Unusually, I hadn't heard a great deal about Operation: Vietnam before it hit the PlayTM's door mat one sunny morning. Picking it up, my first impression was that this could finally be a DS version of the ever popular Cannon Fodder series from yesteryear. The DS just seems so well suited to hosting a re-imagining of that classic tactical shooter. Popping the game in the slot, my daydream was quickly dispelled. Whilst the game shares its setting and perspective with Sensible Software's game, the similarities end there.
Enough about what might have been, let's look at what we actually have in hand. Operation: Vietnam is a budget priced shoot 'em up with a top down perspective and vertical progression through each level. You take command of a little troop of men battling their way through the Vietnamese landscape. Political and ethical issues aside, this will probably already be giving itself away as a derivative setting for an unimaginative production.
The game controls, for which we had such high hopes, all but ignore the use of the touch screen apart from making simple game choices such as the current soldier you are controlling and giving orders. The majority of the work is done with the good old D-pad. What's more this is then overloaded with both movement and firing. After Phantom Hourglass's excellent touch controls and a raft of twin stick shooters, this really feels like a step backwards for the handheld. Although we never felt totally at home with them, given a little time and perseverance and you do acclimatise to the scheme.
More interesting is the variety of characters you control, your team includes everything from snipers to heavy weapons to hand gunners and medics. As you encounter different sections of each level you can have a bit of fun figuring out which combination will best serve you. To turn up the pressure somewhat, the game only provides a subset of your troops for each environment which makes carefully consideration all the more important. Whatever you decide you must make it through the level without losing all your guys or be forced back to the beginning to try again. Whilst this sort of enforced repeat play serves to lengthen the experience, it is at the expense of the player's enjoyment.
Visually, the game wouldn't have looked out of place alongside Cannon Fodder. This gives away the budget of the production we have here. There is none of the investment we would see in a similar EA production, and it has obviously been produced on a shoestring. Saying this, the game doesn't overly suffer from a lack of high spec graphics and music; it is a title that stands or falls by its gameplay. And gameplay here is going to be a love it or hate it affair. If you are happy with the basic (although focused) approach to the action then you will have a lot of fun. If, however, you are used to playing games with considerable depth and well-honed control schemes, then you should probably look elsewhere.
Overall, Operation: Vietnam wears its budget credentials on its sleeve. It's a straight-forward game that has been delivered to a tight deadline and with minimal investment. As it stands it offers pretty good value. But when put alongside other games, it starts to look pretty tired. We think you'd be better spending a bit more money and getting a well-crafted shoot 'em up that you can grow to love. What we have here is more of a passing fling than something you would want to take home to meet the parents.