The latest release in SNK and Hamster’s new mobile Arcade Archives NEOGEO line is one of the launch titles for the NEOGEO itself: NAM-1975 ($3.99). While the console would come to be known mostly for its fighting games and the Metal Slug series of run-and-gun games, things were less obvious at the start. A scatter-shot spread of nine games in various genres arrived with the NEOGEO when it hit in 1990, and one of the clear favorites of the bunch was this very game. A gallery shooter set in the Vietnam War, NAM-1975 offered plenty of action for one or two players.
But launch titles tend to benefit from a bit of a halo effect, don’t they? Especially launch titles on flashy new hardware like the NEOGEO. NAM-1975 was indeed a cool-looking game, and there was a certain spectacle to it. You could say the same for most of the launch games, though. NAM-1975‘s popularity came from a variety of factors. First, its theme. Enough time had passed since the close of the Vietnam War that America was now looking back on it through the scope of entertainment. Platoon and Full Metal Jacket were big hits in the theaters. Tour of Duty was holding up its end on TV. It was only natural that video games based on the topic would also garner interest.
TAD Corporation’s Cabal had been a solid success only a couple of years before, bringing greater popularity to a relatively quiet branch of the shoot-em-up genre. Gallery shooters were enjoying a brief time in the sun as a result, and it’s likely no coincidence that SNK chose to have one at the NEOGEO’s launch. The last piece of the puzzle? NAM-1975 is just a really good arcade game. You shoot your way through six intense stages of action, picking up weapons, lobbing grenades, and rolling your way out of danger as best as you can. The graphics are great, and the digitized voices had a lot of impact at the time. It’s hard as hell, and it plays a nasty trick with its final boss, but such was the state of arcade games at the time.
If you’re unfamiliar with gallery shooters, they’re somewhat similar to a light gun shooter but without the light gun. You not only need to move your crosshair around, but you also have to keep your on-screen character out of the line of fire. If you’re shooting, you’re not moving. Part of the fun of games like these is in knowing how to balance your defense and your offense, and NAM-1975 certainly nails that aspect. You’re given a standard gun and a limited supply of grenades, plus the handy ability to dash and roll. You can collect new weapons with limited ammo, plus some more powerful bombs. If you keep your eyes peeled for hostages to rescue, you may even end up with a little temporary support.
Classic gallery shooters can be a little tough to play from a modern perspective. It can be tricky to handle the aiming if you’re used to things like twin-stick controls. It’s even weirder when you’re using touch controls. Everything in your instincts will make you want to touch to aim, but you’ll have to manipulate the virtual stick to move your crosshairs around the screen, all while being careful with those virtual buttons so that you’re moving your character when you want to. I can see why NAM-1975 was selected for the ACA NEOGEO treatment this early on, but it’s perhaps not the smoothest of transitions to touch controls.
Of course, like the other mobile ACA NEOGEO releases, this game has support for external controllers. If you have one of those, this game plays just as well as it ever did. Throw in all of the other features that come with this line, and you’ve got a nice slice of arcade action with plenty of options and extras to tinker with. For the price of a mere sixteen quarters, NAM-1975 is easy to recommend. You get both the Japanese and overseas versions of the game, a few different modes to play, online leaderboards, and if you scrounge up a second controller you can even enjoy the pleasures of co-op multiplayer.
If you don’t have an external controller, it’s a lot harder to get behind this release. It’s not anything that Hamster has done wrong, but just that the game isn’t a good fit for touch controls. No amount of love put into the package itself could change that. If you think you can wrestle with the touch controls and enjoy yourself anyway, then give it a shot. After all, you can keep feeding in credits to compensate for any mistakes, at least up until the point that you can’t. If you practice well enough you may even get the hang of it. But it’s clearly not the optimal way to enjoy this classic.
NAM-1975 can’t rely on its impressive presentation as much these days, but the core gameplay here remains as enjoyable as ever provided you have an external controller. If you’re stuck with touch controls you will most likely find this a rather difficult game to deal with. That’s on top of the game’s already sharp difficulty curve, which hits a nasty spike with the final boss. You can still enjoy it with virtual controls, but you’re most likely going to be fighting it the whole way through. A solid classic, a game with serious historical value, but maybe not the greatest fit for mobile.