James Pond II - Codename: Robocod

Also Known As: Super James Pond (SNES port)
Platform: Mega Drive
Other Platforms: Amiga, Atari ST, C64, Amiga CD32, DOS, SNES, Game Gear, Master System, Game Boy Advance, PS1, Nintendo DS, PS2
Developer: Millenium Interactive
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: 1991
Genre: Platformer - Scrolling
Players: 1

James Pond II - Codename: Robocod was a game caught up in the whirlwind of platforming characters in the mid-90s, but unlike some I could name (Bubsy, lookin' at you, kid) Pond actually delivers a game that doesn't give you the urge to drink battery acid and end it all, but at the same time, it's average compared to better games of the genre. Naturally, because this is a game from good ol' Blighty, the plot is absolutely ridiculous- Pond must save Santa Claus and some penguins from Dr. Maybe and his army of evil 'things', so with the toy factory at the North Pole as the game's 'hub', you have to make your way through over 30 stages, complete with bonus areas, hidden worlds and the most insane enemies in any platformer.

The game itself really doesn't stray too far from the conventions of the genre, but it has its foibles. For starters, Pond's Expandosuit lets him stretch his body straight upwards, for as long as you like- if you reach a platform or the roof while stretching, let go of the button and Pond will grab on, letting him shimmy his way across. It's a useful skill in parts, but you can't grab on to every kind of platform, and there's flying enemies patrolling the areas where you'd be able to abuse the stretching to make short work of the level. Outside a few other things, like some vehicles you can pick up (including A MAGICAL FLYING BATHTUB and the ability to increase the damage you do by tucking into your suit, that's all there is to it. While it doesn't do anything particularly original, it hits all the right notes- the controls are a little on the floaty side but you never feel out of control, the environments change almost every single stage and the enemies are inventive and wacky (the London bus that spews handbag-toting grannies is a particular highlight).

The major problem with the game is the level design. Initially, it's not so bad. Mostly the standard left-to-right affair with some vertical scrolling thrown in for good measure. However, about a quarter of the way into the game, you encounter the Sweet and Car worlds. The stages in these worlds are overly long, filled with cheap shots from the Paper Card Bird enemies, and one stage in particular is basically a total slog and almost- almost- kills your enthusiasm for the game entirely. It's a shame, because I've known people to give up at this point- a younger me being one of them- and the game actually improves from there on with some interesting level layouts (the bathtub stages in particular). It never elevates itself beyond just good, of course, but it's better than the Sweet and Car worlds.

This is a very difficult game for me to review, partly because of my nostalgia for the game- it's one of only a few games I've covered on this site that I loved as a child (until the Car world, of course)- and partly because there's this sense of the developers trying really hard. The game was developed in just nine months- a lot of time in video game development terms- and it's brimming with something that competitors at the time (Bubsy, Zool, etc.) were trying to grasp and failed- charm. Without the inventive enemies, backgrounds, and all the neat little touches (the parasols you can use to float down, then this might even be as low as a 2-star game, as it doesn't do anything particularly amazing. The charm kicks it up a notch, and while this is just another 90s platformer, this is pretty good for a typical 90s platformer. Not exactly saying much, but basically, it could be a whole lot worse and it could be a whole lot better.

For its flawed but charming attempt at platforming supremacy, James Pond II - Codename: Robocod is awarded...

In a sentence, James Pond II - Codename: Robocod is...
Your typical 90s platformer with added moxie.

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