James Pond 3: Operation Starfish CD^32
A cute "jump 'n run" game in the vein of console classics like Super
Mario World or Sonic the Hedgehog starring the well-known secret agent
James Pond in his third adventure.
Name: Millenium Interactive Ltd.
Address: Quern House,
Cambridge CB2 5LD
Telephone: ++44 (0)223 844894
++44 (0)223 846023 (Customer Support)
FAX: ++44 (0)223 844918
The suggested retail price seems to be DM 89.- (about US$ 50).
SPECIAL HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE REQUIREMENTS
A CD^32. A comment in the startup-sequence of the game has the
following to say about game compatibility:
"If you're reading this and you've got an A1200 CDROM Drive, then
perhaps you should know that I don't think the program will work
It definately [original spelling] won't work with a SCSI CD-ROM
drive attached to an A1200 or A4000....
And we don't know if it works with an FMV cart in either, because
CBM never got round to giving us a version. How they expect FMV
titles out there is beyond me, guv.
MACHINE USED FOR TESTING
After "License to Gill" and "Codename: Robocod", the fishy underwater
agent James Pond is back to battle it out with the evil Dr. Maybe for a
third time in "Operation Starfish". This time, the F.I.5's archenemy has
taken three of James Pond's fellow agents prisoner while they were trying
to find out what's going on on the moon.
Unlike most other CD^32 titles that I know, this game comes in its own
cardboard box, which contains a plain jewel box with the CDROM, the game
manual, and more than enough junk to make all the kids in the neighbourhood
After a short loading period, the game starts up with a cartoon style
CDXL animation which introduces James Pond as the underwater agent who's
licensed to gill. Avid Robocod fans will notice that this animation was
also the trailer for the second episode of Pond's adventures.
While the idea of having a title animation is nice, it suffers from bad
execution in this case. The movie looks like it was first created as a
real animated cartoon, and then transferred to digital format by means of a
rather cheap realtime digitizer, which would account for the fuzzy
outlines, the pale colors and all the color noise. Anyways, once you have
seen the animation yourself a couple of times, and shown it to all your
friends, you can just skip over it by pressing the fire button. The game
then proceeds to load and comments on this with messages like "Yup. Still
loading..." on the display, until you get to the title screen, which looks
rather drab and console-like, without fancy graphics or a nice tune playing
in the background. If you wait long enough, you'll get to see a cartoon
outline of the game's background, as well as a Star Wars-alike scrolling
message detailing the story so far.
By pressing a button, you move on to the Options screen. Here, you can
start a new game, resume a previously saved game, or set some game options,
like whether you want to play in easy or normal mode, or whether you want
the game commentary to be terse or verbose. The sound selection lets you
choose between playing with only sound effects, only soundtrack, or both at
There is no option that lets you modify the way James Pond is
controlled, i.e. pressing the red or green buttons while moving will
always give him medium or maximum acceleration, pressing the yellow button
will pick up or drop objects, or fire a weapon, while pressing the blue
button will let him jump. As you can see, there are lots of functions to
be used, so that using a joystick doesn't make sense if you don't have a
keyboard attached to your CD^32 to control the additional functions.
Upon starting the game for the first time, I had to fight a certain
sense of deja vu: Just as the Super Nintendo classic Super Mario World,
Operation Starfish presents the player with a so-called world map, where
each location represents one of the levels in the game. To progress on the
paths beyond a certain location, Pond has to complete that particular
level. By pressing virtually any button, Pond enters the level at the
current location, and you find yourself transported to the familiar world
of a two-dimensional, 8-way scrolling jump 'n run game.
Pond has to navigate his way from his starting point to the exit
beacon, which is hidden somewhere on the level, avoiding enemies and
obstacles on the way. Each time he messes up, he loses one of the initially
three energy stars, and finally one of his lives, or rather "chances" as
the manual euphemistically terms it in places.
