Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Game Review: James Bond 007 (Game Boy)

James Bond 007
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Saffire
  • Release: Game Boy, Februrary 1998
  • Genre: Action
  • Players: 1
  • Save: Battery, 3 files
  • Rarity/Cost: Common, US$5-10
There have been so many James Bond-licenced video games over the years, dating back to the Atari 2600, that if I tried to cover them all I'd never finish the 007 Golden Jubilee within the year like I promised. So, I will stick to ones that have an original story, not adapted from a book or movie, and ones that I have a personal history with. Like this one: the Game Boy release simply titled James Bond 007.

James Bond 007's engine is based off of the early Legend of Zelda games, in particular Link's Awakening, despite being handled by the then-fledgling developer Saffire. What this means is that the maps are presented in an overhead perspective, and divided into individual screens. Weapons and items can be assigned to the A and B buttons at will. But unlike the Zelda games, wherein the dungeon levels are strewn about an overworld you can pretty much explore at will, this game is more traditionally structured as a series of series of separate levels. Your quest, so to speak, takes you to China, Kurdistan (a region in Turkey), Morocco, Tibet, Russia, and more. And since Link's bow, bombs, and boomerang wouldn't fit well with 007's image, we get new weapons and items, including a pistol, machine gun, hand grenades, and a rocket launcher (which for all intents and purposes, behaves more like a shotgun, with no splash damage to worry about). But most of the time, I prefer to save ammo and stick with a machete. You can also find an assortment of gadgets and other tools, including night-vision goggles, a grappling hook, and a satellite map, as well as body-armour vests. The catch with these is that you have to have them set to one of your two active item slots in order to work, so you'll have to go back to the equipment menu (Select) every time you want to change your weapon, instead of loading both slots with weapons. Just a minor inconvenience, really.
Not only weapons, but tools like night-vision goggles come into play.
James Bond 007 also makes a big deal about trading random items; whereas these were the territory of side-quests in the Legend of Zelda games (Biggoron Sword, anyone?), in this game they are mandatory in order to advance. The best/worst example lies in the Black Market section of Marrakesh, where you must handle five items, starting with a chicken and ending with a pair of night-vision goggles. You have to look through a mess of merchants' tents in order to find the next person to trade with, and many of these tents are empty. Not that the action sequences are perfect, either. Much like its bigger brother, Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64, the enemies' AI is... limited. Although characters can move in any direction, they can only face directly up, down, left, or right, so use their "blind spots" to your advantage. And pathfinding? Forget about it: even if a particular enemy has the ability to follow you, they will only move towards you in a straight line, unable to move around objects. If you've got grenades, you can have some fun with this quirk, especially in the Russia level.

One thing I've noticed when doing all the film reviews for the James Bond series is that the movies feature much deeper plots than the video games, and initially, James Bond 007 is no exception. Personally, I'd point out the fact that are more and better writers for the silver screen than for the digital realm. Although this discrepancy has been narrowing in recent years, this was certainly not the case for the Game Boy, circa 1998. All you need to know about the plot is that there's an arms-dealing cartel led by Zhong Mae, the Chinese Bond Girl, and Odd Job, apparently resurrected after Goldfinger (Canon?  What canon?), and they don't even dwell on that a lot. However, things do kick into high gear near the endgame, where the villain, the Russian general Golgov (not to be confused with Gogol from the movies) has not only prepared an army to conquer the West with in the midst of their mutual disarmament, but has given arms to multiple warring factions in Kurdistan, so they will thin themselves out and become easier to conquer. All this coming after 007 takes down a disagreeable leader (who did previously capture agent 008), so I can't help but be reminded of the Iraq War in hindsight. Not to mention, the territory of Kurdistan also covers parts of Iraq and Syria. Eeesh. Harsher in Hindsight, much?
A fake door in the first level.
So, let's change the subject. This game has a heavy emphasis on picking up clues from other people, not just to build up the story, but to find out where to go and what to do. For those of us less skilled in the critical thinking department, I'm bringing back the old Sticking Points segment, this time as part of the review in a vain attempt to make the article appear longer. So, what wisdom would I wish to impart upon thee?
  • When fighting the unarmed guards in China and the sumo wrestlers in Tibet (it makes sense in context), hold your Block button until they attack. After they hit, return the favour with a punch of your own. This is the only way you can deal damage to them, while they're stunned.
  • The temple in the middle of the China level may seem like a dead end, but go to the northern room and examine the wall on the right, across from the woman on the other side. See the picture to right for details.
  • At Q's lab in England, examine the chair just above Q twice. It will fly off and crash into the wall, leading to a secret room with an item called the M.A.R.B.L.E. This does nothing except give you an alternate ending.
  • In Kurdistan, just before the cave with Iqbal and 008, cut the plant in the northeast corner of the screen, and follow the secret path behind it. The screen to the east hides a man who will give you a jeweled egg. In Marrakesh, you can trade it for an underground pass, allowing you to use a more convenient set of tunnels.
  • In Marrakesh, you are required to play casino games to advance the story. Blackjack and red dog poker are available. You'll start off with US$1,000, and you can re-start at this amount any time you lose it all, so don't be afraid to bet big. In fact, I would suggest doing so to save time; you need a total of $2,500 to get into the back room, play baccarat, and eventually get Mr. Fez to join in.
  • You'll lose your med kits at the end of the Marrakesh level, and your weapons and armour at the end of the Tibet level, so plan accordingly.
  • In the Secret Base, an enemy in the northeastern-most room will drop a shield when defeated. Beware, he has a rocket launcher and takes 3-4 times the normal amount of hits to bring down. The shield can block bullets (but not rockets), and is a major, if not crucial, help for the final level.
The running time for this game is somewhere around a couple of hours, perhaps less if you're good at reading into the clues. It's long for a portable game, but short for a save-enabled game, so take that as you will. I can't find much to complain about or applaud in the visuals department, but the sound design is another story. Certain events cause the music to slow down afterwards, and it's not as if this is a glitch, it feels programmed in; why, I'll never know. And the composer has seen fit to cram cues from Monty Norman's theme into the score wherever possible, how 'bout something more original, pally? Well, much like its music, this game takes parts of something we know and love, in this case The Legend of Zelda, and adapts it in new ways. Whilst it's not terribly exciting until the end, it fits happily into one's expectations for a Game Boy game, circa 1998.

Control: 3 out of 5
Design: 3 out of 5
Graphics: 3 out of 5
Audio: 2 out of 5
Value: 3 out of 5
The Call: 70% (C+)

IchigoRyu will return in
The World Is Not Enough

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