spree.
I didn’t care for Nam-1975, but that doesn’t remove its merit as the first NEO GEO title, nor as a pretty decent arcade shooter. I do wish the Switch had some kind of light gun peripheral, but I see the NEO GEO didn’t for this title, so it’s all conjecture and wishful thinking. If you want something to mimic those between scenes in Contra and really need to light people on fire, good news, I found your new pasttime.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.