Once upon a time there was a game called James Pond, and it was not terrible. Since the game was an unmitigated success the people who made it took the tried and tested, Hollywood approved, course of action and made a sequel. Like most sequels, this one, code-named Robocod, was not as good as the original. Unlike most sequels it was much, much, much (you get the picture) better.
Robocod took the book of Amiga platform games, read it from cover to cover, cut it up into little pieces and then reassembled it in a way not completely dissimilar to the one used by William Burroughs in his writing of Nova Express. The result was a game that, at the time, completely redefined Amiga platformers. Unlike, go on, I will say it... Zool, which was just wow!, Robocod was wow! And it made you think as well. The bonuses were hidden so cunningly that even today, after over a year of hard playing, I come across new ones. The cheats were so clever that you would think it was not intended for computer games players at all, but for Oxford undergraduates.
Now there are more than a couple of games that have been rehashed for the AGA Amiga baby, but none have really added much to the original. Millennium have avoided this criticism by adding a very tangible, and pretty tricky, five levels to Robocod. And they did not even bother to tell me, I just found myself playing a game I thought I new inside out, when BANG! There I was charting unknown platforms. And extraordinary fun it was too.
The backgrounds benefit in most places from the 256 color treatment, but the sprites have been left as they were. It is good to see that Millennium showed more restraint on the Amiga than on the Mega Drive version of Robocod, which featured overly distracting Zool-AGA style backgrounds. Some of the backgrounds, like the clouds on the train level, have not been given the AGA treatment, which is a real shame, because they would have looked particularly great.
RoboCod is one of those games that just spurts playability and general loveliness out of the monitor and all over your lap. From the wonderful way it lampoons RoboCop - who could resist a game with the subtitle "He's mean, he's green, he's part machine"? - to the intricately crafted levels, it is a winner through and through.
The story goes like this: The evil Dr Maybe has taken over Santa's toy factory and is producing deadly toys to completely bugger up Christmas for everyone. Who could save the world from a nightmare of exploding Ninja Turtle figures? Well, we did try that woman from Watchdog but she was not in. it was then that the governments of the world has a brainwave and got in touch with F.I.5.H, who in turn got in touch with Pond. James Pond, that is.
Since his last mission, which spookily took place in the original James Pond game, James has been "hanging out" with all his under-sea homeboys but when duty calls he is ready for action once more. He reports to "F" and welds himself into a robot suit which will enable him to breathe out of water. Thus fortified against the slings and snorkels of outrageous fortune, he stomps off to exact fishy justice on Dr Maybe.
OK, that is the story out of the way, so just what can RoboCod do? Well as you can imagine, RoboCod weights a bit, with two tonnes of solid titanium stapled to his nipples, and so instead of zapping the bogus bad dudes with a gun, he just jumps on their heads and squashes them. Fair enough. He can also extend his body vertically and grab onto platforms high above him. This is a really handy gadget, and there is no limit to how high he can go. You can really have a laugh making him latch onto a really high platform and then letting go. Yuk yuk yuk.
You can also scrunch down to look at what is going on below you. Add to this the usual array of power-ups that grant you the ability to fly, or to become invincible, and you have got a pretty tough fish.
Robo can also hop into vehicles to aid his progress, and these range from a nifty little plane to a car to a bath tub. Not really sure about flying around in a bath tub, but Millennium reckon it is true, so we will give them the benefit of the doubt. And if you think that is weird, wait until you clap eyes on what awaits you inside the factory.
Each set of levels takes place in a "room", each of which represent different sorts of toys and games. There are nine rooms in all, each comprising several levels and a big guardian-type thingy. The rooms cover such topics as sports - where big footballs and golfclubs tower above you - to the circus where crazed clowns try to fillet you. The cartoon style is there throughout, with pretty much everything having a silly little face on it, and even the nasties look like rejects from the worst 60's acid nightmare. Bizarre is not the word. Erm, well, actually bizarre is the word. And so is bonkers.
The graphics are brilliantly stylized, managing to keep the feel of the original but still adding something new. Bigger, better and brighter than before is the best way to describe them. The animation is spot on, with plenty of neat little touches to look out for. For instance, the way that Robo will pick up momentum as he runs down a steep slope and then skid to a halt at the bottom, with his little fins now more a blur of speed.
Naturally, the programmers take full advantage of this momentum and usually put a really fiendish trap at the bottom of the slope so you run straight into it and die horribly. Still, you have got to laugh.
Sound, believe it or not, is excellent too. The tune is a bouncy cartoon-style parody of the ominous RoboCop theme, and the springy sound effects complement the graphics well. Boing, thud, ker-splat and wibble. You certainly won't be turning down the volume on this one.
Of course, RoboCod does suffer slightly because it is "just another platform game". In the past few months alone we have had the rather excellent Magic Pockets and the commendable Rolling Ronny, but RoboCod stands up well against such competition. It is better than Ronny, there is no doubt about that, and I might even go as far as to say that it is better than Magic Pockets. Scandalous? Well, I am just a sucker for a fish in body armor.
There are tons and tons of features and little cheats to discover as you go along. Enough to keep you exploring for weeks on end.
People who downloaded James Pond 2: Codename Robocod have also downloaded:
James Pond 1: Underwater Agent, James Pond 3, Lemmings, Lemmings 3: All New World of Lemmings, Lemmings 2: The Tribes, Lemmings: Oh No! More Lemmings, Rainbow Islands, Lemmings Holiday
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