Take on the NES Library

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#104 – James Bond Jr.

The name’s Junior … James Bond Jr.

Quite the wordy introduction

To Beat: Complete all missions twice
Played: 10/20/18 – 10/24/18
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
My Video: James Bond Jr. Longplay

I have some strange memories around James Bond Jr., or more accurately, the idea of it.  I was only vaguely aware that there was an animated series of the same name, but I never watched it.  Ardent fans of the blog will know that a lot of that stuff passed by me as a kid.  I never played or even saw the NES game, although again, I was vaguely aware of its existence through magazines.  I didn’t know anything about the series or the game. When I got back into collecting NES games a few years ago, I must have seen the name in a list that tickled something in my brain.  The green cart label seemed so familiar though I had no real understanding of why. All I knew is that I had to have this game in my collection.  I know I was more excited to hold the game in my hands than I was to try playing it.  The human brain is a mysterious thing, isn’t it? Anyway, now that I’ve completed the game, I found it to be a mostly fun experience with some flaws holding it back.

James Bond is a character created by the writer Ian Fleming in 1953.  He is the star of many books and the longest running film series of all time, dating back to 1962.  James Bond Jr., this famous agent’s nephew, was created out of the 1967 novel The Adventures of James Bond Junior 003½, written under the pseudonym R.D. Mascott.  The author’s identity has never been clarified for sure.  There were plans to do more with the character, but they fizzled out until the idea was brought back in 1991.  James Bond Jr. the animated series ran for 65 episodes in 1991 and 1992.  This series was developed by Michael G.Wilson, Andy Heyward, and Robby London. There were also novels, comic books, and a toy line for James Bond Jr.  Of note here are the two James Bond Jr. video games, one for the NES and the other for the Super Nintendo.  James Bond Jr. on NES was released in November 1992 in the US.  It was developed by Eurocom and published by THQ. The PAL version was also released in 1992.

James Bond Jr. is a side-scrolling platformer.  You play the role of our hero as he is trying to stop the S.C.U.M. Lord over four missions.  Colonel Monty will guide you through the mission objectives.  First you must deactivate the S.C.U.M. missiles.  Next, you sneak into a complex to recover blueprints. Then you go to a weapons factory to destroy the World Domination Device.  Finally, you perform a rescue mission to save scientists, culminating in a final battle against the S.C.U.M. Lord.

This guy is huge but not that powerful.

For much of the game, James Bond Jr. uses standard controls.  You use the D-pad to move around, press A to jump, and B to fire weapons.  He can duck by holding Down.  You can use Up and Down to climb ladders or enter doorways.  The jumping in this game is long and floaty, mostly emphasizing the vertical and less so for horizontal movement.  You can control the height of your jump a little bit, but you really need a quick tap of the A button to perform small hops.  Most of the time you will do a full jump.  The B button fires your weapons.  The default is a simple gun with tiny, straight-shooting bullets. If you hold Down and press Select, you will cycle through James Bond Jr.’s weapons.

All the necessary information is at the bottom of the screen. Starting from the left, you will see the number of lives remaining and associated icon. Next to that is the currently selected weapon along with the ammo count. In the middle is your score, and underneath that is your health bar. To the right of that is a count of the number of objectives remaining in the stage. Finally, the far right shows the level timer.

The level structure straddles the line between open-ended and linear. Your task is to clear a certain number of objectives in each stage, such as disabling missiles or cracking safes. You explore the levels in search of these things and you can backtrack at will. Once you have cleared all the objectives, an exit door will appear to the next mission. The level layouts often involve branching paths, but there is typically one main path through the level with small branches that contain your tasks. There is no in-game map to help guide you, and if you miss something at the end you may have to backtrack a long way to find it. I navigated on my own just fine, though your results may vary.

Most enemies drop some kind of pickup.

