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'GoldenEye 007': An Unexpected Window To The World of James Bond

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

Made by a team of people who had little to no experience in the world of video games, GOLDENEYE 007 for Nintendo 64 solidified the resurgence of the cinematic James Bond with its source film from 1995, Pierce Brosnan’s debut in the role directed by Martin Campbell. It was also the door to the incredible world of 007 for many 90s kids: not only the game would take you to rent or buy the GOLDENEYE VHS tape, but using a magnetic watch throughout the Bunker II mission or facing off Baron Samedi and Jaws in the unlockable bonus stages would take you to revisit old movies of the Roger Moore era such as MOONRAKER or LIVE AND LET DIE.

This was precisely my case some 24 years ago. I was never an avid gamer, just loved video games like pretty much everyone else and while I owned a Famicom, I wanted to have a Nintendo 64 desperately: the 3D environments and colourful palettes made it really look like a fun machine, and I whenever I look at the machine itself, the console, can unashamedly say that with the passing of age it became the Aston Martin DB5 of the gaming consoles. You feel distinguished for having one, and the fact that the games were stored in cartridges with boxes and manuals that were expensive back then (even more expensive now) made the whole thing special. The game led me to the film, and the film to and the whole legacy of Ian Fleming and his character. With no VCR or N64, I had to watch GOLDENEYE whenever it was on cable TV in my country and ask my father to rent me the console with the game from a local video store whenever he could afford it. But I could learn more about the game’s maps and characters thanks to the many video game magazines covering them. An issue of Latin America’s CLUB NINTENDO, in fact, dedicated a few pages to the Bond phenomenon with information about who Fleming and the actors who played the characters were, and things like 00 agents are licenced to kill. That was the first thing that whetted my appetite for Bond beyond GOLDENEYE.

“What is that Golden Gun?”, “Who is Baron Samedi?”, “Who are Jaws, May Day, Oddjob?” – those three questions led me straight to the Roger Moore and Sean Connery films and soon enough I wasn’t just a Pierce Brosnan or GOLDENEYE fan, but a James Bond fan who wanted to read the Ian Fleming novels to see how close they were to the films. It wouldn’t come until years later when some Spanish editions from RBA came to my country.

The point here is that I wanted to say a couple of things regarding this very valuable piece in the history of James Bond. Don’t expect me to get very technical, because I know little about that aspect, but I think I know the game well enough to share some thoughts as it is about to reach its 25th anniversary next August.

First of all, this game is a huge challenge. Anyone making speedruns or time trials or beating this game in 00 Agent (hardest difficulty) or with “modifiers” that make it even harder than that is worthy of my admiration. Many will surely undermine video games as cheap entertainment or be biased by today’s products where the game itself tells you where you have to go, are filled with quick-time events (moments where you have to push buttons to interact with a video scene, as in Activision’s Bond games) and you could complete each stage with two or three tries. But GOLDENEYE 007 was different: you had to locate a floppy disk and no one told you where or how to get it, maybe there was a hint on the briefings written in the menu folders, but nothing more than that. You had to find a way on a map with plenty of routes that took you nowhere, you had to be careful not to shoot the wrong monitor or computer or fire a weapon next to a potential ally, and the enemy artificial intelligence was hard to beat: they could hear you, trigger alarms, throw grenades or appear from behind your back. Of course, it’s easy to see people beating the AI today after so many years of playing it: experienced players will know the exact guard respawn spots, the drone guns hidden in that corner of the Severnaya Bunker, the facts that guards can’t shoot you through railings or see you behind glass, the hidden corridors and the exact route to the level’s goal, but anyone playing GOLDENEYE 007 for the first time will find it challenging even on the easiest difficulty. Despite being the reason I became a Bond fan in the first place, I’m not a great player of this game and I barely played it in my childhood, usually getting stuck at Facility and waiting for a scientist to drop a keycard so I could get into the bottling room, ignoring that just pressing the B button on one of the computers opened the aforementioned doors for a while.

