Bond as a Zelda escapade, with surprising success
For some reason James Bond's Game Boy adventure has no separate title, which confused me as to how to refer to it - is it supposed to be some all encompassing Bond game? My confusion didn't end there, I was initially let down by the first level and expected a rubbish game, only to be given much better levels later. Mixing this (by shaking not stirring obviously) with an uneven approach and you get this quirky game.
The game starts off feeling like an early Zelda clone. The controls and perspective are the same, inspecting items, talking to people, fighting in action sequences and Bond having to follow the time-honoured RPG story of finding object A to give to character B. The locations span the globe with jaunts in China, Kurdistan and Marrakesh amongst others as you follow the path of an arms trader.
This story is fairly strong and tries to copy some of the elements of the film series, which the game emulates much more so than the books. The opening mission is unrelated to the main story and is followed by the standard briefing scene at MI6 in London before you are kitted out by Q and sent out to investigate the disappearance of 008. Finding the missing agent you continue his investigation into post-Soviet arms smuggling, orchestrated by a General disgruntled by the demise of Communism. Quite a plausible story as far as Bond plots go and fairly topical for a Game Boy game.
Each of the different locations feel distinct despite heavy recycling of limited tile assets. In contrast to most Bond games which are action orientated, here there's initially a strong adventure streak which gives way to action as the story reaches it's climax. The pacing of the story is not completely flowing, but it does build up and becomes more engaging.
There's a key scene I really enjoyed. Your search for 008 takes you to a village in Kurdistan where you must defeat a local warlord to rescue your fellow agent. In a later level you must return to Kurdistan only to find the power vacuum left by the dispatched Warlord has been filled with two outside rivals who have made the village into a war-zone. It lies in ruin with many villagers dead and the survivors hate you – it's a moment which makes you question your unthinking actions earlier.
This nod to emotional impact is marred by other moments of uneven game play. A little earlier in the game Bond find himself in a ridiculous bartering round of stealing a chicken to get a cat to rid someone of a mouse infestation! This is completely at odds with the later tone, resulting in more confusion for me, was I playing a game for adults or children? This is again contrasted to another scene where Bond walks into a room full of beautiful ladies - all of whom who like him to stay on for some 'fun'.Whilst there are some comedy throwaway 'humour' lines, including Bond's trademark post killing quips, some childish, unrealistic objectives and wildly veering dialogue are counter-productive to the game's tone.
It seems the developers were unsure how to handle the character of Bond. The script is hampered by dialogue which can only be delivered in tiny chunks and they had to decide between plot and jokes. It's clear they wanted to pay homage to the films with some of lines lifted directly. There's also the appearances of Oddjob and Jaws, neither of which are fully explained, especially Jaws who just appears without warning. They feel simply thrown in to remind you it's a Bond game. At points in the game it's not clear what you are supposed to be doing (such as in Marrakesh) and why events have happened (such as being dumped in the Sahara). There are also a lot of mazes, which is a sure sign of lazy level design.
My last real complaint is the opening level, which is tedious to say the least. It shows the worst of the game design with unclear objectives, flippant dialogue and incredibly stereotyped Chinese characters. A shorter more action-based sequence would have been welcome and more in keeping with Bond films.
The Bottom Line
This Bond game manages to spin a fairly large adventure out of the little Game Boy cartridge. It certainly has its moments where it shows originality and depth, you just have to get used to the limited display and tiling landscape first. Unfortunately it also has moments of silliness, but overall it turned out to be better than I expected. The main plot surpasses the unbelievable Everything or Nothing and with some feature enhancing and re-writing could be a good remake. As it is, it's certainly a curio in the Bond canon and an interesting attempt at adventure on the Game Boy.