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When it comes to Christmas themed retro games, I often like to have a quick play of James Pond 2 Codename: Robocod at this time of year. Whilst the character started off on the Amiga and this game has been ported to multiple systems such as the Super Nintendo and PlayStation, the version I used to play was on the Mega Drive.
There’s actually four James Pond games on the Sega Genesis and Mega Drive, with three being the main platformer trilogy and the other a spin-off sports title called “The Aquatic Games”. He also made a cameo appearance in “Rolo to the Rescue” which I hope to review in the future.
The story behind this game is that Dr. Maybe (a play on Dr. No from James Bond), has infiltrated Santa Claus’ main toy factories in the North Pole and is planting bombs disguised as penguins that will detonate within 48 hours. So it’s up to you to save Christmas!
Your adventure begins in a wintery hub world where you gain access to new areas by going through doors that unlock once the previous one has been completed. There is a fairly well known creative cheat here which provides you with invincibility if you collect each item in order to spell out the word “CHEAT”, starting with the cake, then moving onto the hammer, planet Earth, the apple and then a tap. There’s also a similar cheat in the first level by spelling out the word “LIVES” with certain items too.
Every so often you’ll walk through a door that leads to a boss battle. These get progressively harder as you’d expect, so make sure you stock up on as many lives as you can and don’t expect to just breeze through it all on your first attempt. James Pond 2 starts off very easy, but I found that it does get noticeably more difficult after the first boss, requiring faster reactions and more precise platforming skill.
On your travels you’ll find numerous collectibles which help improve your score, earn extra lives, allow you to fly and float down safely, plus you’ll gain access vehicles to use such as cars, aeroplanes and even a flying bathtub! This game obviously doesn’t take itself too seriously.
During gameplay, those of you from the UK will no doubt notice the product placement of McVitie’s Penguin Bars scattered about. These fancy chocolate covered bourbon biscuits were very popular at the time and are still enjoyed today.
Graphically, James Pond has a very unique style. The levels look colourful and there is a lot of detail with the various enemies, animations and collectables, but in some ways it can also be considered as quite dark and basic. The backgrounds don’t display much creativity in my opinion, as they look simple and tiled when you compare it to games like Sonic the Hedgehog, but overall the visuals are fairly pleasing for such an early Mega Drive title.
In terms of sound the music is very infectious. These cheerful little melodies will find their way into your brain and it’s very likely you’ll be humming along to them for days after. Each one is pretty jolly and there’s also some nice renditions of Christmas music later on in the game.
The controls are nice and responsive which is good considering there’s some fairly difficult and frustrating platforming in later levels. The momentum means that at times James’ movements can feel a bit slippery, but hey, he’s a fish and these physics do come into play later in the game. I also like how his robotic suit allows him to stretch up high and grab onto ceilings. This was a very fun mechanic that allowed for some interesting level design.
Speaking of which, James Pond 2 isn’t your typical “travel from left to right” platformer. A lot of areas can feel quite maze-like as you need to traverse them in multiple directions. Sometimes there’s even multiple exits which can lead onto a bonus level for additional points, which helps add to the replay value if you’d like to discover them all.
I did find that some of the later levels did get quite frustrating as there wasn’t always a clear indication of where to go and there was a very sneaky bonus area that kept repeating until you found a very tiny exit. There were also moments of extremely precise platforming where one mistake could be very punishing, requiring you to start over. These felt like cheap tactics to me, but that might just be a personal thing and those with more patience may feel different and see it as more of a challenge.
Overall I feel that James Pond 2 Codename: Robocod is an enjoyable platformer for the Sega Genesis and Mega Drive. As it was released in 1991, there are more visually impressive titles on the system, but this one still retains a lot of charming character. The gameplay in particular feels very polished. The controls are good and there’s a fair amount of challenge… or patience required in later levels.