James Pond: Underwater Agent is a side-scrolling platform game developed by Vectordean and published by Millennium Interactive in 1990, initially for the Amiga, then later ported to Atari ST, Sega Mega Drive, and other platforms.
I must admit that my introduction to James Pond: Underwater Agent started on the wrong foot. The first time I played it, I was quickly offended to think it was a copy of Ariel the Little Mermaid, one of my favorite Sega titles when I was under 10 years old. I recently gave James Pond a second chance and was shocked to find out that it was developed before the Little Mermaid and that it's even much better. Anyway, let's start with the review before my childhood is even more shattered.
This cute platform adventure was developed by Vectordean and published by Millennium in 1990. One year later, SEGA released the Genesis version (two years before Ariel the Little Mermaid). The protagonist was so well received that two sequels followed his adventures, but we'll leave their reviews for another day.
The story begins with an evil villain named Dr. Maybe, who fills the oceans with radiation and toxic waste. In response, the British Secret Service turns to James Pond, an anthropomorphic mudskipper, to protect the waters and defeat the villain who threatens the world from his aquatic lair. If you thought the developers would settle for a single James Bond reference, you'd be in for a huge surprise. Everything that happens in the game is a reference; every title of every level punctuates one of the movies, such as "Leak and Let Die" (from "Live and Let Die"). Also, the agent romances several mermaids along the way, but these can be double agents (I wasn't kidding when I said that the game has a ridiculous amount of references).
They say that the game designer and coder, Chris Sorrell, took inspiration from his favorite game: Flood. In fact, there are many elements that seem to be a tribute to Flood, like the Bluebeard ghost and the mushrooms, but the two games are quite different.
The gameplay is straightforward but effective. The protagonist is inserted into different maps full of enemies, who he attacks by putting them in bubbles and popping them (a bit sadistic in my opinion, but who am I to judge). Also, the protagonist must traverse the map several times, solving puzzles. These consist of carrying items from one place to another to enable new levels and advance the plot. It's not the most innovative gameplay I've seen, but it's fun.
The colors may be simple, and the music may be a bit childish, but what can I say? They work perfectly. The Genesis port is simply perfect; the graphics are identical to the original one, with some changes in the interface colors, which in my opinion, are an improvement. Regarding the music, the porters understood the ridiculous nature of the adventure better, so the music is more on point to the tone of the game.
To conclude, I loved my experience with James Pond, even to the point of forgiving them for time traveling and stealing the idea from the developers of Ariel the Little Mermaid (please don't judge me). The game is a lot of fun and the first experience of many people in the videogame world. If you never played it for some reason, I invite you to come out of the shadows and give it a chance; you will understand why it is a game that marked a before and after of a generation.