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Monday, 22 September 2014

James Bond 007 (Parker Brothers, 1983)


Developed and published by Parker Brothers in 1983 for Atari 5200, Atari 8-bit computers, ColecoVision and Commodore 64.

Developed for the Atari 2600 by On Time Software:
Lead design and programming by Joseph Gaucher
Music by Dan Kurchevsky
Graphics by Kathy Von
Produced by Louis Marbel for Parker Brothers

Developed for the Sega SG-1000 by Parker Brothers, and published by Tsukuda Original in 1984.

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INTRODUCTION & GAME STATUS


I always liked the idea of playing as the world's most popular secret agent, James Bond. The fact that none of the computer/video games were never properly good until GoldenEye came out, never hindered my quest to virtually restore the world peace. Although Domark made the bulk of the 1980's James Bond games, it all started with this eponymous title by Parker Brothers in 1983, which is a bit strange, since Parker Brothers is an American brand, and James Bond is decidedly not. I don't know whether I'll be making this James Bond thing into a series or not, because the Domark games are not very playable.

Currently, James Bond 007 by Parker Brothers has been rated 5.1 with 25 votes at Lemon64; the Atari 8-bit version has a 7.9/10 with 61 votes at Atarimania, while the A5200 version only has one vote with a 9.0, and the A2600 version has no rating at all. The rest of the scores come from MobyGames, since I couldn't find scores elsewhere, beginning with the missing A2600 score, which is a 3.5 out of 5 from 3 votes. The ColecoVision version has 2 votes, which add up to 3.1, and the SG-1000 version is still awaiting a vote. I have no idea what one is supposed to make out of all that, so I think it is best to move on.


As suggested by a reader to do something to make the blog easier to read through, I will try a new colouring system for paragraphs. Please leave a comment if you have any thoughts on this.

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DESCRIPTION & REVIEW


Moon Patrol (Irem, 1982)
This game, although I played it quite a lot during my earlier years, will now probably always remind me of a strange thought that occurred to one of my bandmates while playing it on a tourbus a couple of years ago: "This is the boring everyday side in the life of a secret agent you will never get to see elsewhere; shooting millions of satellites and jumping over craters with your car." Well, it's not too far off from the bulk of the game, since it does play much like Moon Patrol, but there are some actual goals to accomplish as well.

You have four missions to complete, all of which are loosely based on earlier James Bond novels, or movies if you prefer: Diamonds Are Forever, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only and The Spy Who Loved Me. In DAF, your goal is to successfully land on Seraffino's Oil Rig and rescue Tiffany Case (although you are not required to do anything regarding the rescue procedure once you have landed on the oil rig). In Moonraker, your mission is to destroy Hugo Drax's three spinning satellites. In TSWLM, you have to lob a flare bomb onto Stromberg's undersea laboratory, and rescue Anya Amasova, who will be released from the laboratory in a capsule. Finally, in FYEO, you need to retreive radio equipment from a sunken fishing trawler by getting your craft onto the circular radio antenna in the middle of the deck. Completing this mission should end the game, but so far, I have never managed to pass even the third mission, mostly because I didn't know what to do. Doing a comparison offered me the proper incentive to try and finally beat the game.

James Bond 007 cannot really be called anything particularly inspiring or new at the time, but considering the ever expanding library, something had to be done at the time. I think it was a brave move to feature scenes from four different movies, even if the execution isn't even nearly interesting. Truthfully, the only attraction the game can now have is the novelty value of seeing the earliest computerized incarnation of the famous gunbarrel sequence. For us retrofolks, though, it might have some small importance as a beast that we perhaps never tamed, but as such, the game can only be likened to a lazy housecat instead of a lion.

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PLAYABILITY


Happily, James Bond 007 plays differently enough to Moon Patrol to warrant some explanation, although the basic setting is the same. You progress in an automatically horizontally scrolling screen, on which you drive a car (which later turns into a boat, so it's probably the amphibious Lotus Esprit S1 from The Spy Who Loved Me), shoot things up in the sky and alternately stuff closer to your own level (although this other bullet heads down after a couple of meters), and jump over obstacles. The boat version of the Esprit can additionally perform an inverted version of the jump once you get to the sea. Once you accomplish your mission, the game shows the default cutscene, in which M sends you off into your next mission with a "good luck" message.

With such a simple set of game mechanics, how different can all the versions be in terms of playability? To start with the sometimes alleged point of origin, the COLECO version, you start the game from water, and the visits to land are brief and rare. In true Bond style, the action is fast and furious, and you need to have your reflexes finely tuned in order to make it past even the first level - even on beginner skill. The SEGA SG-1000 version starts from "The Spy Who Loved Me" section, but otherwise feels mostly like the ColecoVision version. I never thought of it as such, but both machines (Coleco & SG-1000), at least judging by this game, seem to have some significant hardware similarities to MSX, because the scrolling on both versions is choppy and "character block" based. This doesn't affect the gameplay as such, but it does make the game a bit more annoying to look at than with proper scrolling. But what does affect the gameplay a bit is the jumping mechanics, which looks a bit angular, which makes dodging all the projectiles and explosions to feel a bit different to navigate around.