Since Codename: Robocod, the second part of the James Pond saga, our
hero has lost his flexible bodysuit. Instead, he has now fancy magnetic
moon boots which enable him to scale walls or walk on the ceiling. His
jumping abilities haven't diminished, and he can still take out his
opponents by a well-aimed drop on their head. If putting the boot in
doesn't work, Pond can also resort to using one of the collectible extras
like a rock, a gun, or explosives, if he happens to carry that particular
item. The big problem is that he can only carry one item at a time, so
that you can't create the all-powerful super-hero by just collecting
everything that's to be found. Actually, carrying some items around can be
quite dangerous: the dynamite for example ignites whenever Pond picks it
up. After a few seconds, it just explodes. Too bad for James Pond if he
still happens to be holding it.
Actually, the collectibles in the game can be divided in three classes:
First, there are the bonus objects which give extra points when collected.
The most obvious of these are rings, which can be found almost everywhere.
Collecting 1000 of these gives pond an extra life. The others like coins,
trophies and crowns are usually hidden from sight in remote locations, to
make exploring worthwhile. The second class are the power-ups, which
increase Pond's abilities like extra life, extra energy, temporary
invincibility or weapon powerup. Usually, collecting more than what is
feasible gives you bonus points. The last class have to be the genuine
extras, of which Pond can only carry one at a time. These include a fruit
gun, various fruit to throw at your enemies, an umbrella to float, a rocket
glider, and last but not least the powerful fruit suits, which serve as
Most of the collectibles an only be found by bumping into bonus blocks,
which are marked with an exclamation mark when visible. The pity is that
most of them are invisible to start with, so that you have to bump into
them to make them visible in the first place. A good place to look for
them is in locations where you seem to be stuck without a way out, or
without the extra you need. If you don't get the extra you need, you can
try and use the bonus block as a stepping stone to previously inaccessible
"How do I get out" puzzles like the one described above are one of the
main challenges in Operation Starfish - besides surviving the environment
and its inhabitants, that is. The key to solving these is usually the
understanding of what you can do with your extras - like the knowledge that
some objects can be stepped upon, and that an umbrella isn't just good for
floating down below it.
The game also offers most of the standard jump 'n run building blocks
like moving platforms, switches to create and destroy objects or just your
plain lethal scenery. Probably due to the limitations of the game engine,
Operation Starfish is heavy on the switch stuff, and rather light on the
moving objects side.
"Limitations in the game engine? On a CD^32?" Yes, the limitations are
there, and clearly visible at that. When just walking or running around,
Operation Starfish scrolls as smoothly as any console jump 'n run game I
might mention - in fact, better than some that I know, namely the poor
conversions of the second Pond epic. However, when tackling the
end-of-world meanies or a bunch of lesser enemies at a time, or when
exploding things, the game speed drastically goes down.
Besides this drawback, Pond and his adversaries are drawn and animated
really well. The static background graphics in the game are a bit less
colorful, and sometimes a bit repetitive, but this has to be expected of
such a large game.
The soundtrack and sound effects in the game are created using the
normal Amiga chipset. The sound effects are digitized well, while the
soundtrack consists of a set of jolly ditties which change for the various
types of landscapes. All in all, you get what you would expect in a
Playing Operation Starfish can be a hazard for jump 'n run addicts like
myself. Once you have started playing, you just have to beat just the next
level before you can stop, no matter what your schedule says you have to be
doing. Luckily, there is a save feature that lets you checkpoint your
progress every few levels, so that a well-meaning person can still switch
off your CD^32 without incurring your everlasting wrath.
The game comes with a 34 page A5 manual, as well as a whole bunch of
additional stuff that doesn't have to do anything with the game itself (see
DISLIKES). Instructions are provided in English, French, German and
Italian. While the main game instructions are presented in four separate
chapters, the joypad and joystick controls are summarized on two pages
right at the start of the manual. This part of the documentation seems to
be a bit buggy, as the joypad control explanation texts all have pointers
affixed that point out the various control elements on a joypad picture
that just isn't there. Also, people who don't speak English might love the
fact that the button names are only given in English.
