Feature: Nintendo and Bond Through the Ages
Posted by Gaz Plant
A license to thrill
While film tie-ins are expected these days, few games can attest to having their origins found in novels, and fewer still can claim to have outgrown those origins and become a success in their own right. But that is exactly what the James Bond franchise has done. What initially began as a series of novels by Sir Ian Fleming, James Bond has gone on to become a cinema sensation, most recently with the record-breaking Skyfall; as any good publisher knows, where there’s a film, there’s the potential for a game.
What makes the James Bond franchise unique, however, is the way that it has transcended the traditional movie tie-in role and become a series of its own; a game series that has its own set of fans and features its own stories within the cinematic universe. The tale of how the Bond franchise became a gaming landmark involves many publishers and developers, but over the years two names have continued to be important – Nintendo and Eurocom.
With Skyfall continuing to break records and the cinematic franchise recently celebrating its 50th Anniversary, we’re taking a look back at how Nintendo home consoles helped shape one of the biggest franchises in the gaming world, and how a little developer in the UK continued the legacy of one of the N64’s biggest games.
The Commodore Is Not Enough
The story of Bond’s appearances in games does not begin until 1983, much humbler times. With the Commodore 64 and early Atari systems dominating the early gaming market, it was only a matter of time until the Bond juggernaut made the transition to the small screen, and it did that thanks to the Parker Brothers. The first Bond game, creatively titled James Bond 007, took elements from many of the early Bond films, and its simple platform-shooter approach would lay the groundwork for a variety of films tie-ins over the coming years.
Now defunct developer Domark took up the mantle from the Parker Brothers after the first game, with the focus shifting from platforming to text adventures, and back to platforming over the next decade. And while SEGA’s fledgling Master System proved to be an occasional home for 007, Nintendo was left in the dark; that is until a small developer in the UK called Eurocom got involved.
Released in 1991 and based on the cartoon of the same name, James Bond Jr was developed for both the NES and SNES, and while unremarkable as a game, is notable as the beginning of Eurocom’s relationship with James Bond and only its second game as a studio. No-one could have guessed how important this relationship would become in the coming years.
From Rare With Love
With the film series undergoing widespread changes, it was little surprise that 1993 marked the beginning of a hiatus for the fledgling game series, and with few developments regarding Bond games it subsequently missed the 1995 release of Pierce Brosnan’s début in Goldeneye. Little did the gaming public know, however, that Goldeneye had caught the eye of Tim and Chris Stamper, the founders of Donkey Kong Country developer Rare.
Developed over a two year period in tandem with Nintendo’s development of the N64, Goldeneye 007 finally hit stores in August 1997 worldwide, and from that point on, both shooters and the Bond franchise changed forever.
While initially conceived as an on-rails shooter, Goldeneye 007 is now heralded by many as a precursor to modern first-person shooters, and it’s easy to see why. Taking inspiration from PC FPS games such as Doom, Rare took the Bond universe and truly made you James Bond. With two years of development time, the team had a unique opportunity to visit the sets from the film and create a game that not only followed the film’s plot and characters, but also visited the real-life movie locations. Add in many new and exciting features and some bonus levels which expanded upon the narrative (most notably the opening Dam level), and it’s easy to see why it is so beloved by Bond fans around the world.
Better still was the multiplayer, which revolutionised the local multiplayer market. Four-player split-screen multiplayer was a massive success for Goldeneye and contributed considerably to it becoming one of the most popular games on the N64. It’s no surprise that even today, Goldeneye remains one of the most enjoyable multiplayer experiences out there for retro gamers.
With Rare passing on developing a sequel, and the Bond franchise becoming one of the big gaming highlights thanks to Goldeneye’s almost universal praise, it was left to EA to carry the torch forward, and despite some teething problems, we feel it did it in style.
While its first release, Tomorrow Never Dies, never made it to the N64, its second release, The World Is Not Enough, did, and for development duties EA turned to none other than Eurocom. Taking cues from Goldeneye, The World Is Not Enough was developed in a similar mould, with the mission structure and gameplay borrowing heavily from the previous title. The game never reached the heights of Goldeneye’s success, but with a similar multiplayer mode and an adventurous campaign, it was clear that Eurocom understood what made the N64 classic so good.
