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CONSOLE: Sega Genesis DEVELOPER: Millennium PUBLISHER: Electronic Arts
RELEASE DATE (NA): 1991 GENRE: Platformer
// review by EscapeRouteBritish

Let the penguin go... you are under arrest.

Santa's secret toy factory at the North Pole has been attacked by a mad-man, Santa is tied up, all the penguins have been birdnapped and worst of all, we're late for the school prom! Luckily James "Robocod" Pond, high-school student with an I.Q. of 300 and a penchant for créme brûlée, has come to save the penguins and restore peace and order to Polar Bear High.

Okay, I lied. You are indeed James Pond, but you are a fish in a mechanical suit that allows you to extend to, well, just about any size. There's no prom, but there is a tie-in prom-otion. Instead of rescuing elves, you rescue penguins. This is because the game is riddled with advertising for Penguin chocolate biscuits, a delicious foodstuff of Scottish origin.

Oh and there's no high-school or créme brûlée, I merely wanted to make dated High School Musical references for no real discernible reason. As James Pond, special agent and all around good-looking fish man, you need to enter several rooms of Santa's toy factory, rescuing penguins, defeating enemies, and finding the swirling barbershop pole exit thing. Rescue all the penguins, defeat the evil Doctor Maybe and his cohorts, rescue Scott Calvin and save Christmas before it's too late and nobody gets presents!

So I mentioned you can extend your form, and that's the coolest mechanic featured in this game. You can extend for as tall as the stage is, and when you reach a ceiling you can grab it and shimmy across it. The game introduces the expanding functionality and places you immediately in an area with no ceiling, showing you that you can extend indefinitely. If you hit an enemy or it collides with your extended form, you will be forced to contract but you won't take any damage. When not expanding (thanks to your Expand-O-Matic suit), Robocod will take damage. Your lives and energy are displayed in the form of James' portrait in the bottom left — energy is in the palm of his hand, and lives are shown by the amount of fingers.

As you frolic about Arctic Toys, be on the lookout for all the presents lying around because they're all worth points. You can rack up some pretty crazy scores by collecting these, but there are also a large number of secret rooms and exits to discover. While the game can be played in sequence via the shortest route possible, the real fun comes from exploring the rather castle-like toy factory and accidentally stumbling upon all the buried stuff!


Like unwrapping boxes of wrapping paper on Christmas Day.

Each door in the factory leads to a level set, mostly based on a single level theme. The first door you enter will take you to a haphazardly put together set of generic stages with a loose tie-in to sports. Platforms made of squash balls and ping pong racquets adorn these first stages. The second set of stages take you to stages based on teddy bears, with platforms made of fur and stuffing.

After each set of two stages, you encounter a boss, one of Doctor Maybe's evil assistants, brainwashed friends of Santa run amok. The first boss is a large, snarling floating teddy bear, who crushes you with his spiked underside. He would potentially be trouble, but if you hold the down button when landing on him, you inflict double the damage per hit. A good trick for the whole game, in fact.

The third room is based around candy and sweets, chocolate and cakes. The stage includes a hidden level where you can go swimming in a tub of icing. If the stages themselves were not already far too long in this particular set, the large falls and accidental backtracking makes them almost nightmarish in comparison to the rest of the game's decent level design. This horrible stage is followed by a vehicle themed set that drags on forever and has an awful auto-scroller that requires you've learned all the subtle intricacies regarding your jumping height and distance.

The game ramps up even further in difficulty with the second boss, a large and menacing automobile. His battle leads on to the bath and shower world which is... strange for Santa's toy factory to have, but I guess he does a Santa Clause 3 and pretends to be a Canadian Faucet Manufacturer during daylight hours?

And after said world (where you get to ride a floating bathtub), you visit one based on board games stage. Yeah right, more like I'm "board" of this level! Ahhhh? I would continue to rattle these off, but I'd rather leave later levels a surprise. The game continues in this fashion until the final stage and the face-off against Dr. Maybe, who is wearing a giant snowman suit.

If any one of its constituent parts were even remotely bad, James Pond 2 would not be the stand-out platformer it is. The soundtrack, visual design, game control, characters, locations and story all combine in a way that is truly delightful. In keeping with the spirit of the season, Robocod is crispy and vastly enjoyable much like the deep fried festive turkey.


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