Modern Review: James Pond - Codename: Robocod (Sony Playstation 2)

"James Pond is a gaming legend and true retro-classic. Now with better graphics and more puzzles, James Pond, codename: Robocod has become the most playable scrolling platform game ever."  So says the blurb for the PS2 port of Robocod.

Now, I've been deceived by box blurbs before- Fighting Vipers 2 said it would "ignite the world of beat em ups once again" (it didn't), Odin Sphere promised it was "a masterwork" (it wasn't)- but the blurb for this game has to be the biggest, most appallingly blatant lie I have ever seen used to sell a video game. Almost every single statement here is a lie- beyond the opening hub-world it does not have better graphics, it has no puzzles at all, and it is not, by a very, very wide margin, the most playable platform game ever. How do these people sleep at night, rattling out absurdities like this?! 

Let's start by setting the record straight- I actually like the original Robocod. A typical cutesy 90s platformer with an insane plot (where Pond must rescue kidnapped penguins from Santa's toyshop) and a few gimmicks (Pond's suit stretches to let him grab onto the ceiling) it's not perfect- the collision detection is a bit spotty and some of the levels drag on a bit- but, as you can see from my own in-depth playthrough, it's packed with genuine charm, an absurd sense of humour (the London buses that spew handbag-weilding graannies is the highlight) and some unique levels- what other platformer has a stage where you make your way up a beanstalk using a magical flying bathtub? Between 2004-2006, though, the game was bafflingly revived for the DS, GBA, PS1 and PS2 by a multitude of companies, including Creature Labs, Gameware, the insidious PlayIt! (whose sole objective appears to be to ruin every game they touch) and Lucky Chicken, the developers of the PS2 version we're focusing on today. To be honest, 'revived' isn't the right word. What's happened with this particular version is that Robocod has been zombified, brought back from the dead against its will, doomed to shamble across the earth as a thing which should not be.

James Pond - Codename: Undead Nightmare

When you first start the game, things don't look too bad. Santa's toyshop seems a little nicer than before (these are the only improved visuals in the game) and it uses the original James Pond theme (from the Amiga CD32 version) but then you start playing and it all falls apart. In the 10-or-so years between the original Robocod and this new port, Pond has truly succumbed to the ravages of time or something, because the controls are all over the shop. In the original, his movement had some sort of momentum to it, especially down slopes. It was a bit slippery, but it felt natural, somehow. In this new version, Pond starts at full pelt almost as soon as you press the d-pad and stops dead when you let it go, which feels unnatural, and you can't control him in the air very well- your choice of jumps heights are 'high' and 'slightly higher than that' which makes navigating cramped spaces (usually loaded with spikes) very frustrating, and worse, Pond moves slower mid-jump than he does on the ground. This really throws you off, and you never really adjust to it, making any kind of precision platforming (especially when it comes to bonking enemies on the head) a nightmare. Oh, and Pond no longer runs down most slopes, even though some of the levels are designed assuming that he can. It's a mess, to put it succinctly, turning what was once a decent platformer into an exercise in pad-throwing frustration as you desparately battle with the controls to keep Pond alive.

If that wasn't bad enough, the old levels have all been thrown out and replaced with new ones. Say what you like about the original Robocod, you can't say it didn't have some interesting locations, such as the level that takes place on a sheet of music, the vertical climb consisting of nothing but mince pies, and the Snakes and Ladders segment- a bit gimmicky, perhaps, but you could certainly differentiate them from one another. In this version, the levels are all incredibly generic 'mazes' (I use the term loosely) with obnoxiously-placed enemies, poorly hidden elves to rescue, dull layouts, and all the 'gimmick' stages are gone- they even cut the upside-down levels. Unlike the original game, these new levels feel like they've been cobbled together, 'frankensteined' if you will, with the developers being happy to re-use the old art (poorly), slap together some shoddily-designed mazes, and call it a day. Even the bosses have been ruined- the memorable 'mirror-image' battle with a ballerina has had the mirror-image bit cut and the final boss arena is so cramped that beating him requires divine intervention. Finally, to further rub salt in the wound, with the exception of the Robocod and JP1 themes the music- originally composed by Richard Joseph- has been absolutely ruined. I hope it wasn't like this in the Amiga CD32 version!

Terrible Gameplay Footage:

In the end...

A release like this doesn't make me angry or offended- it's actually pretty sad. There were plenty of ways PlayIt! could've cashed in on the James Pond name (as strange as that sounds, considering he hasn't been in a game for a good 10 years)- a straight port of the game (based on the Mega Drive or Amiga versions, I ain't picky), some sort of compilation release with the other games in the series, perhaps. Anything but the butchered, Frankenstein's Monster of a game we actually got, which probably set any possible resurrection of the franchise (ha ha ha, as if) back several decades. Truly, this PS2 version is a catastrophic mess of a game, made worse by the fact that the game it's based on isn't that bad. If you're a fan of the original Robocod, then please, stick with that, whether it be the Amiga, Mega Drive or SNES version, or hell, even the Master System port. The same applies if you've never played the game before- this horrid version does it absolutely no justice.

... And to add insult to injury, playing this game causes your Playstation 2 to whirr very loudly. Perhaps it's trying to tell you something.

Last Updated ( 31 July 2011 )  

Tepid Snake

Wait, what do I put in this box again? Oh, it's about me. I like playing weird and unusual games- the sort you're likely to forget about- and I hope you like reading about them because they're what I write about. And game trivia too. Please look forward to it!

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(Link to this comment) Cauterize 2010-12-07 14:08
I recently bought the GBA version of this mess and couldn't agree with you any more. Nothing felt right and the nostalgic feeling from the Amiga version was far from there.

Also the Penguins are no longer in it! Gutted :sad:
(Link to this comment) nakamura 2011-01-04 13:33
I had no idea this came to PS2 but not being the biggest fan back in the day it wouldn't appeal. Pity they didn't do it justice by the sounds of it.
(Link to this comment) Lord_Santa 2011-01-28 19:49
thanks for the heads-up
didn't know they remade it
only played the Amiga version, but considering getting the MD version(s), since they're cheaper and easier to obtain
(Link to this comment) oldgamerz 2016-11-28 03:10
I believe I saw this PS1 game in the flea market, within the year. But the title of this game alone through me off into not not buying it. glad I didn't now that i heard about it. I find the review vary good and useful ;-) information

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