For its next Bond game, EA went internal, and in 2002 released 007: Agent Under Fire, marking the series’ transition to the GameCube. Continuing in the same vein as Eurocom’s last effort, Agent Under Fire was a first person shooter, with an emphasis on gadgets and stealth, but used the enhanced power of the GameCube to introduce new elements such as car chases. However, perhaps more notable is the fact that Agent Under Fire is a standalone Bond game, featuring an entirely unique story set apart from the films. It was the first indication that Bond could stand on his own instead of being indebted to the latest movie.
Eurocom was brought back on board for EA’s next effort, joining the generational transition to the GameCube. 007: Nightfire was released in November 2002, again featuring a unique story and refining the gameplay of the previous titles. Nightfire also included an expanded multiplayer, and is possibly one of the most popular Bond titles ever released, with some arguing that it's better than even Goldeneye. It is also notable for featuring an incredibly tough underwater driving segment, something that still gives Bond fans nightmares to this day.
Taking the internal option again, EA shook the series up considerably with 2003’s third-person shooter, 007: Everything or Nothing on GameCube. While not loved by all, Everything or Nothing introduced a co-op mode to the game alongside the main campaign, and would be the genesis for EA’s, and the GameCube’s, final Bond title, From Russia With Love. With Sean Connery returning to the role of James Bond for the first time since the film Never Say Never Again, and the game following the plot of the hugely popular From Russia With Love, the game was unsurprisingly well received by fans; with refined gameplay it earned praise from the media, too. The same can’t be said of Goldeneye: Rogue Agent however, which was seen by many as a simple cash-in on the name, Goldeneye.
In 2006, EA lost the rights to the Bond franchise, but left an indelible mark on the series. EA’s understanding of a Bond game being a playable film made them immensely enjoyable for fans – for many, the way the games followed the established opening sequence of Bond films (gun barrel, random mission, opening credits) before showing you the main menu showed that EA truly understood the Bond license, while other subtle features such as Bond Moments and Bond Vision added to the feeling of being 007.
Eurocom Lives Twice
2006’s rights loss saw Activision take up the mantle of moving Bond forward, and with its Call of Duty series going from strength to strength, it seemed like a natural home for a series that was so important to the FPS genre. It wasn’t until 2008, however, that we saw the Bond franchise again, and it was clear straight away that something had been lost in the transition to Activision.
Developed by Call of Duty veterans Treyarch, Quantum of Solace ties directly into both of Daniel Craig’s first two outings as Bond, bringing the stories together in one over-arching narrative. While the FPS gameplay was solid, especially for the Wii, the game’s increased emphasis on gunplay and a lack of focus on the traditional stealth elements, along with the abandonment of hallmark EA features such as Bond Moments, left many fans concerned about the future of the franchise. 2010 however, would change all that.
Following in the footsteps of Quantum of Solace, Eurocom was once again back at the helm of a James Bond title and, more importantly, bringing back a Nintendo classic. Goldeneye 007 was released on Wii exclusively in 2010, reimagining Rare’s classic FPS 13 years on. Using elements of Treyarch’s engine, Goldeneye again took inspiration from more recent FPS games, but reintroduced stealth to please long-time fans. This, along with a fantastic multiplayer suite, has left Goldeneye 007 as being one of the Wii’s best games, and a regular party favourite; it did eventually get re-packaged for Xbox 360 and PS3.
While the HD systems were fortunate enough to see the release of 007: Blood Stone, arguably Activision’s only successful attempt at recapturing the EA era’s gameplay, Nintendo fans would have to wait until 2012 for more Bond, in the form of James Bond: 007 Legends last December on Wii U. Released to almost universally negative reviews, Eurocom’s 50th Anniversary celebration was meant to celebrate all that was good about Bond; instead it stripped away the stealth and gadgets, presenting fans with a Call of Duty-esque clone, a shell of its former self.
Ultimately this would be Eurocom’s final outing as a game developer, and the studio closed late last year, perhaps due in part to the critical panning that 007 Legends received. More recently, Activision has taken down all Bond games from its online store, prompting many to question the future of 007. With no key developer and likely no publisher, there is a chance for reinvention and redemption for this once great franchise, and perhaps the home for that will be back on a Nintendo system once again.
What are your favourite memories of 007 over the years? Are you a Goldeneye or Nightfire fan? And how do you see the series progressing in the future? Let us know in the comments below; we expect you to talk, Bond.