Developer n-Space is no stranger to first-person shooters on Nintendo's technologically humble portable, having delivered three increasingly advanced Call of Duty DS games day-and-date with their console counterparts. That successful core formula hasn't changed all too much for their retelling of James Bond's GoldenEye 007, but slowing the pace down in sections and emphasising stealth feels like a much more suitable fit for the handheld's strengths.
By default, the game controls through what is now the typical DS shooter scheme: D-Pad or face buttons in charge of movement, shoulder buttons doing the shooting, and the touchscreen taking on everything else from looking around to bringing up your gun sights to reloading. Playing with the stylus is quicker and more accurate, but takes a bit of getting used to, primarily because the way that it forces you to hold the system can cause a lot of hand and wrist strain if you don't have anything on which to lean it. We wouldn't advise playing any shooter with this scheme on a DSi XL if you don't happen to have a table or other prop nearby. If you're willing to sacrifice a bit of speed and accuracy, stylus aiming can be swapped out for an all-button scheme where the D-Pad controls movement and the face buttons turn and look up and down, similar to how the C-Buttons functioned by default in the N64 release. It's a bit awkward at first, but it's infinitely more comfortable.
The game mostly follows the same updated-for-2010 storyline of the Wii version, told through simple in-engine cutscenes during missions and with illustrations taking the place of high-tech briefings. With less formidable hardware, a few concessions had to be made; for example, the developers have trimmed or reworked certain areas to make them a little less ambitious over the course of the 14-stage campaign. The dam conclusion plays out a bit differently, and Valentine's nightclub is trimmed altogether. It's certainly not story-breaking and you'll be able to follow it just as well here as on Wii; of course, the storytelling was a bit of a mess there as well, frequently missing character motivations and emotional weight.
What is impressive, though, is the 3D engine that n-Space has forged over the past few years. As a result, GoldenEye is quite the technical achievement on DS. Character models look a little sharper than in the studio's past Call of Duty titles — you can somewhat discern Craig's likeness on the Bond character model, probably more so than Pierce Brosnan in the original N64 game, and stages like the iconic jungle, dam, tank chase and Severnaya employ some clever tricks to help them look fairly impressive. The designers have even managed to cram in a ton of the same voice work and music from the console game, allowing Daniel Craig and Dame Judi Dench to play Bond and M respectively over the same strong score by veteran series composer David Arnold.
Weapons do lose a little punch in the conversion, though, and more than just aurally so. Frankly, the firearms feel inconsistent in their power. Sometimes a guard will drop after one or three shots, but it shouldn't take an entire 15-bullet pistol clip to take down one enemy, an all-too frequent occurrence on the medium difficulty setting with either stylus or button control schemes. Assault rifles and the most bizarre shotgun in the world are mysteriously pea shooter-esque in power as well as wildly inaccurate, even when precision aiming down the sights. Enemies, on the other hand, are such sharpshooters that they may as well wear a mask with a bullseye painted on it. No matter how little you peek out of cover or how far away you are, they will whittle away your health without breaking a sweat. It pays to stay hidden as these oddities can cause firefights to swing from no problem to infuriating.
But play your cards right in most of the missions, and it's not so much of an issue. The DS isn't the most powerful of hardware, and a fast, 3D run-and-gun FPS is a bit out of range for the handheld. Fortunately, the secret agent persona of James Bond is a perfect excuse to craft a slower-paced experience that is heavy on sneaking and stealth takedowns. Approaching a dim-witted guard undetected from behind allows you to quietly subdue them, and half of the fun comes from figuring out the best order of action to clear a room without setting off an alert. The thrill of stealth is intact on the small screens and feels very rewarding.
When the campaign is all said and done, GoldenEye still has plenty to come back for. Added objectives for higher difficulties, a hallmark of the series, are present and accounted for as well to add a bit of replay value, and completing the game opens up Time Trials that, when finished, unlock cheats.
Of course, GoldenEye wouldn't be GoldenEye without a notable multiplayer component, and n-Space has crammed a surprising amount of features into this department. Up to six players can apply for licenses to kill each other at a time over local wireless or Wi-Fi Connection multiplayer in several different modes using a variety of modifications, some cribbed from the Wii version and others exclusive to DS.
When GoldenEye 007 works it feels like one of the best shooters on DS, but the combat blemishes are frequent enough to become quite maddening. Still, players able to look past occasional hokey weapon damage and pinpoint enemy accuracy will find a lot to like here, especially if they happen to be a fan of Ian Fleming's most famous creation or are just looking for a handheld shooter not named Call of Duty.