Millennium jump in at the deep end this Christmas with their contender for the all-important number one spot and look likely to make quite a splash.
James Pond, an aquatic parody of super-spy 007 with added environmental conscience, is a 12 level arcade adventure which may plumb the ocean depths with its use of awful puns but it still shows a clean pair of fins to games of similar ilk.
It's been designed and programmed by Chris Sorrell who also did the programming on Yolanda for Millennium. The game, originally to be called Guppie, has taken 6 months to complete and certainly looks the business.
You play Pond, a cute-looking chunk of cod that's inspired by Japanese-style animation. Indeed, the whole game owes a tip of the hat to the Orient and is none the worse for such influences. At the start of the game, James appears at the entrance to his undersea home ready for his first mission. A message scrolls on screen which tells you briefly what to do.
The first level is comparatively easy compared to the rest of the game and involves collecting six keys to lobster cages and releasing the trapped lobsters before fishermen can collect them for the cooking pot. All levels must be completed in a set time or else your mission has failed.
The Pond sprite is easy to control and responds well to a tug on the joystick, but watch out for bottles of booze as these can make ol' James a wee bit tiddly and you'll have difficulty getting him to go anywhere. Likewise, a bottle of glue will fix you to the spot for a short while. To pick up objects, merely position Pond over them, press downwards on the joystick and fire.
There are two in-game tunes, both of which are jolly but tend to grate after a while. There are also three separate jingles for the hidden bonus caves which are located throughout the game. The sound effects option is better and offers a wide variety of electronic bleeps which add to the overall atmosphere of the game and are rather fun.
As well as being inspired by Japanese games, James Pond also spoofs Flood, a platform game from Electronic Arts. The secret agent and Bluebeard ghost which follow Pond around are similar to the ghost in Flood and nibble away at your energy levels.
Mushroom are used to move around to different areas on each level and, as such, remind me of the transporters in Flood. Even one of the intro screens has a Quiffy lookalike staring at you! Apparently, the game is one of programmer Chris Sorrell's favourite games.
The graphics are superb and of arcade quality. With parallax push-scrolling and 16 colour-splits, it all makes for a very attractive package. The gameplay is equally appealing. It's easy to move the character around and some of the later puzzles involve a bit of though, especially as you have to open and close walls and discover secret passages.
James Pond is populated by a weird and wonderful cast of characters, some helpful and others out to turn you into shark bait. Most enemy fish can be rendered harmless by encasing them in a big bubble which, when run over, kills the fish and releases the contents of its stomach.
Old boots, I LOVE NY mugs, Rubik cubes, carrots, jam-pots and even stuffed Garfield dolls abound and these can be collected for extra points. A lot of imagination has gone into thinking up so many weird and wonderful objects.
You start with three lives. The control panel indicates how may objects or tasks you still have to complete and an angry looking Pond holds up his fingers to show how many lives you have left. Throughout the game there are various objects to collect and store away. A top hat, a goldfish bowl, a pair of sunglasses, a ray gun and dynamite are all scattered around for you to find and have various properties. For instance, the sunglasses allow you to see poisonous jelly fish when exploring the shipwreck in level four.
Out in November, JP is certainly amusing, but at £24.99 and with only 12 easy-to-complete levels, it doesn't represent good value for money. Still, a good game which should provide several hours of fun and enjoyment.