Gameplay-wise, the COMMODORE 64, ATARI 5200 and ATARI 400/800 XE/XL versions are similar to each other. Unlike on Coleco and Sega, the scrolling is quite smooth in all three versions, the Lotus's jumping style looks more softly rounded, and the diamonds can be destroyed here. The earlier twosome gains some ground on their control methods, because they have separate fire buttons for firing up and down, whereas these three in this paragraph can only shoot up and down in turns with the same button. However, the C64 and the two Atari versions actually feel surprisingly easy on the easy skill level, so the options are for once actually useful. I also found something a bit surprising: the NTSC versions play a bit faster than the PAL versions. This in itself shouldn't be much of a surprise, because of the 10Hz difference, but aren't games usually supposed to be optimized to work similarly on both systems?

There are some slight level-specific differences in the above versions, which might require some explanations before we head on to the final participant. For instance, the diamonds in "Diamonds Are Forever" can be destroyed by shooting at them in most versions, but on the SEGA and COLECO versions, shooting them just causes a lighting effect, but they will just keep on going as they were. Also on Sega and Coleco, it is easier for you to jump onto the oil rig - you don't have to go around the huge mast or whatever sticking up on the left side of it, just landing on the platform is enough. In "The Spy Who Loved Me", on the C64 and ATARI versions, the underwater missiles turn into mines and drop down when reaching a certain level above the water, while on the SEGA and COLECO versions, the mines are separate entities that drop whenever they feel like, and the missiles will just continue upwards into infinity. I'm sure there are even more specific differences in all the versions, but they must have been so minor that I couldn't bother to notice.

The ATARI 2600 version is, as we have come to expect, a very different beast from all the others. If I understood correctly, this version is missing one of the scenes, but that's the least of it's problems. The biggest problem I had with was the shooting satellite, which was too close to your jumping range. Perhaps it wouldn't have been such a big problem, but there's also a shooting helicopter going to the opposite direction, and quite often, you would be facing not only two shooting airborne vessels, but also some holes in the ground. At least the satellites (or the helicopters) can't do any more holes in the ground, but when you're on water, the bombs from the satellite become just as dangerous as they are in all the other versions. In fact, they are more dangerous, because the effect lasts longer and is a bit wider. Funnily enough, once the divers start appearing on the screen, the satellite's bombs will not affect the water anymore. Also, the divers will not shoot you, but instead they spontaneously explode. Although it doesn't seem much of a problem at first, one of the most aggravating things about level 1 for me was the amount of diamonds to shoot, which was quite a lot less than on any other version. Sometimes, you would only get one chance to shoot a diamond after losing a life on the water before you are greeted by a hidden oil rig. Eventually, when you get to level 2 (Moonraker), things get ridiculously quick and difficult. I gave up at that point. The only good thing I can think of from the A2600 version of James Bond 007 is a completely unique way of handling the amphibious Lotus - you can actually pull it back towards the ground to make it return from a dive or a jump faster.

All things considered, I think it's a bit of a surprise that the seemingly simplest version is also the least playable one of the lot, and controllability-wise, the most advanced versions have much too steep a difficulty curve in them in order for newcomers to have much of a chance of enjoyment from them. Then again, that's 1983 gaming for you at the very heart of it. In conclusion, we have a lot of tied places this time, because all the versions of James Bond 007 can be grouped into three bunches.

1. ATARI 8-BITS / A5200 / C64
2. COLECOVISION / SEGA SG-1000
3. ATARI 2600

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GRAPHICS


Plug the cartridge (the game was only ever released on a cartridge) into your chosen computer or console, turn on the machine and what do you see? No more and no less than the main menu screen. Some of the versions even have some sort of stylised title as well. I would let the screens speak for themselves, but for those who haven't played this game before, the colourful frames around JAMES BOND are animated to scroll the colours around the frames. The main menu screens on the bottom row offer no animation whatsoever.

Title screens. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, Atari 800, Atari 5200
Bottom row, left to right: ColecoVision, Atari 2600, Sega SG-1000
Gamers would still have to wait for some years before getting a James Bond game that had the looks required from such a well-established brand. Parker Brothers even decided not to go with the familiar gunbarrel intro that all the movies have, but instead created their own low-budget version of it, in which Bond is standing against a red background, waving good-bye at M, and the Lotus will slowly appear in front of him, followed by road. Then Bond enters the car, after which the car shoots a few bullets up and down, and finally, the car diminishes into a miniature of itself and drives off to the right.