There are pickups to help you out. These are sometimes found out in the open, but they are usually held by enemies. You can find an ammo box to restore your default bullet count to 99. You have unlimited bullets, but when you run out they refill slowly back up to 20. With the ammo box you go back to the max. You can pick up bombs which are a stronger, arcing weapon. Flares stun most enemies temporarily; bad guys wearing protective glasses are unaffected. A big bomb shaped like a nuke functions like a smart bomb that damages everything on screen. A James Bond Jr. head is worth an extra life. A spikey version of that head is a shield weapon. When equipped, it protects you from damage and hurts enemies by contact at the rapid cost of its ammo. You can find a clock that adds to your time. There are also two types of health-restoring hamburgers. There are a few other items that only appear in certain missions.

Each mission has at least one unique element to it, usually in the form of its mission objective. In Level 1, you disable each missile by playing a mini-game. First, locate the missile rooms and navigate up to the computer. Press Up to launch the mini-game. This one is a puzzle in the likeness of Yoshi’s Cookie. You have a four-by-four square grid of colored tiles. You can shift each row and each column around, and your task is to form the pattern shown on the right. Press A and B to point to a different row or column respectively, then press Left or Right to shift colors in a row and Up or Down to shift columns. These controls are not as intuitive as Yoshi’s Cookie’s controls, but they work well enough. These puzzles aren’t necessarily easy, but straightforward once you see how it works. One puzzle in particular is really hard until you see the trick to it.

The other thing you can do in the first level is don scuba gear. This is a pickup from certain enemies that lets you enter water. If not equipped, water hurts you like it is electricity and you bounce off it. Select the scuba gear as a weapon to wear it. You can’t attack or do much above water with it equipped, so dive right in. Underwater, use the D-pad to move either left, right, or down. Press A to swim upwards a short distance. If you need to rise, you have to tap out A many times. The B button shoots a bubble gun for underwater foes. Your air supply is shown as ammo. Using your bubble gun causes the air to deplete more quickly. To restore your air, you can find another scuba pickup or exit the water. You will find little pockets of air throughout the underwater screens that can also help. You have to tap A to float just underneath the surface which will increase your air supply. If you run out of air, then you start losing health quickly.

Who put puzzles in my action platformer?

In Level 2, your mission objective is to open safes to locate blueprints. You open these safes through another mini-game. There are four dials on the safe, each with a digit above it. Use the D-pad to highlight a dial, then press either A or B to turn the dial and change the number above it. There is a number in the middle for how many times you can attempt to open the safe. Pick a number for each dial, and then move the cursor over the door catch and press either A or B to try and open it. The individual dial numbers will glow if that is the wrong digit, and they will switch to solid gray if it is the correct number. If you don’t get the right combination, you can try again. Most of the safes hold the blueprints you need, but some hold bombs that hurt you. Unrelated to the mini-game, Level 2 is a door maze. You can sometimes see safes but need to enter the room from a different door to get access.

The objective for Level 3 is to destroy all the panels within weapon rooms. Go through the facility to search out the rooms. The targets are these wall fixtures with guns flanked on either side. You have to shoot them enough times to destroy them, and you have to break them all inside the room to consider it complete. There are other cannons and traps that get in the way, but you can leave them alone if you want. I usually clear out everything anyway for prizes. Some areas in Level 3 are unreachable without the jetpack item you can find here. Collect and equip the jetpack, then press and hold A to boost upward. Fuel depletes rather quickly. You can also press B to shoot fireballs while in jetpack mode, but this costs precious fuel. I didn’t use the fireball weapon in my playthrough.

Level 4 doesn’t have a mini-game either. You have to seek out scientists in rooms that are guarded by large enemies. Simply take out the threat to save the scientist. The potion item is another unique feature of the level, which turns you into a werewolf. This is another limited effect that consumes ammo, and this one lasts about as long as the scuba gear. As a werewolf, you can do a charge attack with B, which I found was effective against some enemies where anything else failed. You can also jump higher in this form, which is essential to reaching some rooms within the level.

Sorry doggie but you’re blocking the elevator.

