Written by Chris Sorrell, with music by the late Richard Joseph, James Pond: Underwater Agent is the first in a trilogy of James Pond games and was first published on the Amiga by Millennium Interactive in 1990.
Playing as a cute orange mudskipper, called James Pond, you must solve puzzles in twelve individual levels, each with a unique objective that is explained before the level begins. This usually involves rescuing trapped sea creatures, finding and using specific items, or performing a specific task. Each level has a number of side-caves (accessible through small holes), and extensions to the main level (accessible through large holes), and James must explore his undersea world and try to complete the tasks within a strict time limit. Take too long and Dr. Maybe – your arch enemy – will chase you down and quickly sap your energy.
In the first level you have to pick up keys to rescue lobsters trapped in cages. If you leave them too long they’ll be taken by fishermen, so you can’t hang around. In the second level you must guide friendly fish to safety and avoid radioactive waste barrels. In the third level you must find and plant explosives on the legs of an oil rig. In the fourth level you must collect gold bars and take them to a boat. And so on. Your missions are mostly ‘fetch’ type tasks, but how you complete them differs.
James can blow bubbles at enemies to trap them, then must hit them while trapped to finish them off. Some enemies re-spawn while off-screen, so caution is always required when swimming around. Curiosity can often kill the mudskipper, but you learn quickly what you can and can’t touch. Take, for example, limpets, which look like something you can collect, but if you touch them they explode (limpet mines… funny! Not). Replaying previous levels after making a mistake like this can be tiresome as there are no passwords, but that’s the way it is. James can jump out of the water and crawl on land, but doing so will make him vulnerable to being taken by birds. The game has numerous hazards like this that will test your patience to the limit, like bottles of alcohol that make you drunk, and glue that sticks you to the same place temporarily.
Another annoying feature to watch out for is the fact that – when inside side caves – James‘s health bar continually depletes, meaning that you only have limited time to explore them before you die. Why this happens I don’t know, and it does leave me feeling that Underwater Agent is a bit too unfair for its own good.
James Pond: Underwater Agent is a cute, jolly and colourful game, but it’s maybe a tad too frustrating to be enjoyable. It also feels a little disjointed due to the game’s objectives being different in every level. While the variety in the gameplay is welcomed, Underwater Agent does feel like an experiment that hasn’t quite come to fruition. The sequels, Codename RoboCod and Operation Starfish, I think are much better games.