Re(?)Considered: James Pond 3: Operation Starfish
On Her Majesty's Secret Shellfish
I hope you like puns, because the developers of the James Pond series certainly do. Agent Double Bubble Seven (the titular Pond; James Pond: Agent of F.I.5.H), following his adventure in the Amiga classic Robocod, has sent the evil Dr. Maybe (like Dr. No, do you see??) packing to the moon. Of course, the opportunistic mad scientist has immediately begun mining the cheese that everyone knows the moon is made out of, and it's up to James Pond to curdle his arch-enemy's plans for good! Or should that be for gouda?
This is basically an excuse for a load of levels with cheese-based names, like "Garden of Edam", "Caerphilly Downs" and "Outer He-Brie-Dees". And it really is a load of levels; the game is ceaselessly vast. Far bigger than even the expansive Super Mario World. I don't even know how many stages there are. Possibly over a million? And they're all interesting.
Actually, "interesting" is a good word for this one. There's just so much going on here. At its core it's a platformer much like Robocod, but bizarre items and ideas are layered onto it to such an extent that it's almost too much. The basic challenge in each stage is to find and destroy a beacon. However, sometimes these beacons are inactive and need to be activated before they can be destroyed. You activate them by finding four teacups hidden somewhere in the level. These are always well-hidden and often require the player to find invisible blocks ala Mario to even progress, while James has been given special boots that let him run at high speed up walls and on ceilings ala Sonic. There's dynamite to be found that must be used to break open paths and access secrets, there are hidden spring shoes, jetpacks, a gun with multiple ammo types, satellite pieces that unlock new routes on the map, thousands of collectable moons, ultra-secret moon treasures to find, "Stiltonium Mines" to locate and destroy, two other Agents of F.I.5.H to find and rescue. This isn't even scratching the surface, and to get a good ending you need to do almost all of it. Depending on your perspective, it's either an exhausting ordeal or a fascinating challenge.
It's to the game's enormous detriment that it lacks a proper save feature, opting instead for far-too-infrequent passwords that are difficult to even read, let alone write down and enter. I've never understood this decision - much like Vectordean's previous (also excellent) game Rolo to the Rescue, the missing battery save flat-out kills it. Of course, seeing as this game has had no re-release, you'd be emulating it anyway, mitigating this issue with the use of save-states. But back then, this wasn't an option.
I firmly believe that if James Pond 3 had seen release with a proper save system it would be considered a straight-up classic of its genre. It really is vast, and arguably fatiguing just how large and complex the world map is. It's one of those games that you've got to recognise as an astonishing achievement whether or not you find yourself enjoying its actual meat-and-potatoes gameplay. Me? I think it's superb and revisit it often. It's very much tailored towards someone like me who likes to rinse every inch of every level, constantly rewarding intrepid exploration and wild curiosity. That said, I've never managed to 100% complete this behemoth, but maybe one day I'll manage it. After all, it takes a sprat to catch a mackerel. Ha ha! Ha ha ha ha! Those are fish.