Once you clear all four missions and defeat the final boss, you find out that he escaped. Then, for some inexplicable reason, you are asked to complete all four missions again to catch him for good. There’s no ending yet, and you go back to Level 1 as if nothing happened. I did not notice any difficulty increase in the second loop, but there is one difference. In the first loop, if you run out of lives, you can continue. This puts you exactly where you died with a fresh set of lives and all your equipment intact. As far as I know, you have infinite continues. Once you reach the second loop, running out of lives is Game Over and you can’t continue. There are passwords to help, with a simple format of six digits in length only zero through eight. After each stage, you receive a password. Using it puts you at the beginning of the stage with the starting amount of lives and the base equipment. The passwords do keep track of if you are on your first or second time through the game. This makes the first loop a dry run of sorts where you can figure everything out slowly without much penalty. Then the second time through you just have to remember where to go and execute properly.

This was my first time playing through James Bond Jr. I thought it might be one of the first games I sought out in the summer of 2013 when I got back into collecting, but I see I bought it later than that. I bought my first copy in early 2014 for just under $8. I bought it on eBay with a stock photo in the listing, and when I got the cart it had a terrible white smear on the plastic underneath the label. I bought a replacement copy for $10 a couple years later after I had finished collecting licensed games. I sold the messed up copy to someone on Nintendo Age. He determined that the stain came from using nail polish remover on the plastic, likely in an attempt to remove permanent marker. Pro tip: do not use nail polish remover on game carts because it will deform and discolor the plastic. The buyer ended up transplanting the label off the damaged cart onto a donor cart. I’ve never gone that far to repair a cart, and I’m not sure I ever will because it’s a little questionable to me. I guess it’s okay if all the authentic parts are there since games were assembled from a common supply of parts to begin with. James Bond Jr. is an uncommon NES cart that sells for around $25 today. I ended up with my current copy for free from prior pricing and sale of my duplicate.

My run of the game was ordinary. I spent a few days playing through the stages slowly with the passwords to get a feel for it, then I put it all together in one playthrough for my longplay video. A full run over both loops while knowing where to go took me a little over two hours, which is long for a game that only has four stages. I was lucky enough to get that kind of time the day after beating the game for the first time with passwords.

Blowing up the walls is kinda dangerous.

The first stage is the longest one, serving as the ideal implementation for what the developers were going for. There are several branching paths of several rooms each, many of them ending in the sliding puzzle games. Mini bosses are sprinkled throughout for a somewhat gentle introduction. The puzzles are well done and ramp up in difficulty aside from the one that’s a difficulty spike of its own. There’s even a boss fight at the end of the level. While the platforming and the combat later gets more challenging, the levels are shorter and less ambitious. That made the game seem easier the deeper I got.

The main flaw with James Bond Jr. is that just about every enemy in the game is a bullet sponge. The very first enemy you encounter is a mini-boss type that takes somewhere around 30 hits to defeat with the default weapon. Sadly, this is what you get for the rest of the game. Smaller enemies routinely take 10-15 bullets each before going down, and those values fluctuate all over the board. It’s good that you have unlimited bullets for your standard weapon, but the cool down period when you run out of ammo slows fights down even more. Compounding the problem is that your special weapons don’t help as much as they should. Bombs, for example, are two to three times more powerful than your standard shot, but they run out leaving you with just the pea shooter. Some items deplete rapidly, like the spike shield and the jetpack. Both are better used defensively than offensively. It feels like the game was designed this way intentionally to lengthen the experience. I think reducing enemy health would have made the game snappier and more fun to play while only decreasing the difficulty slightly. That’s a tradeoff I would have made.

I’m making a value judgment here based on limited experience and knowledge, but I’ll say it anyway. I’ve read a lot about what NES publishers were the worst in terms of the quality of games published, and THQ has some growing notoriety as the worst one. I’ve looked at the list of games from them, and from what I can tell I would agree with that sentiment. I have only played two of their games so far, the other one being Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. That game turned out to be fun, but I think James Bond Jr. is better and likely the best one of the bunch. The graphics are well drawn but a bit drab in the color department. The music is above average. The game play is varied and interesting with lots of weapons to use and several ways to play from puzzle solving to scuba diving. The controls are responsive as well. The downsides are too much enemy health and the wholly unnecessary but mandatory second loop. The good parts outweigh the bad ones since you can somewhat manage the detriments. This is a game that doesn’t stand out much but is better than you would expect.

#104 – James Bond Jr.

Posted In: Finished

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