Basic cutscenes. Top left: Commodore 64. Top right: Atari 800. Bottom left: ColecoVision. Bottom right: Sega SG-1000.


Of course, the ATARI 2600 version doesn't have a cutscene as such - it's the same picture as the title screen, which can be a bit confusing, until you potentially notice the game continues in a slightly different manner. All the other versions work fine as they are. You might have noticed that I left one of the Atari versions out from the collage above - this is because the A5200 and ATARI 8-BIT versions are virtually the same. The only difference is that the PAL version has different colours to the NTSC one, and the scrolling bit you know about already. We shall take a better look at the PAL vs. NTSC screenshots later on. But I would say without a doubt, that the ATARI 5200/800 version looks easily the best with its shaded background and flashing "Good luck, mr Bond" text at the top. Too bad the colour of Bond's Lotus is badly wrong there, but that's a minor complaint.

Important bits from Level 1 (Diamonds Are Forever). Top left: Commodore 64. Bottom left: Atari 800. Middle: Atari 2600.
Top right: Sega SG-1000. Bottom right: ColecoVision.


Once you get into the game itself, all the important bits start to gradually reveal themselves. (Sorry about the amount of data on the picture - click on it to see it bigger.) The C64 version is the only one that has a multi-colour Lotus sprite. It's not much, but it does look that little bit less cheap than the others. The A2600 version is the only one that shares multi-colour sprites for the diamonds and the satellite, but they do look quite a bit different from each other. The A5200/ATARI 8-BIT version can boast with the best visual effects (although you can't see them here) - all the explosions cause a logical sequence of degrading colours in the sky. Also, the ground bits could be thought of as the least boring of the lot. And then of course, you see the COLECO and SG-1000 versions share a similar hi-res style with monochrome sprites, but better and more detailed animations. Also worth noting is, that only half of the versions feature a score display during the gameplay - A2600, COLECO and SG-1000. All the other versions show the score only between  levels and after losing a life. Honestly, I don't think it's a very necessary feature, but it's a matter of taste, really. Finally, one more thing needs to be said of the A2600 version, lest I made you think it's actually impressive in any way: the change from land to water is unnatural and abrupt, and requires no action from you whatsoever.

Important bits from Level 2 (The Spy Who Loved Me). Top left: Commodore 64. Bottom left: Atari 800.
Top right: Sega SG-1000. Bottom right: ColecoVision.


It's funny to think about proportions when playing a game like this, because so many things are completely off - like, think of Stromberg's underwater base/city, Atlantis. It's supposed to be a fairly massive structure, but in the game, it isn't that much bigger than Bond's amphibious Lotus. Anyway, you can see the graphical pattern continues from the previous level: the C64 version is the most colourful (and even has the escape pod's colour the closest to the original, which was dark grey); A5200/A8B has the best effects, and the two on the right look pretty much similar with their hi-res sprites and details. As I mentioned earlier, the A2600 version doesn't have "The Spy Who Loved Me" sequence, so it's out of the equation this time.

Important bits from Level 3 (Moonraker). Top left: Commodore 64. Bottom left: Atari 800.
Top right: Sega SG-1000. Bottom right: Atari 2600.


I think it's been well established that the SEGA SG-1000 and COLECOVISION versions look pretty much exactly the same - at least you wouldn't be able to discern from the screenshots which was which if it weren't for the border differences and the different font, so I didn't include it here this time. Instead, the A2600 comes back in the game here. Again, there is nothing new to tell here, so I'll just let the screenshots speak for themselves.

The final sequence is really a bitch to try and take screenshots of, since most of the elements are hidden most of the time, and the gameplay is so frantic that I don't have the skill to play it and take proper screenshots while at it. Besides, since I couldn't even get to the final level in all the versions, I'll leave it for you more skilled players out there to find out what lies beyond level 3.

Atari 8-bit screenshots: PAL (above) vs NTSC (below).
So, now the two different ATARI 8-BIT versions then. Normally, I would say it's mostly a matter of preference, but considering the possibility that the game was originally made for the Coleco, and red was the choice of colour for the background in the cutscene thing... THAT would have to be the original point of comparison then. And in that case, the closer you are to the original, the better your chances of being faithful to the original are as well. I would say the PAL version is closer to what it's supposed to be in this case.

Finally, we'll take a look at the Game Over screens. Basically, the game ends with the same cutscene as are in between levels, only this time, M's (or is it your enemy's?) message reads "Goodbye, Mr. Bond". This is followed by the final ranking screen, where you will get your double-o number based on your skill level and the mission you managed to accomplish. Some versions combine these elements into one final screen. Naturally, the A2600 version is left without a proper Game Over screen, and when your game ends, you will be straight back at the title screen.

