A decade ago, World War II shooters were all the rage. In recent years, our digital warfare has migrated to more modern settings. Developers consult ex-military personnel and painstakingly research every facet of wartime combat in order to create the most authentic and engaging experience possible.
NAM-1975 does none of that.
It supposedly takes place in the final months of the Vietnam War, chronicling the story of two soldiers’ attempt to rescue a scientist, Dr. Muckly, from Viet Cong captivity.
Or something like that. It really doesn’t matter. Like most games of its type, the story is only there because it has to be; the game’s most captivating quality is its intense, gunfire-heavy brand of kick ass arcade-style shooting action.
NAM-1975 essentially plays like a light gun rail shooter minus the light gun. It might sound counter-intuitive, but it actually works extremely well. You move left to right on a static horizontal plane in the foreground while the background scrolls across war-torn environments littered with enemies.
You can’t shoot while you move (Resident Evil fans are familiar with the mechanic), so have to be intelligent about taking your shots. Standing still for a split-second often results in a quick loss of life, something you don’t have the luxury of taking for granted.
While the game does offer a fairly generous amount of continues, you’re going to need every single one of them if you’re planning on completing the game. I loathed this at first; “This isn’t the arcade. Just let me keep playing!” I cried. Yet, I allowed the game to punish me for my lack of skill and force me to repeat each section until mastered. It forced me to get better. I had to be focused 100% of the time because there was no chance I was going to button mash my way to victory.
What makes playing NAM-1975 so rewarding is that once you understand it, when you finally learn how to be effective with your assault, you feel like a legitimate badass. The enormous amount enemy fire that quickly floods the screen can be overwhelming, but once you master its evasive roll maneuver, everything changes. Dodging endless storms of bullets while fragging and flamethrowing your way through hordes of enemy soldiers, tanks, and helicopters will no doubt awaken your inner Rambo.
It takes some time to acquire the precise sense of timing required in order to consistently conquer your adversaries, but in return you’ll receive a feeling of gratification that most games simply aren’t capable of delivering.
Graphically, NAM-1975 is gorgeous, as is the norm with most games on the system. The Neo Geo’s enormous color palette is put to use well, and while the game may not be as aesthetically impressive as some of the system’s later games, it’s still extremely pleasing to the eye.
The game’s presentation is also excellent; campy comic book-style cutscenes act as interludes between missions, giving you the chance to rest your weary hands and chuckle at some awesomely bad synthesized voice acting.
I’m also amazed at how smooth animations are on some of these Neo Geo games, and this title is no different. Only Metal Slug can claim superiority over NAM-1975 in this aspect, but that is in no way a sleight against the latter. Frame rate issues are minimal at most, and thankfully never become a nuisance.
Of the 21 games included with the Neo Geo X, NAM-1975 is far and away one of the best. This game, in conjunction with the aforementioned classic Metal Slug, is reason enough to plunk down $200 bucks for the system. There’s even support for two-player co-op if you spend the extra cash for an extra joystick, which adds a ton of replay value.
So grab a case of beer and sit down with a friend for a few rounds of NAM-1975. It’s one of the many tragically underrated games that never garnered widespread attention due to the Neo Geo’s small user base. Thanks to the wonderful people at Tommo, we’ve finally been given another chance to experience it the way we should have twenty years ago.