Operation: Vietnam is an econo-priced, handheld shoot-'em-up set during the American occupation of Vietnam. But despite its dark and morally ambiguous historical setting, the game is a vanilla overhead shooter in which four commandos capture sacred relics for woebegone Vietnamese peasants and do battle with giant Vietcong megatanks. So, no, playing this game does not count as studying for a history class.
But it does contain a dark secret... Operation: Vietnam lets you use only the stylus to change soldiers or issue commands. You control your selected soldier with the D pad, the face buttons, and nothing else. Even worse, both movement and the direction of your gun are bound to the pad. So if you want to aim at an enemy, you have to run toward him. Brilliant!
It's not as dumb as it sounds, and you'll eventually learn to work with the extremely limited control scheme, but it's still a missed opportunity. Instead of using the stylus to target and eliminate foes, you use it to take control of any of the four grunts, as well as to order the others to stay put, defend you, or search and destroy. For the first several levels of the game, it doesn't matter what you do as long as you control the sniper, because he can kill anything before he's even seen. He can also detect mines, which comes in pretty handy.
But the game gets hard once you get into Hue City, and from that moment forward you'll have to be a lot more conservative. Figuring out which combinations of guys can handle which assortments of enemies is most of the fun to be had in Operation: Vietnam, aside from methodically cleaning all the enemies off the map with the sniper. But you don't always get to use him in missions, so you better familiarize yourself with the other guys and their abilities.
The heavy-weapons guy has a rocket launcher. He can destroy tanks and armored turrets, but his launcher reloads slowly. Your normal trooper guy has a machine gun with weak distance and damage, but he can fire it on the move, unlike the sniper and the rocket guy, so he's better against foes that shoot slow-moving projectiles. Finally, the medic doubles the benefit of health packs when he uses them, so you'll want to keep him completely out of harm's way, and regularly cycle men back to him for healing.
Rotating your troops through recon missions while protecting your medic and collecting health packs, grenades, and bombing-run flares is a lot more interesting than simply killing everything you see with your sniper, except for one slight catch. In the later missions, where such conservative play is a must, it's easy to lose everyone, and that means restarting from the very beginning. If the game didn't send you back every time you died, you'd finish it in about two hours. You can unlock bonus missions by performing well in each level, and these optional outings legitimately add some length, but being forced to restart the same level over and over just piles on the frustration. After all, it doesn't matter how much more content there is if you quit playing the game in disgust.
It should come as no surprise that Operation: Vietnam's production values are pretty low, given that it's a budget game. Nevertheless, the corners were cut in the right areas, and consequently the game looks decent enough overall and never slows down. Sadly, there's no music, and the sound effects are universally weak.
Is Operation: Vietnam worth 20 dollars? It can be, if you're looking for a shooter to distract you from the woes of public transit or study hall. As an alternative to something boring or odious, this game is fine. But as an evening or afternoon's main course, it's a few helpings short of filling, especially because it lacks any sort of multiplayer functionality. The cheaper this game gets (and it should find its way to "used" bins quickly), the better.