Saturday, November 7, 2015

Game Review: James Bond 007: The Duel

James Bond 007: The Duel
  • Publisher: Domark / Tengen (NA) 
  • Developer: Domark 
  • Release: Sega Genesis/Game Gear, 1993 
  • Genre: 2D Action 
  • Players: 1 
  • Save: None 
Previously on the SDP, I reviewed 007 Legends, which apparently performed so badly in retail that it killed off Activision's license to kill -- I mean, make James Bond video games. So my dreams of the second coming of GoldenEye were killed off -- until I brought up the Google Play store one day, and chanced upon the latest 007-licensed "game" called James Bond: World of Espionage (not worth linking), and my dreams of the second coming of GoldenEye were killed off once again. Glu Mobile, whomever they are, have turned this once-mighty brand into naught but a Clash of Clans clone. Let me guess, does it trade off actual gameplay in favour of micro-transactions? Well, pardon my French, but [verb] that [noun]! ...Oh sorry, I did that wrong.

But as bad as times may seem now, you know what time really sucked for James Bond fans? The early 1990s. The film series was in the midst of a record six-year hiatus, due to a legal battle which I touched upon in my Licence to Kill review. As for what we did get during that time period, well, it wasn't pretty. There was that awful cartoon show James Bond Jr., and the subject of today's article: the video game James Bond 007: The Duel for Sega Genesis. Released in 1993, The Duel is not tied into any one James Bond film or novel, despite the likeness of Timothy Dalton on the box art. Oh, but he does also show up in the title screen below, except...
Dear goodness, Timmy, what have they done to you!? ...Anyway, title screen abominations aside, Mr. Bond's in-game sprite lacks sufficient detail to specifically resemble Timothy Dalton or any of the other actors. For all you know... hold on, let me think of somebody random... got it! For all you know, you could be playing as Andrew Lloyd Webber in this game. But on the subject of graphics, I do appreciate the animations in this game. For example, you can make a little dance out of the animation of Bond passing his gun from one hand to the other (by tapping left or right on the D-pad). The music's kind of cool, too, in a Jan Hammer Miami Vice kind of way. The title screens and pre-game demo use a Genesis-friendly rendition of the James Bond theme, but thankfully it isn't recycled by the rest of the soundtrack, as is the case with GoldenEye, for example. The sound effects do not reach the same high notes, pardon the pun. The most annoying examples are the loud and hollow footfalls and Bond's grunting, which reminds me of the Frankenstein monster grunt Master P makes in his song "I Miss My Homies".

So graphics are one thing, but what is the gameplay like? Well, The Duel is a side-scrolling shooter/platformer. Mechanically, The Duel reminds me most of Rolling Thunder, an arcade side-scrolling shooter made by Namco in 1986. You walk, jump, shoot, and duck to avoid enemy shots. They even share a mechanic where you can hide in doorways, in the (vain) hope of letting an enemy forget about you and pass by. But while Rolling Thunder's control was far too stiff, The Duel goes a bit too far in the opposite direction. It's a little hard to describe, but there are lots of little things that feel off about the controls. Bond has only one jump height, and the horizontal distance is often either too short or too long for the precision platforming you need at the moment. As for walking speed, he's slow for about half a second when you press and hold a direction, but fairly zippy afterwards. And here I thought the Genesis's "blast processing" was just a meaningless marketing boast, but what do I know? Seriously, folks, if you're used to better physics engines like in Super Mario Bros. or Sonic the Hedgehog, you're going to have a bad time.

Gameplay revolves around rescuing hostages.
Your objective in The Duel is to explore each map searching for hostages to free, who all take the form of blonde ladies in little blue dresses. And feminism marches on... without them. Once you've found them all, you're not done yet. You have to find a time bomb, set it, and reach the exit before time runs out. Along the way, you are hounded by guards who will respawn if you take so much as a few steps away after killing them. With the high speed of the gameplay, it can get annoying to be walking along and keep taking damage from enemies you don't have the time to react to. In order to stay alive, you'll most likely take to firing blindly every few steps, which renders the flow of play as smooth as a rollercoaster on the fritz. While you do have limited ammunition, the game is very generous with it, at least. Enemies will always drop spare magazines until you're maxed out, and although there's no indicator of how many rounds you have left in your gun, each mag can last you quite a while.

