As an MI6 agent with a license to kill, James Bond has obvious video game potential. One option is the first person shooter, as seen with the Nintendo 64's Goldeneye 007, but that's not the only choice. Released not long after Rare's classic, the simply titled James Bond 007 is a very different game, but there's still a lot of enjoyment to be found.
You view the action from a top-down perspective with sprites and locations presenting a basic design and animation limited to a few frames. Despite the simplicity of the look, the action is clearly displayed and the sprites have a lot of personality. There are a few slight problems, such as the way characters won't turn to face you when talking, but generally the visuals have a simple charm that works quite well. As you progress, each of the locations manages to have an interesting look thanks to their utilising a few unique elements. Also, utilising a Super Game Boy gives it a nice wristwatch border but unfortunately the whole adventure is otherwise displayed in monochrome.
The plot involves a maniac with some missiles, and it's up to you to locate his base and stop him. You are sent around the globe, encountering and re-encountering people, all the while getting that bit closer to your goal. This gives your journey a similar feel to that of a film, yet it's clearly happy to exist as a game.
The first level is a perfect introduction and is not too difficult, allowing you to get a feel for how things work. You are in China hoping to find information on an arms ring, but first you need to get across a bridge. The gap looks like it could be hopped over, but in true video game fashion, it must instead be repaired. Only one man can do it, but you have to find his hammer for him. Whilst you are trying to locate this you may also pick up a few energy-restoring medkits which may come in handy later on. Pressing Select brings up an item menu allowing you to assign items to either the A or B button. To begin with, you can block and punch, but after your initial mission you will be able to assign a variety of weapons to the two buttons providing you don't run out of ammo.
Once presented with his hammer, the man tells you he will have it fixed in no time. If you exit the screen and go straight back, the man is sitting where he was, but the bridge has been fixed. "Told you it'd be quick." You then head to the temple to swipe some plans from the safe and for your first encounter with the beautiful Zhong Mae. Later on she'll become a love interest, but for now she wants to fight: "It appears your visa is about to expire," she says, and the fight commences. "Good night darling. I'll see myself out," says Bond as she lays dazed on the floor before exiting. He goes onward for some fisticuffs with some underlings, then grabs a speedboat to head home: there's a quick blast of "Rule Britannia!" just in case you were in any doubt as to where that is.
The music can be a little beepy, but is generally quite fun, and there's a variety of tracks depending on where you are in the world. The highlight is definitely Monty Norman's James Bond theme, which plays briefly when you find an important item and in full during sections that would be action sequences were this a film. The various beeps somehow never annoy, coming together to create an excellent Game Boy-ified version of the famous tune. Sound effects are very basic, but add to the experience.
As well as familiar music, you'll also encounter some familiar faces. Miss Moneypenny, M and Q ("Don't touch that!") all make an appearance when you return from China. Amusingly, Q Branch includes a couch that swallows people up. After being briefed, you set off on your next adventure.
Whilst your fists were enough for your opening mission, you'll need a bit more for the rest of the game. Q provides you with a pistol and electric key chain, but further weapons including a machete, grenades and a rocket launcher. One odd thing is that sometimes your bullets will hit an invisible wall, failing to reach their target, despite nothing being there to stop them. Simply repositioning yourself fixes the problem, but it's still a little annoying. The positions where this occurs is at least consistent, so you'll learn where not to shoot from the more you play.
The game starts off fairly easy (perhaps too easy) but gets harder as you progress. One moment you are breezing through the levels, the next you are repeatedly dying and getting lost. But as long as you keep a number of medkits with you, the game is reasonably stress-free, and it can be saved on any level. Resume a saved game and (generally) you find yourself plopped back at the level start point, but it's usually a short walk to where you need to be and any important items you have picked up are saved, so you don't have to re-do everything.
The game really hits its stride when you travel to Marrakech. Oddjob is running arms out of a hotel room with a man called – wait for it – Mr Fez. In order to gain access to the room, you must negotiate the maze-like streets and catacombs, visiting the casino and black market. At the former you must raise enough money to be allowed to use a private table, which can be done by playing Baccarat, Red Dog or Black Jack. The black market meanwhile sees you trading all sorts of items: a chicken, a cat ("I have always been partial to felines"), a fake passport... eventually, you get the item you want, gain access to the hotel room and get captured by Oddjob. Naturally, he drops you off in the Sahara, where he assumes you'll meet your end.
Of course it isn't the end for 007 (well, as long as you can find the airbase) and you continue your mission, visiting more countries and a village you went to earlier that has now been destroyed. Vultures pick at the corpses of the villagers, which, despite the cutesy graphics, makes for a grim sight. More fights follow (including another villain from the films) and eventually you find yourself at a final base with doors to unlock, missiles to stop and a girl to save.
In total, there are ten levels of varying lengths. Later stages will see you keeping an eye on how much ammo your various weapons have and putting off using that medkit until the last possible moment. There are two endings, a slightly longer one occurring if you've picked up a certain item. After the ending, you are presented with some passwords that will let you play the card games when entered as the name on a save file. They don't offer the same entertainment a dedicated card package would provide but are still quite fun.
Unfortunately, there's not much immediate replay value from the game. You can't revisit any of the levels individually, so you must either start from your last save point or begin the game again. A second playthrough is quicker as you know where (and where not) to go, but come back to the game after some time away from it and you'll have a blast.
There are a few problems such as invisible barriers blocking bullets, and visually it's not the most ambitious Game Boy game, but the simple look works well as does the music. Overall, James Bond 007 is an exciting, fun game that should provide players with plenty of entertainment.