On the Nintendo 64, Perfect Dark was a big huge deal for console gamers back in 2000: it was the spiritual successor to GoldenEye, it took advantage of all the technical whiz-bang that the console could muster, and it was supposed to be the ultimate console first-person shooter experience from the Nintendo camp’s golden child, Rare.
So why not make a Game Boy Color tie-in that pushed the little bugger harder than anyone else had bothered?
This pocket entry is actually the second adventure in the chronology, taking place after the events of Perfect Dark Zero on Xbox 360 and before the N64 game. So really this is Perfect Dark 1, or ½ depending on how you count. Numerical muckiness aside, the game picks up in the year 2022, preceding the console game by one year, right as Joanna Dark is completing her training with the Carrington Institute (where she earned the Perfect code name) and her first assigned mission where she’s tasked with destroying an illegal cyborg manufacturing plant in the South American jungle. While there, she witnesses an aircraft get shot down and proceeds to investigate the wreckage; players familiar with the story of the N64 game can imagine where this is headed.
Rare was wise enough to not bother with a first-person perspective here and instead pop the camera into a top-down spot for most of the stages, giving the action an old Metal Gear slant. The action is broken up by a dozen minigames interspersed throughout the levels; the colour-based lock-picking is basically Simon Says, and there’s even a straight Operation Wolf copy in there. They’re alright, if a bit unoriginal, although if you do like Operation Wolf or Simon Says then you’ll certainly have no issue.
Perfect Dark takes advantage of every aspect and peripheral of the GBC. Coming on a rumble cartridge, the game supports IR data transfer, link cable multiplayer, the Game Boy printer for hardcopy character profiles, the N64 Transfer Pak for unlocking cheats in the N64 game; if the GBC could do it, Perfect Dark does it. There’s even clean voice acting in the cutscenes, something a lesser developer wouldn’t even dream of implementing. Characters are large, crisp and fluidly animated, bearing a strong resemblance to the Donkey Kong Land series’ use of CGI sprites.
The problem is that the sprites are a bit too large for the small screen, which means that visibility is limited in the stages. This hampers any attempt at stealth since you won’t spot any enemies until you’re possibly too close, and even if you do manage to stay hidden from one then they’ll pace out of your field of view — knowing where they are or what direction they’re facing comes down to guesswork. The close view also forces combat down to basically standing in front of an enemy and trading shots until one of you bites it. Konami managed to squeeze down a Metal Gear Solid game while retaining the stealth and action portions, so the large sprites here come across as more flashy than functional and ruin a lot of the fun.
And we have no idea why, but the health meter takes up a good chunk of the screen. It looks like an EKG meter and is unnecessarily large, with the game’s horrible portrait of Joanna permanently in the top right corner in the field sections. Perhaps the game is pushing the hardware enough that cutting a chunk out of the playing field was the only way to get it to run reasonably smooth, but minimising it would’ve been a great help for the visibility issues.
If you can round up a friend with the game then the multiplayer modes could suck some time away, with game types ranging from deathmatch to hostage guarding/rescuing. Playing through the single-player unlocks new maps, which you can send to friends with the IR connection. The problems with combat that wreck the campaign are still here, namely that it’s tough to know where your opponent is until they’re very close to you, which kills any notion of strategy. Sadly, the bots that spiced up the N64 version are absent — although that might be asking a bit much from the pocket rocket.
Rare did a great job on squeezing so many features and technical magic into the little cart, but by focusing so heavily on the tech they seem to have sacrificed a lot of what would make it more fun to play. It's not a bad game by any stretch, and if you're forgiving of its flaws then you might have a pretty good time with it — but it's far from Perfect.