Author: John Legendoffzelda
Some terrible video games let you know exactly what you’re in for. It isn’t simply that the game is a pile of dreary, uninspired gameplay elements Scotch-taped together by the developers – there’s always some kind of extra warning signal. This game’s case of red alert awfulness is that it’s a tie-in to some misbegotten franchise extension and TV cartoon no one remembers. James Bond Jr., already a depiction of the 007 franchise on its last legs, was nonsensical enough in its existence on television. Interpreted by Gray Matter and THQ (who with this and their disastrous Pit-Fighter port would seem to cement their reputation on this console), the show becomes a preposterously dull piece of dreck. Games like these are why humor-based game review shows are so popular.
By some improbable manipulation of the James Bond canon, the famous secret agent has a nephew of the same name. He’s a spunky daredevil in high-top sneakers who trains at an academy for secret agents. Along with friends like the grandson of Q, he finds the time to fight his own cadre of nemeses. Some are members of the villainous group S.C.U.M., while others are Ian Fleming’s bad guys given unrecognizable redesigns. Combined with James’ adventures around the globe, these rogues amount to one of those schlocky kids’ entertainments that make Inspector Gadget look like a classic. On the Super Nintendo, they amount to something decidedly worse. The plot is nothing but a thin string of events where James goes off to fight one of his foes at wherever they’re perpetrating their evil. When he goes into action, the gameplay becomes either a long platforming segment with weapon-based combat, or a vehicle segment with James cruising into enemy territory. In regards to the latter, the objective is avoiding all oncoming obstacles more than it is blasting at the oncoming enemies. Hitting the opposition is based around the use of a front turret and, in the helicopter’s case, a supply of bombs that erratically fall to the ground like drops of water. Their downward motion is affected by the copter’s stability, and since the machine is so hard to keep still, it means they’ll hardly ever just drop straight down.
All of the vehicles’ controls in this game strike the same nagging stasis, where any new on-screen danger causes James to slip around, crash and burn. The player can expect this to happen when he does so much as brush against a tree’s foliage, and the deaths can be explained as him wanting to finish the level already. These parts of the game have interminable pacing, and even when power-ups appear to aid whatever James is piloting, it’s doubtful that the player will make it to the next level with anything other than a passcode.
And those are the interesting parts. On foot, James Bond Jr. proves himself one of the least realized action heroes of the post-Indiana Jones era. For all the aerodynamic skill he displays, whether jumping around or falling down a vertical shaft, he may as well be made of cardboard. He doesn’t have any sort of weight or feel to him when doing anything – he ducks under enemy projectiles, he climbs ladders, and he punches enemies, but none of it registers. Some enemies he can’t even punch, which is where his gadgets come into play. James is mainly armed with exploding cans of soda and a dart gun, with specialized weapons appearing in each level. Ammunition is found in floating icons that appear regularly. The bombs do a lot of damage, but they’re meant for the smaller enemies; the snakes and bats that exist alongside the henchmen to get in James’ way. They work about half of the time, and when he misses it’s because the animal or whatever wandered out of his throwing range, possibly even into his hitbox. James’ contrast of stiff motion and flimsy controls makes it a dull pain to fight enemies and often sends him into the nearest obstacle; while they don’t all cause instant death, losing hit points becomes needling for the player over time.
The loss of hit points is largely based on the level designs. James only sneaks through an ancient temple, a sewer, and an Arctic base for the entire game, but too many of those locations seem like the same bland and winding catacomb. The corridors are populated with infrequent enemies and cookie-cutter arrangements of ledges and ladders, and they’re laced with stock environmental hazards like dripping acid and spikes that jut from the ground. These hazards are placed within the levels in dumbly obvious ways, and they still have the capacity to hurt James. The camera insists on following James’ movements so much that it won’t let the player see a spike waiting for him when he jumps from a ledge; sometimes a pool of lava will be in plain sight, and James’ crummy physics will cause it to damage him anyway. In some arid way, though, the game is never consistently cheap about its actions. Levels are meandering and poorly designed, yet they don’t pack each moment with danger. Instead, the danger banks on how the controls verge on being broken, and the levels themselves are pallid templates for the most standard of video game environments. The awkward platforming, the upcoming obstacles, even the moments where the camera hinders forward movement – every single instance of challenge during gameplay is telegraphed.
Completing the stultifying badness would be the talentless audiovisual trappings that seem almost requisite in games like these. There are the graphics, which color the characters and environments with only the barest ideas of shading and detail. The music, low-rent midi-bass drivel, appears so often in bad 2D games like these it may as well be its own genre. It drones throughout each level, sometimes not even looping properly, and it stutters to a finish whenever James completes a level. Already copied from a cheap syndicated cartoon, the production values don’t do a thing to redeem the nature of this product’s embarrassing existence, but they do complement it.
James Bond Jr. has the vitality of a dead fish. All the reductive attempts at copying the cartoon’s thin Saturday-morning idea of high adventure sit on the screen as a pile of interactive bunkum. Now that the James Bond franchise is currently alive and well, thank goodness, we’ve moved past the need for false inheritors to his name. James Bond Jr. will not return.
One out of five stars.
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