Genre: Action Developer: Domark Publisher: Domark Players: 1 Released: 1991
I refuse to open this review with any sort of James Bond pun. The wide variety of catch phrases and trademarks the franchise has may have held some literary merit back in Sean Connery’s original run, but nowadays they’re a bit tired. Perhaps I’m coming off as too harsh; for clarification, I consider myself an absolutely huge James Bond fan. I’ve seen every movie, read nearly every novel, and can spout off enough useless gibberish about each to make a Star Wars fan in full Imperial officer regalia think I’m a dork. It was this, and this alone, that spurred me to revisit James Bond: The Duel, a 1992 platformer from the now-defunct Domark Games (famed for a variety of Commodore 64 titles and the abysmal Saturn shooter Machine Head). And with Daniel Craig’s promising debut as 007 in this fall’s Casino Royale soon upon us, what better time could there be?
Now pay attention, 007 (sorry…). The Duel stands as Bond’s only Genesis adventure; the title also appeared on the Master System and several home computers in Europe. Prior to this, Bond had had several home computer missions; a few text-based adventures based on A View To A Kill and Goldfinger (strangely enough, written by future Bond novelist Raymond Benson), the Police Quest-esq The Stealth Affair, and several other games by Domark based on various films, including Live and Let Die and Licence to Kill. But while Domark’s other games were based on loosely connected principles (Live and Let Die, for example, was strictly boat-racing, while Licence to Kill was a hodgepodge of a top-down shooter and a scrolling helicopter shooter), The Duel is the first time the world of 007 was ever used in a side-scrolling action title. It was also the first time a Bond game was not based directly on a movie, paving the way for many of EA’s original-storyline 007 first-person adventures way down the line.
The storyline is typical Bond: a mad scientist has made a fortress on a Caribbean island and has decided to elect himself the new President of the World (my words, not theirs), and Her Majesty’s Secret Service sends 007 in to diffuse the situation. Along the way, you’ll encounter a few familiar faces such as Oddjob and Jaws…because apparently, said mad scientist has cloned some of Bond’s fallen foes. Which indicates to me that he was expecting James to arrive. What if they sent maybe 006 or 008 instead, hmm? What then? Oh, by the way, none of this is explained in-game, so unless your copy has the box or you read a review beforehand, you’ll never be too sure what, exactly, James Bond is blundering his way through.
The gameplay itself graduated from the Rolling Thunder school of “moving slowly and shooting everything,” although it’s level designs are much more platformer-inspired. In true Bond style, in each level there’s a number of damsels-in-distresses you must save, each one you rescue replaces another heart on your life meter. Once the ladies are all rescued, you then need to find and diffuse a bomb, and THEN you have sixty seconds to find the level’s exit, which due to the labyrinthine level designs is a bit trickier than it sounds. Controls are fairly simple and completely customizable; one button shoots, one button jumps, one button throws grenades. Easy enough, eh? Until you realize how long it takes Bond to do ANYTHING. When I said the gameplay consists of ‘moving slowly and shooting everything’ I wasn’t being sarcastic. While simply walking, Bond moves at a decent clip, but firing your weapon, ducking, jumping, or scaling ladders takes longer than it should.
All of that slowness has given the game an unbalanced sense of difficulty. Your enemies are far faster than you, inevitably getting the first shot off most times you encounter one. Bond takes forever to recover after getting shot, which also leads to your enemies being in a great position to shoot you AGAIN once you finally stand back up. That is, if you’re still close to them. Every time Bond takes damage it shoots him backwards a good six feet or so, which has lead to more than one death by getting knocked off a high platform. You shouldn’t have to play a game in fear of jumping to a higher ledge because you know you’ll just get shot right back off of it. Crouching doesn’t help this, as the collision detection usually involves you getting hit again. The only surefire away to avoid taking enemy fire is ducking into several little ‘cubbys’ spread throughout levels; pressing up near them will cause Bond to duck into the side hatch and render you unshootable for as long as you’re in there. You’ll have to leave sometime, though. Additionally, Bond carries a variety of other platformer hero moves such as grabbing ladders in mid jump and dangling off of platforms to drop to another one (press down and jump on any thin ledge).
Graphically, the game is completely middle-of-the-road. It’s by no means Gunstar Heroes or The Adventures of Batman and Robin, but it could be worse. The colors are bright and vivid throughout each level, and each time you hit start to pause the game it does this cool fade-to-gray effect. The characters are well-animated with a decent amount of frames and animations. Bond’s jump looks good, the guard’s patrol routines don’t look too bad, and there’s a lot of little animation touches. Every time Bond runs over an ammo clip dropped by an enemy, he’ll actually duck down and scoop it up, instead of running over it and having it magically materialize in his inventory. The levels have those too; for example, in level one if you fall overboard into the ocean, you’ll be swept out to sea by the current and then eaten by sharks in an animation sequence that for some reason reminds me a lot of Monkey Island. I hate seeing bad things happen to James Bond, but I’ll admit that was kind of funny.
Musically it’s about the same; the intro features one of the peppiest MIDI renditions of Monty Norman’s legendary James Bond Theme I’ve ever heard (sometimes I’ll turn the game on just to hear the opening tune), but every level after that features that generic, Genesis action game “thumping bass'” stuff we’ve heard a million times. The sound effects are kind of a disappointment. The same ‘whud’ sound is used for waaay too much (falling damage and staircases are the biggest culprits) and didn’t sound that great to begin with, the weapons sound like Airsoft guns, and every time Bond takes damage he does this voice-sampled ‘oof’ that makes him sound like an ogre. Nothing that will break the game, but nothing that will make you want to fire your gun aimlessly just to hear the bang.
Really, this game’s biggest flaw is it’s failure to capture the James Bond magic. Despite the return of fan-favorite villains and some oblique level homages (the jungle level could be Live and Let Die, the boat level may have been inspired by For Your Eyes Only, etc.), there’s nothing about this game that really sets it apart from most shooters except for the Timothy Dalton likeness on the title screen. I couldn’t even really recommend it for fellow James Bond diehards; since the brilliant Goldeneye 007 is readily available for the N64, we’re not exactly for want of decent 007 video games. If you’re a Genesis completist or find it at a pawn shop for…maybe a dollar or so, you might not want to pass it if you’re into self-inflicted aggravation. But after your performance review, Commander Bond, we’re going to have to revoke your licence to platform. Indefinitely.
SCORE: 5 out of 10