Secondly, the game takes a couple of liberties that are interesting to see. As much as I love GOLDENEYE the film as it is, part of me wishes there were one or two moments where Bond infiltrates the Severnaya Space Weapons Control Centre or where he blows the Missile Silo in Kirghizstan or performs an escape from a bunker crawling with soldiers. The limitations that prevented me to own a Nintendo 64 in my childhood or buying the game prevented me to have the experience of playing it on an everyday basis, so I got more accustomed to the movie which I got on DVD as early as 2000. On the other hand, I think that for obvious reasons some characters are made much less interesting in the game, particularly Xenia Onatopp. I would have liked to see a casino mission, even if it was a skippable one, where you could beat her at baccarat and maybe then follow her undetected through the Monaco harbour. All the sexual charge of this character, her delicious evilness, is reduced to just a level boss with a Grenade Launcher and an RCP-90 machine gun in the N64 title. Not blaming the developers because I know this game took a lot of time and effort to make and probably a gambling mission could have gone against what was expected for a game of this kind, but it would have been nice to see something like the PlayStation version of THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH did it three years later.

Then, there is the humour. As childish as the dialogue may sound sometimes, I always get a laugh at Natalya tells Bond to “stop clowning around” when the player shoots Boris in Control or Trevelyan calling Bond “a golden boy traitor” if you shoot him in Facility when you meet them, or Valentin’s “I’m risking my life coming here, could you be civil enough to listen to me?” in Statue. And the (questionable) fun you can have with the scientists and remote mines or the mightiness of getting the Golden Gun in the multiplayer mode. As for the game music, the tunes are still stuck in my head: the job of Grant Kirkhope, Graeme Norgate and Robin Beanland – from the pumping James Bond Theme version from the intro to its more relaxing takes for the Watch (pause menu) and the elevators in Control and Caverns and the track for each level, where you feel that the environment is reflected in the music, from the dynamism of Silo to the most claustrophobic, metallic sounds of Bunker II or Facility, to the calming sound effects of the Jungle, generally interrupted by the burst of an AR33.

The rest of my best GOLDENEYE 007 memories are more of a generational thing: the enjoyment of seeing all those game boxes in stores (box, manual, and cartridge) made you feel you owned something special. Packaging of today’s video games is quite lame, save for some special editions, but they don’t have the same impact to my eyes as GOLDENEYE 007 or, for that case, SUPER MARIO 64 or CRUIS’N’ USA. Players aren’t rewarded for their skills anymore, and to unlock new levels they have to ask for daddy’s credit card. I can’t honestly say if the game has or hasn’t aged well by today’s standards, but I feel it did and it can provide modern players with a richer experience based on trial, error and discovery than the shooters we have today. I am well aware that the EA Bond games gave us the chance to do “Bond Moments” and use a bigger array of weapons and gadgets than GOLDENEYE, but I miss the freedom of action the N64 title gave the player and the chance to interact with enemies and allies without the intervention of a cut scene or a quick-time event.

It wasn’t until January 2011 that I could finally own both the Nintendo 64 and the coveted GOLDENEYE 007. With an emulator, you can have better graphics and even the chance of a mouse and keyboard option, but no one that grew up in the 1990s can’t resist the chance of having the originals. Seeing the game box stored in my collection and feeling the cartridge in my hands gives me a special satisfaction, and I’m sure many of you will understand. Apart from being a great game, it is undoubtedly the best and most successful piece of Bond merchandise EON has authorized in the past 25 years. This is proved by the fact that its return with improved graphics has been rumoured, probably the leaked XBLA version with a few fixes and added features.

After the title was used for a spin-off that wasn’t well-remembered by the fans and a 2010 reimagining of the original that was more influenced by CALL OF DUTY than the original (and let’s not talk about how they have downgraded characters like Mishkin or Xenia), the return of this legend is certainly something to celebrate. I doubt I’ll be able to play it given my hardware limitations and the constant devaluation of my currency, but then again, my eight-year-old self never believed he would own the Nintendo 64 one day. Never say never...

Photos sourced through GoldenEye: Decoded

The author has written The World of GoldenEye and

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