Game Over screens, left to right: Commodore 64, Atari 800, Sega SG-1000 and ColecoVision.


It's a tough decision again. I never thought the C64 version was anything special, but compared to the others, it's almost brilliant. Its visual effects aren't quite as sophisticated as the 8-bit Atari's (and A5200's), but there's a lot more personality added with a bit of more colour on all the sprites. The Sega and Coleco versions have a bit of Spectrumesque charm with the hi-res sprites that the others lack, but the scrolling is a downer. But I'm sure we can all agree on the Atari 2600 version's inferiority. It's fun to see the old bugger included into the party, but outdated is outdated even in 1983.

1. COMMODORE 64
2. A5200 / ATARI 8-BIT
3. SEGA SG-1000 / COLECOVISION
4. ATARI 2600

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SOUNDS


Monty Norman's most famous composition must be the James Bond theme, originally heard in Dr. No (1962) as performed by John Barry and his orchestra, and heard in numerous different variations in all the 23 official Bond movies so far. Already in 1983, the theme song had been heard in 13 movies, so people had a fairly good idea what it's supposed to sound like.

None of the renditions of the theme tune are exactly as you would expect them to be. At best, you only get to hear 10 bars of music, focusing on the loud horn melody swing bit, and it always ends up in strange, unfitting modal modulation from E minor to G major in exactly the sort of way musicians usually try to avoid of making. Perhaps it's written in such a way as a joke, or perhaps they needed to give the game a more uplifting feel with that. Either way, it has and always will give me those bad sort of shivers.

You can't hear the G major ending on the A2600 rendition, because it only utilises one voice, so all you get to hear are 8 bars of the horn section melody without any embellishments. All the other versions have two extra bars at the beginning, featuring the famous "agent minor" riff going up and down once. Interestingly, the theme tune sounds the best on COLECO and SEGA, with a very clear (if bleepy) instrumentation. On the C64, the tune sounds needlessly dark and murky, but at least all the instruments (again, the same type of sound for all melody lines) are in tune, unlike on the 8-BIT ATARIS, on which one of the higher tones is a bit off. This, it could be argued, adds a sort of alive feel to the composition, but to me, it just doesn't sound right when a machine is slightly off-key.

The sound effects in each version are pretty much what you would expect from a 1983 game: some explosions, bleepy falling sounds and ascending sounds, shooting sounds and so on. Not much to say about them, really. Only the A2600 version seems to have the least amount of sounds in the library. And again, curiously, the COLECO and SEGA versions feel more thought-out and distinctive than the very much stock sounds that are on the ATARIS and C64. So, I guess we have a very clear order here.

1. SEGA SG-1000 / COLECOVISION
2. COMMODORE 64 / ATARI 8-BIT / A5200
3. ATARI 2600

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OVERALL


It's not a particularly good start to Bond games, but it could have been made a lot worse, to be honest. As it is, James Bond 007 is essentially harmless coffee break fun, but you also need to read some instructions in order to get anywhere in it. Or, you could make some wild guesses.

Apart from the A2600 version, all of these are surprisingly close to each other in quality. Different, but close enough not to make much of a difference in the end, which version you're going to choose to play. Here are the traditional mathematical results:

1. COMMODORE 64: Playability 3, Graphics 4, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 9
2. ATARI 8-BITS / ATARI 5200: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 8
3. COLECOVISION / SEGA SG-1000: Playability 2, Graphics 2, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 7
4. ATARI 2600: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 3

From this lot, I think the Sega/Coleco version is my current favourite, because it's different enough from the "better" versions to be interesting, but more particularly, it's a new challenge for me. If you happened to like any of the game's versions back in the day, I do recommend you to try at least some of the other versions, if only for the sake of having variety.

Parker Brothers were originally making a Bond game based on the then-current Octopussy, to be released on the Mattel Intellivision console. From all we know, the game reached a preview stage before it was cancelled, but no prototype images have surfaced yet. Some further information as well as the only known screenshots so far can be viewed at MI6, the home of James Bond 007 website.

Screenshots from various versions of Domark's Bond games:
A View To A Kill, Live And Let Die, The Living Daylights, The Spy Who Loved Me and Licence to Kill.

As we know, Domark released the vast majority of the later James Bond games until the 1990's, and that should probably be made into a series.. but frankly, most of the Domark games are sub-par, and I don't feel like wasting much time on that lot, because there are so many better games around to compare.

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it!
Comments, suggestions and corrections are as welcome as ever.

2 comments:

  1. It's very nice and readable with these colors for paragraphs. Keep on !

    ReplyDelete
  2. Okay, great! I'll use this idea for my future comparisons and update my old entries accordingly when I have time. Thanks for the suggestions! =)

    ReplyDelete