Time to check out another Mega Drive title, this time a game based on Ian Flemming's vodka martini-swigging (shaken, not stirred) secret agent, James Bond. I can't be entirely sure, but I have a vague recollection that the game was included in a console bundle, possibly from Argos or one of the other catalogue-based retailers at the time.
Up until the release of this particular game, most 007 titles had been based on one of the movies, but James Bond 007: The Duel is an original IP with it's own story (such that it is). I wasn't able to dig up much on the game's plot, but the back of the box mentions that a crazy professor intends to bring about the end of the world with some kind of Doomsday missile and only 007 is up to the task of taking this lunatic down.
Essentially an arcade platform/shooter, the easiest way to describe the game is Shinobi dressed up in a tuxedo and bow-tie. The principle objective of each level is to locate and rescue a set number of hostages (remaining number shown top left), before priming an explosive device and heading for the level exit; once primed, Bond has a short time window to find and secure his means of escape. Completing each level brings Bond one step closer to bringing down the professor and ensuring the world is safe from being engulfed in nuclear fire for at least one more day.
007 is one of the few individuals granted a license to kill and has brought along his trusty Walther PPK to do just that. Pushing up and left/right on the D-Pad whilst firing will cause Bond to shoot diagonally, allowing him to take out enemies on platforms above or below him. Fallen foes will drop extra ammunition, so be sure to grab them when they appear - just be quick else they'll detonate in a small explosion if not collected, actually hurting James if he's stood too close to them.
|What a hero!|
An itchy trigger finger can't solve all of life's problems, unfortunately. Certain platforms are impervious to gun fire and attempting to shoot bad guys through the floor will be bed by a loud ricochet as the bullet gets deflected. In these situations, the only way to take out enemies lurking on such platforms is to find a way up, either via a ladder, somersaulting, or attempting to take them out with a well-placed grenade. 007 can stock up on boom fruit by collecting special briefcases dropped into the zone by his allies at Q-branch, although their usefulness is rather limited thanks to the achingly slow throwing animation - trust me, it might look cool seeing James pull the pin before winding up for a toss, but it leaves you wide open to attack and can get you killed if not careful.
If I'm honest, the whole experience is fairly average, lacking any major innovations or gameplay features that really help it to stand out from other titles in the genre. It's not actually a bad game, but I can't say I had a great deal of fun with it either. One example that springs to mind is the first level where Bond can take cover in doors way by pushing up on the D-Pad, a neat feature that made the combat feel a little more dynamic, but one that is never used beyond the opening level! There are also some problems with the control scheme, such as being unable to fire downwards without wasting a bullet crouch-firing first - it's not like you're ever short of ammunition, but it's something that could and should have been fixed prior to release.
|Jaws makes an appearance|
Perhaps the most serious of the game's shortcomings, though, is how short it is. With a total of four stages (and a final boss), I doubt that most players would take especially long to beat the game on the normal difficulty setting. Those amongst you who want a serious challenge could try the "Manic" difficulty mode, made harder by the fact that all of the henchmen have gained some innate sixth-sense that alerts them to Bond's presence the second he gets anywhere close to them. I chose this setting for the purposes of recording my longplay video and, concerned that it had given me an overly negative view of the game, I went back and tried a lower difficulty and found the enemies were much less psychotic.
The gameplay might be pretty humdrum, then, but not everything is a total bust. One of the more pleasing aspects of the game has to be the graphics, particularly the strikingly vibrant colour palette. Whilst not the most advanced game in the Mega Drive's library, it still looks pretty good, boasting smooth parallax scrolling and above-average animation for each of the character sprites; there are some cool touches, such as the way Bond swaps his gun between hands when changing directions.
|Keep an eye out of Q-branch supplies|
Sound and music are generally excellent, too, featuring tracks from Matt Furniss that suit the whole spy and Bond theme well. There are some cool digitised effects that include gunshots, ricochets, not to mention the "urrgh" and "arrgh" whenever a henchman is taken down (although the less said about the shrill squeal when rescuing a hostage the better).
Even with it's fancy presentation, however, the lack of content (plus the mediocrity of what content there is) means that I find it difficult to really recommend James Bond 007: The Duel to any but die-hard fans of the platform genre. You might get an hour or so enjoyment from this, but it's not a title that you'll be coming back to on a regular basis.