I found the explanations of the joypad controls a bit confusing, as the
manual doesn't make quite clear that the red and green button don't do
quite the same thing. To quote: "red/green button: hold for speed". Not
a word mentioned that holding the red button gives medium, and holding down
the green button gives you maximum speed.
The main part of the manual is bearable if you just skim over it, but
it's definitely not an in-depth description of the game. Don't worry,
you'll learn most of what you need to know by just playing the game.
I like the fact that Millenium didn't forget to put in a save function
that lets me continue the game from a certain starting point whenever I
DISLIKES AND SUGGESTIONS
The title screen designates this game to be an AGA version, something
you wouldn't guess just by looking at the screen. Somehow, I'm missing the
candy-colored cheerfulness of James Pond 2 in this game. The graphics
aren't exactly bad, but they are rather repetitive and boring in those
parts that I have seen. A little bit of copper magic would have done it
lots of good.
Whenever there's a big explosion, or whenever there are more than three
or four of Pond's foes on the screen at once, the game slows down
considerably. OK, so the CD^32 isn't exactly a Cray YMP, but it should at
least be able to do what a plain A500 has been doing for ages.
Depending on size and layout of a level, loading times in between the
level and world map displays varies from 10 to 20 seconds, which is in my
opinion too much for a CD based game. Maybe a bit of organisation on the
CD like creating subdirectories for the game data files would have helped.
Another grudge is that there's way too much junk accompanying this
game. While I have nothing against goodies accompanying a game, like in
the old Infocom days, Millenium have probably gone wild with this one.
Their "F.I.5.H. Briefing Dossier" map that comes with the game contains:
o four A6 pages of stickers labelled "Top Secret", "Do Not Enter", etc.
o a "code ruler"
o two glossy four page A6 "handbooks"
o a F.I.5.H. "Agent Code Book" printed on glossy cardboard
o a F.I.5.H. "Agent Identity Card" (to paste your photo in)
o a cut-it-out cardboard James Pond Eye mask
o four A5 "Mission Briefings"
When they obviously have cash to burn for stuff like this, I can't
understand why there was no money left to print a cover for the CDROM jewel
box. If there's one thing I like about CD^32 games, it's the fact that
they usually come in nice jewel boxes that can be shelved without taking up
too much space. Oh well, it looks like I have to print my own covers for
this one. And of course, I have to live with the notion that all those
useless extras account for the higher than usual price of the game. Thank
COMPARISON TO OTHER SIMILAR PRODUCTS
Maybe a comparison to Ocean's Mr. Nutz would also be appropriate. I
really can't tell, since I don't own the game - in fact, I never will
unless it's released either as harddisk installable or CDROM version. If
you want to do a comparison, please send it to me and I'll see that it gets
included into this review.
I have had the game crash twice on me in a two week testing period. At
one time, it was displaying some kind of seek error message which suggested
a media error. However, after a reboot, the game worked just fine.
Millenium has customer support for technical problems with the game.
You can reach them by writing a letter to Millenium's address, attention
Customer Service, or by calling the number provided under "Author/Company
Information" in this review.
I have not had occasion to make use of this service.
Millenium warrants that the media containing the game are free from
defective materials or workmanship for a period of 30 days after purchase.
If the product proves faulty during this period, you have to send in the
media and a proof of purchase in the warranty period, so that they can
provide a replacement free of charge. After the warranty period,
replacements can be had for UKL 5.-, which have to be send in as a cheque,
postal order, or Eurocheque.
In my opinion, Operation Starfish is a great game, and probably one of
the best out now for the CD^32. The playability is great, and the sheer
size will keep you glued to it for days on end. If I have been a harsh
critic in this review, it is because I feel that the game would have been
even better if Millenium had paid more attention to it.
Considering all things said, my overall rating for James Pond 3 is 3.5
stars out of 5, on account of the high price, missing support for AGA
Amigas and minor flaws like animation slowdown and longish loading periods
in between levels.
The fact that games like James Pond are coming out for the CD^32 makes
me optimistic for the future of the machine. Now if we only had a decent
shoot 'em up...
Copyright 1994 Thomas Bätzler. All rights reserved.
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