As it turns out, there are only four levels to this game, not including the final boss arena: a ship, a jungle, a volcano, and a rocket launch site. In other words, the settings of a generic "spy" adventure. If I were feeling generous I would say they are rather sprawling levels for a 16-bit platformer, but either way it's still bloody short by any reasonable standards. And just as you're getting the hang of things on your journey across the island of Dr. No-One In Particular, the third level presents you with a wall of difficulty. For starters, getting around much of the place revolves around waiting for elevator platforms, side-to-side moving platforms, and side-to-side moving platforms that you hang from, which all take so long to get from one end to the other that you may very well assume you've reached a dead end at some point. Some of these platforms add irregularly-timed flame jets which are virtually impossible to avoid, and you have to go through at least one of these gauntlets in order to find all the hostages! And of course, this being a volcano-themed level, most of those scrolling platforms hover over magma pools, which of course results in instant death upon contact by 00 agents. But the third level aside, this game is still unforgiving. You get five lives and five hit points per life, but only one continue. And even those life points can leave you quickly due to the aforementioned steady stream of soldiers. Enemy shots can knock you quite far back, and there's falling damage to deal with, too; even a couple of stories down results in, you guessed it, an instant death. Also, mercy invincibility apparently was one luxury which slipped the programmer's mind. The lack thereof ruined Milon's Secret Castle before, and it ruins The Duel in turn.
Most bosses have a spot you can stand in where they won't hit you.
Every so often you'll come across a level boss plucked from one of James Bond's earlier adventures, like Jaws, Baron Samedi, Mayday, etc. because "Canon? What canon?". There are two problems with these bosses, however. One: they are optional, as it turns out. For example, you can easily skip Baron Samedi in the second level by going through the base instead of over it. And two: with one exception, each and every one of these bosses can be bested without breaking a sweat, by standing in a certain spot where they won't bother to reach you. For example, in the first level you fight Jaws, but if you stand on the left-side stairway in just the right spot, he'll just turn around as if you weren't there. Even the final boss (it's Jaws again) can be conquered in such a manner.

I should mention that there is a Game Gear port of The Duel out there as well, so I will. I don't feel it's worth devoting another full review to, however, so I'll describe it in brief. It's longer than the Genesis version, both in the sense that it has more levels (that's good), but also that the action runs incredibly slowly (that's bad). And for some reason, you can choose to have either music or sound effects play in-game but not both. What? I've played a bundle of Game Gear titles in my days and never once before has being able to play both music and sound effects been an issue! So yeah, don't bother with this version unless you consider yourself a man or woman of patience.

As for the Genesis version, you might need just as much patience to make it through this one. It's got that old-school difficulty schema where they instead of making more levels, they just made it harder to get through them. Still, it's the kind of difficulty where you can still conquer it once you've had practice, and you know where to find the hostages, and where to encounter enemies as they respawn ad nauseum. But still, four levels is still anemic for a 16-bit video game. And I did praise the animations and music a few paragraphs ago, but they do just about nothing to build up the context of being James Bond. As it stands, it's just another licenced hack-job of the side-scroller age, and one best left ignored.

+ Fluid character animation.
+ Cool music.

- Generally unforgiving difficulty.
- Awkward motion physics.
- No story to speak of.
- Overly short length.

Control: 1 hostages out of 5
Design: 2 hostages out of 5
Graphics: 3 hostages out of 5
Audio: 4 hostages out of 5
Value: 1 hostage out of 5
The Call: 35% (F)

You might like instead: Rolling Thunder 2, Contra: Hard Corps, Vectorman

1 comment:

  1. I remember seeing this being reviewed on the British video-game TV show GamesMaster.