A genre mixing Shoot them Up and Run'n'Gun surfaces in 1988 with Cabal: the player controls a character moving laterally at the bottom of the screen, in a way like in Space Invaders. Player also controls a sight that can be moved with the joystick, independently or simultaneously with the hero. Game is about cleaning stages by killing enemies and destroying vehicles or infrastructures. Two years later, Video System and SNK offer their own interpretations in this new style: Nam-1975, the first game released for the Neo Geo, and Spinal Breakers running on a traditional 68k-based. SNK's machine has a slight advantage over the CPU speed. The resolution is 352x240 for Spinal Breakers against 320x224 for Nam-1975. Displayable colors, the Neo Geo takes a big advantage with 4096 against 256. Both systems use exactly the same sound chip, the excellent Yamaha 2610 running at 8 Mhz. Finally, Taito's game weighs about 35 Mb, against 46 Mb for its rival.
The choice of view is the same in both apps, modeled on Cabal's "third person" standard. However, Nam-1975 offers farthest camera with smaller characters, allowing a greater range and a wider viewing angle. For Spinal Breakers, it's exactly the opposite: we are much "closer" from our heroes, and these are very big-sized, as for the enemies. A black band displaying the "dashboard" occupies the bottom of the screen, reducing somewhat the playing screen. The stages are varied as are enemies, but it's not beautiful, nor detailed, and most importantly, all sorely lacking in color. SNK's soft is far better, even if the sprites are smaller, they are better designed and finest, the backgrounds are far more beautiful and the color palette used copiously.
SPINAL BREAKERS....... 62%
Nam-1975 still looks awesome concerning its animation. The movements of heroes and enemies are beautifully decomposed, with a really impressive level of detail for a set of 90'. For example, there are at least five or six ways to die: a grenade, flamethrower, fire, toxic gas, decay... And what about the sometimes daunting Boss, the impressive number of sprites on the screen -sometimes hundreds-with enemy fire everywhere, without ever any slowdown during the action! Great job. Spinal Breakers is clearly not as strong, it is undeniable: the pace is slower, decomposition more basic and the postures of our heroes relatively limited. A new win for the SNK's game !
SPINAL BREAKERS....... 72%
As we saw earlier in this comparison, our two rivals use exactly the same sound hardware: the YM2610. Well, the least we can say is that this does not get along! The soundtrack of Spinal Breakers is not only poor, but totally botched. Themes, particularly innocuous, are drowned out the sound effects of gunfire, not themselves especially well digitized. The whole thing is a hardly digestible soup, which we don't notice anymore after a few minutes. Conversely, Nam-1975 is brilliant: catchy themes sometimes military, sometimes epic, fitting perfectly the action... while the sounds of shooting, explosions, flame throwers are remarkable. The digits vocal punctuating the action and cutscenes are high quality, and scale to give a beautiful game, outclassing every other competitor back in 1990.
SPINAL BREAKERS....... 47%
Cooperative play for the two game, it's the bare minimum. Six levels for Nam-1975, seven for Spinal Breakers, it's not bad. The game from SNK is a bit longer than its opponent but also more difficult: levels are increasingly hard, and the final Boss must be defeated in one life only, good luck! In terms of duration, it's slightly longer. Video System's game is relatively easy, although the large size of the characters makes inevitable the use of several credits, as our characters are pretty vulnerable. Moreover, the weapons system, hidden bonuses and cooperative play are more interesting in Nam-1975, and provides it a solid lead on the replay value, to a competitor both short and unattractive when finished.
SPINAL BREAKERS....... 52%
The large size of the heroes in Spinal Breakers is a big handicap: indeed, it is very difficult to successfully dodge when a lot of enemies shoot at you! The roll, triggered with B, does not make you invincible when performed. You guessed it, the avoidance strategies are very, very limited since most of evasive actions are ineffective: our characters move slowly and can't run! And in the exercise of anticipation, the perfect remains totally utopian. The shot is fired with A, and C delivers the bombs, those ones being available in very limited quantity. Sights by cons respond well, but the game offers only one basic weapon, and the conventional bomb. It is much simple, as the whole game anyway, summarizing to snipe everything that moves by cashing enemy bullets until you die, without your dexterity helping you at any time. With Nam-1975, the things are significantly different. Also using three buttons (A=fire, B=grenade, C=run), it offers in addition to perform an escape roll during which player is invincible, triggered by holding down-right or down-left by pressing C. Various weapons can be picked during the game, ranging from the uzi to the flamethrower, but also the fragmentation grenade or the powerful missile launcher. In addition, there is also a double aim to recover over the levels, and better, a beautiful blonde to deliver from enemies: this one comes then to help you until you die. Heroes are much smaller than in Spinal Breakers, allowing more movement on the playground, and more opportunities for evasion and anticipation. The two-players game is all the more clear, and it's not an evil, as the action is sometimes intense. The difficulty rises crescendo, and unlike Taito's soft, technique pays off: with a little training, players can improve and reach advanced levels of the game with a single credit.
SPINAL BREAKERS........ 56%
A real beating is inflicted to Spinal Breakers in this match by Nam-1975. It doesn't just wins every round, but pay the luxury to fool its opponent on most chapters. Programmed on supports close in terms of power and not showing a big difference on rom sizes, one would have expected more competition, especially from an editor such as Video System. Nam-1975 is a jewel for the Neo Geo in 1990, outperforming not only Spinal Breakers, but also most games of this genre released at this time.