Released: November 1992
US Cartridge ID: NES-JB-USA
Genre: Action Adventure
Supported Peripherals: Controller
ROM Size: 2 megabit
Mapper: MMC3 (128k PRG, 128k CHR)
James Bond Jr., the early 1990s American-produced animated spinoff of Sir Ian Fleming’s iconic MI6 agent’s exploits, lasted only a single season before being cancelled. Despite its short run, the show bore several pieces of merchandise in an attempt increase brand awareness and popularity: several books, a Marvel produced comic, a line of Hasbro toys, and two different videogames made it to retailer shelves between 1991 and 1992.
Loosely following the plot of the ill-fated television series, James Bond Jr.‘s 8-bit adaptation features the titular silver-screen spy’s nephew in a suitably stylish and ludicrous plot to bring down the S.C.U.M. Lord. In following the movements of S.C.U.M., the Saboteurs and Criminals United in Mayhem, James has successfully opposed the terrorist organization’s efforts for world domination many times over. As the game opens, Colonel Monty informs James of the recently discovered presence of a Caribbean island citadel being used by the S.C.U.M. Lord to manufacture weapons of mass destruction.
James parachutes onto the remote island and infiltrates the complex, his first objective: to destroy the compound’s five defense missiles. Utilizing a structure similar to that of The Goonies II, Faxanadu, and Milon’s Secret Castle, James Bond Jr.‘s stages are all platform action based challenges that take place in expansive environments, able to explored in whichever manner the player desires. Essentially functioning as giant mazes, the game’s four stages provide a set of objects that must be found and acted on to activate a “teleport,” leading James to an encounter with the area boss.
James has several weapons and gadgets at his disposal that will aid him, though they must be found before he gains access to their abilities. In his fight against the overwhelming number of hostiles in the area, James can find bombs, flares, mini-nukes, as well as ammo for his standard pistol. Each of these arms have specific times in which they are most useful, and all are limited in their number of uses, though the pistol’s ammo will slowly replenish itself to twenty rounds so that James isn’t left entirely defenseless. He may also use a scuba-diving kit for exploring deep underwater passages, a jet pack that will grant limited aerial freedom, as well as a potion that will inexplicably transform him into an extremely agile werewolf whose presence goes entirely unnoticed by guard dogs.
The first level places James in S.C.U.M. Lord’s subterranean network of tunnels leading to five missile launch pads. Upon finding each of these targets, James’ must hack a computer terminal and render the missiles unusable through a sliding tile mini-game. The second area takes James to an office building housing blueprints for S.C.U.M.’s World Domination Device. Exploring room by room, James must find each safe, crack the combination, and retrieve each of the blueprint’s six pieces. After successfully finding each of them, James escapes, only to find his plane low on fuel. Crash landing outside of a factory, the Colonel charges an unscathed James with searching the high-tech industrial facility for the six pieces of the World Domination Device, which must be destroyed. Finally, James sneaks into the final area on a mine cart, keeping on the lookout for the eight scientists that have been held by S.C.U.M. for the purpose of weapon development. If he succeeds in saving each of them, James will square off against the S.C.U.M. Lord himself, though after destroying the giant gunship the S.C.U.M. Lord cravenly flees in an escape pod. James is then informed by the Colonel that he must complete the four missions again if he wishes to bring down the terrorist mastermind, and is returned to the first level.
James Bond Jr.‘s game play style does successfully evoke the same feeling of exploration as some of the more successful non-linear games that appeared earlier in the NES’ life, though it does take a fair number of liberties with the style. Unlike most games of its ilk, James rarely requires an item to gain access to an area, meaning that most of each level is wide-open from the very beginning. This is, however, counterbalanced by the imposition of an extremely strict time-limit: each of the levels have numerous branching paths, and no map is provided, in-game or otherwise. Unless the area layout has been memorized and the player systematically approaches it based on the placement of objectives, James will inevitably run out of time. This questionable design choice sits at odds with the non-linear nature of the level structure, as it effectively serves to punish those wishing to fully explore the areas.
Furthering the frustration of the timer is the extremely high level of difficulty presented by James’ enemies. Many of the S.C.U.M. henchmen require at least a dozen bullets to kill, and several provide very limited windows of opportunity to safely attack without taking damage, dragging encounters on for unnecessarily long periods of time. Thankfully, the control is responsive, weapon and health refills are dropped regularly, and enemies do not respawn once they’ve been killed.
Though not particularly evident in screenshots, James Bond Jr. is an excellent looking game. Many of the color palette are vaguely irritating to the eye, but they never obscure the player’s view of hazards in the area: bullets are always visible, many of the enemies are extremely large and well-animated, and there is no notable flicker or slowdown present in the game. This is an extremely impressive feat, in light of the sheer volume of projectiles present onscreen at once in many areas. Most of the backdrops feature well-animated elements, including bubbles hovering above acid pits, spinning gears, flashing emergency lights, and more; furthermore, outside areas make heavy use of parallax scrolling, as do the cinema scenes, despite their impact being significantly lessened by the terrible monochromatic “art” on display. The music, composed by Eurocom founder Neil Baldwin (Magician, Lethal Weapon, The Jungle Book), is catchy and surprisingly doesn’t grate, despite being looped incessantly due to the length of each level; it also shares the sound more characteristic of British development houses of the time, in that the techniques used in the musical composition resemble those more commonly utilized on the Commodore 64, making the music sound as much a product of the famous SID chip as it does the NES’s Ricoh CPU’s PSG.
Of the NES’ twelve US games holding the dubious distinction of being released under the T*HQ banner in the early 1990s, James Bond Jr. stands easily at the top of the pile,
though ironically it saw one of the smallest production runs made by the US based
company (rivaled only by the absolutely wretched adaptation of Wayne’s World released the following year). James Bond Jr. is a unique and worthwhile experience, and while it has too many rough edges to be considered a true classic, the corporate big shot that decided to publish Eurocom’s action adventure game can take full responsibility for providing TH*Q their only good game of the 8-bit generation.
|James Bond Jr.
|James Bond Jr.