A look back at the best (and worst) James Bond video games
After a long delay caused by the pandemic, the latest James Bond movie is finally arriving in Bay Area theaters. “No Time to Die” begins five years after the events of “Specter” and the capture of Bond’s traditional nemesis Blofeld. Agent 007 has now left active duty but is suddenly called back into action to find a missing scientist who has been kidnapped by a maniac and plans to use his work to kill millions of people.
Star Daniel Craig, who became a legendary agent in Casino Royale in 2006, said this will be his last appearance in the role and will end a brilliant era in the super-espionage franchise.
Bond has been on screen since 1962 (“Dr. No”), but has been a mainstay in the world of video games for almost as long. To celebrate the arrival of No Time to Die, let’s take a look back at some of the biggest Bond highlights in interactive media.
Oakland director Cary Joji Fukunaga is ready to share the new James Bond movie with the world
There has never been a bad James Bond. They were all fine
The first James Bond video game was actually an unofficial title called “Shaken, Not Stirred” by Richard Shepherd and Peter Cooke, two of the pioneering programmers of the British 8-bit gaming computer ZX Spectrum. It was published in 1982 and contained a text adventure in which Bond shared it with Dr. Death and his dwarf killer Tac Tac. Pretty well received for the time, it was also extremely adult-oriented and involved drug use as a healing mechanism. For most players, there are currently no legal versions of this game.
Parker Brothers next tried an officially licensed game for Atari, Commodore and ColecoVision in 1983. “James Bond 007” was a pretty ambitious, more action-driven game with four levels based on the movies. It’s not part of any of the various Atari library collections, but retro gamers can usually purchase an original Atari 2600 cartridge on eBay for around $ 30.
For the next decade, Bond would be more of a staple on home computer systems than on consoles. The franchise’s adult themes were usually not compliant with Nintendo’s notoriously strict family-friendly guidelines (although they released games based on horror franchises like Friday the 13th, Jaws, and A Nightmare on Elm Street). In this era, Bond would try every genre of gaming, including more text adventure, racing, run and gun, and top-down shooter.
Most of these games are now only available as curios and illegal ROMs managed by game history curators. In the ’90s, Bond would actually take a step back so that his imitators could shine.
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Pond and Jr.
In 1990 there was a dedicated attempt to bring James Bond closer to a younger audience. The first attempt became a small media empire brought to life through a children’s cartoon titled “James Bond Jr.” In the series starring the spy’s nephew, Junior battled the descendants of most of his uncle’s rogue galleries. The show was popular enough to spawn novels, comics, a line of toys, and two video games for the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The latter was a pretty decent sidescroller, if otherwise low-key for the era. Both are not available in online shops, but original cartridges are cheap and easy to buy online.
The most successful game of the era was the parody series “James Pond”, launched on consoles in 1990. The games follow a mutant mudskipper recruited by MI6 to protect Britain’s waterways while flirting with mermaids. Cartoon-like and busy with Bond puns, there would be a total of five games, including the mobile game “Deathly Shallows” on iOS. A restart attempt failed at the Kickstarter goal in 2013. The best game in the series, Robocod, is available on the Nintendo Switch Store.
Rare’s 1997 “GoldenEye” for N64 is not only the best Bond game of all time, it could also be the greatest licensed video game of all time. Known for its multiplayer arena mode, it single-handedly launched competitive first-person shooter games on consoles after years of PC dominance. Without “GoldenEye” there might be no “Quake”, no “Halo” and no “Call of Duty”.
Unfortunately, this classic title is kind of a victim of its own success. The game featured characters from all of the Bond films (most famously the hat thrower, Oddjob), which made licensing efforts difficult and led to the cancellation of several rerelease and remake projects. Nintendo tried to bring the game to the Wii and gave up, and another attempt to remaster the game for Xbox was stopped after Nintendo was unable to release the licenses. A playable ROM version of the Xbox Trial leaked earlier this year, giving gamers a tantalizing look at what could have been.
The current state
Since 1997, many game developers have tried to replicate the success of GoldenEye, and most (particularly Rogue Agent and Legends) have failed miserably. A standout modern feature was an original story by Electronic Arts for PlayStation2, Xbox, and Gamecube, released in 2002 (Performance) and follows how Bond teams up with a female accomplice to stop an atomic bomb hidden in Paris. The story mode was addicting, the multiplayer features were decent, and the writing style was way above average for a game like this. It’s not available at the various console stores, but used disc copies are pretty easy to come by.
On the horizon is “Project 007” from IO Interactive, best known for the newly launched “Hitman” series. Details are still sparse, but the company is planning a new, original story for Bond to see its way through in the near future.