That Was a Game 004 – James Bond 007: The Duel

We conclude our initial series of James Bond 007 videogames by looking at JAMES BOND 007: THE DUEL for the Sega Genesis.  Released in 1993, THE DUEL stars Timothy Dalton as the British super spy, four years after Dalton last played the role in the 1989 film LICENSE TO KILL.

What we got was a fairly generic early 16-bit platformer.

When the videogame adaptation of the film Goldeneye was first announced, it was originally supposed to be a 2D platformer for the Super Nintendo – made by Rare hot off the heels of Donkey Kong Country.  Now, obviously that didn’t happen – Goldeneye’s development migrated over to the Nintendo 64 where it became the first person shooter we all know and love.

But I always wondered what a James Bond 2D platformer would look like.  As one of the Nintendo faithful growing up, little did I know that the Sega Genesis had its own James Bond game – The Duel – starring Timothy Dalton, who hadn’t played James Bond since 1989, four years before the game’s release.

So what is The Duel? It’s pretty much what you’d expect from a licensed game from the early 90s.  It’s a 2D side-scroller.  Bond runs, jumps, and shoot his way through a gauntlet of bad guys.

But it’s not a fast run & gun game like Contra. It’s not a brawler like the Ninja Turtles games. It’s not an exploration game like Super Metroid.  And it’s not a straight platformer like Mario.  The Duel is not a game where Bond just has to get to the end of the level to complete it.

The Duel is one of those platformers where the levels are mazes and the player has to find x number of MacGuffins before moving onto the exit.  In this case, it’s beautiful women.

Which is right there on the back of the box – “Bond has a license to kill…and to meet beautiful women.”

After all the beautiful women are rescued/found in a level, Bond sets off a bomb to destroy the level, and the player must escape before time runs out.

This bomb timer mechanic is perhaps a bit unfair and makes things more difficult than they need to be.  For example, in the first level, after setting off the bomb, Bond is given 60 seconds to find the exit (which is hectic and stressful enough).  But then Bond runs into famous henchman and friend of the show Jaws!  So, the first level expects players to find an escape (which is not immediately visible and actually several screens away) and defeat a boss – all in 60 seconds.

Being unfair and making things more difficult than they need to be really is the name of the game in The Duel.

This is one of those games where if the character falls from too great a height, he dies. The original Donkey Kong did this. I get it, it’s realistic.  You fall from a height 10 times taller than you – you’re probably not gonna make it.  But it’s not fun for me.

This isn’t a problem in of and by itself, but it is magnified by two things.  Bond has an extremely long knockback distance – about 1/3rd of the screen.  There are some tricky platforming spots where Bond can get shot and then be sent flying back off the platform to his death.  The second is that the art design doesn’t always make clear what is a platform Bond can step on and what’s just a background line that happens to look like a platform.  There were several times I would run off cliffs to my death because I didn’t realize my platform had ended.

The default camera view forces Bond into a lot of blind jumps and drops.  Sometimes into platforms below.  Sometimes into pits.  If the platforms were more visible, there would be fewer accidental deaths.

The developer and publisher Domark actually made several James Bond games during the 80s and early 90s. They made a View to a Kill game for the Commodore 64 which I’d love to check out at some point.  I say that.  But no.  If this is any indicator of their output, I’m out.  Domark also worked on the Sega Genesis port of Prince of Persia before The Duel came out – which actually informs a lot about the way Bond moves and why the platforming is so unforgiving.

I think the game is so merciless because it’s so short.  It’s only 5 levels.  To be fair, they’re fairly in-depth and lengthy levels, but the whole kit-and-kaboodle can be cleared in less than an hour if you know what you’re doing.

The bosses are a who’s who of classic Bond villains & henchmen.  Jaws gave me a lot of trouble – he loved grabbing me by the throat and throwing me into shark-infested waters.  This is just silly enough to really work for me.  Jaws is a brute.  Oddjob throws a hat.  Mayday karate kicks.  Baron Samedi throws…rings?

To me, The Duel doesn’t really use the James Bond license to its fullest extent.  I’m not saying there needed to be cutscenes, but the Bond persona and the Bond world never gets a chance to shine through.  It’s very much a generic platformer/shooter that just happens to feature a protagonist with a suit & gun.  But there aren’t any gadgets, there aren’t any one-liners, or even anything that would hint at spywork.  The levels don’t scream James Bond – they’re  generic boat, generic laboratory, and generic forest (though I don’t ever remember Bond jumping through trees – wait, scratch that – Roger Moore swung on vines and yelled like Tarzan once).

Actually, the fourth level looks like it’s taken out of You Only Live Twice, complete with secret volcano lair and henchmen in yellow jumpsuits.

In short, The Duel could be better.  I was really excited for it – it was supposed to be the Super Nintendo Goldeneye that never was that I’ve dreamt about for the last 20 years.  But…The Duel’s just got several sloppy elements that keep it in the area of bad to mediocre.  Which is disappointing.  It’s a James Bond videogame with an original story starring Timothy Dalton in 1993.  How do you screw that up?  Here’s how.

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