I remember a famous comedian once saying that these days, there's no such thing as an original joke - what we in fact think are original gags are simply reworkings, variations, or combinations of older jokes. And I'd think that the same could probably be said to hold mostly true for video games - there are very few original new games. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Taking a concept that works, and then adding a different twist, combining it with another concept, or simply introducing it to a new audience can sometimes result in a top game, and that's what you've got here, as Operation: Vietnam is essentially the child of two classic video games of old, Commando and Cannon Fodder.
Commando was that classic tale of one man against an army, as you took control of the titular commando and marched with machinegun in hand through a vertically scrolling landscape populated with more gun-toting enemies than even the mighty John Rambo could've handled. Cannon Fodder, meanwhile, saw you using a simple point and click interface to guide a small squad of marines around a multi-directional scrolling landscape populated with enemies, using teamwork, planning and a little luck to lead them to victory. Mix those two gameplay concepts together, and this is what you get.
Four soldiers, each with a different ability - Sgt with machinegun, Medic with extra healing powers, Sniper with long-range rifle and Rocket-Propelled Grenade guy - must be guided safely through each jungle level, wiping out hordes of VC, or 'Charlie', as they go. You control one of them at a time, with the remaining troop's behaviour governed by extremely simple squad commands: 'hold position', 'follow the leader' and 'seek and destroy'.
Switching between troops and issuing squad commands is simplicity itself via the idiot-proof touchscreen interface which is easily accessible with either thumb, making it possible to use it without disrupting the flow of the action. As you progress though the levels, each different character's skills become useful at different times - the sniper's handy for picking off lone sentries before they can raise the alarm, for example, while RPG guy is especially useful when you're suddenly faced with a number of enemies dug in behind a bunker, and you've got the addition of grenades and medipacks for when the going gets tough, as well as the facility for calling in a limited number of airstrikes.
Graphics are simple, yet clear and nicely detailed, with nice touches such as little snakes crawling through the undergrowth and birds flying overhead adding to the jungle atmosphere. The soundtrack - while nothing mind blowing - also does the job, with each guy in your squad having a different voice and responding verbally to your commands.
It's fair to say that Operation: Vietnam doesn't have quite the same adrenalin-fuelled thrills of a First-Person Shooter, but then the DS isn't really that suited to that kind of game anyway. It does, however, offer plenty of gameplay for your money, particularly with the inclusion of bonus levels that offer a slightly different challenge to the main game. My only complaint is in the lack of any multiplayer mode - a Wifi option to perhaps team up with other squads or even go head to head against a friend in full-on battle would've been the icing on the cake, but as it is, Operation Vietnam is a great little game with the charm of a retro classic - if 'charm' is really the right word to use for a game that has you mowing down little Asian people by the score...!