You know, for a one joke character (he's the fish version of James Bond!), the F.I.5.H. agent didn't actually do so badly for himself. Most of the 90s platformer creatures faded away before they even got a sequel, but this guy managed to make it all the way up to the sports game spin-off part of the vg mascot lifecycle before disappearing without a trace.
Though I did hear rumours that he resurfaced in a rubbish iPhone game a year or so ago, this time with a Harry Potter pun in the title (Deathly Shallows). He isn't a wizard in it though, so they kinda missed the point there.
'Vita Canis Est'... Dog is life? I never learned Latin, but even I know what canis and vita mean. Oh, it probably says 'it's a dog's life'. Even when you're a fish.
I have to admit, this theme is actually really catchy. It's by vg music legend Richard Joseph though so I don't feel so bad about humming it.
MISSION 1 - LICENCE TO BUBBLE!
After jumping out of a pipe, Mario style, I started working on freeing all the lobsters with the keys conveniently scattered around the seabed. I often find underwater levels in games to be awkward and slow, but Pond actually floats around pretty fast, and the biggest struggle I've had so far is figuring out how to pick up keys (down+fire button it turns out).
Also, he can kill things by trapping them in bubbles, then popping them to collect the bonus prize hidden inside, Bubble Bobble style. He doesn't use a bubble gun like on the title screen though, no he just breathes on them and they die.
James Pond is a scary fish man.
Oh right, there it is up on the right, next to the bottle of Jack Daniels.
MISSION 2 - FROM SELLAFIELD WITH LOVE!
At least all these radioactive canisters around help explain the mutant Pond girls on the title screen.
I think that yellow thing on the right of the sea shells must be a mine, and I must have just brushed against another one of them. I have to wonder Pond even has life bar if it drains in a single collision like this.
Oh right, I've figured it out. I know who the perpetrator is.
I'm sure this'll get a lot less annoying once I've learned what does and doesn't kill me in this game. But right now I'm a little frustrated that I keep getting one-shotted by stuff I thought was scenery. At least I figured out where to take the fish. I had to lead them one at a time... to Pond's entrance pipe.
Scattered all over the levels are cave entrances leading to rooms like this, full of items. Points get me extra lives, so I need as many as I can get, though I've got to be fast as his health bar continually ticks down in here (though I do get the life back if I leave in time, the game's not that cruel).
This cave is the treasure chest room, where I can hang around (as long as I dare) to collect the valuables as they spill out of a large chest. There's a catch though, as sometimes it throws out less fun pick-ups like 'glue' and 'bomb'. One makes you stick to the spot, the other drops explosions behind you as go... unless you're stuck to the spot, in which case you explode and lose.
And that's how I lost the game. There were no continues.
MISSION 3 - VIEW TO A SPILL!
I was staying clear of these human enemies at first because I assumed they'd be invulnerable. I didn't think the developers would go as a far as making their fishy cartoon spy a murderer. But nope, Pond can kill a human in a single bubble, then collect their soul... in the form of a prize!
I dunno, seems a bit... drastic to me. Also boring. It takes a lot of this stuff to blow the supports, and I have to swim around and find it all first, then carry it back. One bit at a time.
MISSION 4 - THE FISH WITH THE GOLDEN BAR.
Actually fuck it, I'm going back down my pipe.
Okay fine, I'll go back out and take the gold bars to the boat.
A bit of internet research soon revealed the shocking truth. It was the jellyfish that killed him. But it was invisible at the time. There's an enemy in this game that can kill you in a single touch, and is impossible to see. Now that ranks pretty damn highly on the shitty game design-o-meter. What the hell were they thinking?
MEANWHILE, ON THE ATARI ST.
Look at this crap, I'm trapped in here with next to zero health as an invulnerable ghost closes in, and I can't escape as there's an evil plant in my way.
In the sequel, RoboCod, Pond was mechanically augmented to be able to survive outside of water, but this is back in his pre-cyborg days when he was just a regular underwater fish of mystery. The health bar drains down when you're in air, like it does in the caves, but I only had a fraction of health left at this point, so he suffocated half a second after I jumped out of the water.
I don't get why the oxygen and health bars are even linked like this. I think it'd work better if he had hit points and a separate oxygen bar.
Also, I've noticed they've made a couple of weird changes to the gameplay. Now picking up any item gives me back a small amount of health, items dropped from enemies fall instead of floating so they're easier to catch, and the evil flowers are totally harmless now. The invisible enemies are still in but hey, nothing's perfect.
I decided while I was here to go into the treasure room and get some nice high scoring items. Though what I actually got was glued in place and blown up. Again. But then something amazing happened; the game offered me a chance to continue on the same level!
MISSION 5 - FOR YOUR FINS ONLY!
It'd be easier if the level didn't have a cameo appearance by video game superstar 'That Damn Bird That Picks You Up.' Old school platformer fans probably know the guy from a thousand other games. He's the one that flies down, grabs onto you, then carries you off to the other side of the level. And when he's got you, there's not a damn thing you can do about it.
MISSION 7 - THEY ONLY LIVE ONCE!
Oh right, I'm out of the water, nothing to blow a bubble in... damn. Well at least I still have a split second of invulnerability thanks to this fairy, oh wait that's just worn off as well. Right, new plan, we run as fast as my little fins can go and hope there's some water on the other side.
Which is more or less exactly how I lost.
In conclusion: James Pond: Underwater Agent is a game where you swim around taking things from one place and bringing them to another place, until you run out of levels. But is it any good? Well... it's alright actually, pretty likeable despite the flaws. I think it was actually growing on me, though I'm not experiencing any strong desire to ever play it again.
The Sega version is probably the one to go for this time though. It doesn't look the best, and it definitely doesn't sound the best, but a few gameplay tweaks and couple of continues make it more bearable to play.