When the DS launched in the distant past of late 2004, gamers figured it would basically be a portable N64. After all, the Game Boy Advance had seen several SNES ports and the DS had similar graphical capabilities to the N64, so why wouldn’t Nintendo just repeat the same strategy? The DS even launched with an updated re-release of Super Mario 64, which seemed to seal the deal.
In the end the DS was fortunately not a dumping ground for recycled N64 ports. It turned out that its general programming architecture was just too different from the N64’s boorish, hard-to-work-with SDK; Mario 64 wasn’t ported straight but reworked from the ground up to play on the DS. Still, that didn’t stop every Nintendo fan and their dogs named Mario from thinking one thing: GoldenEye 007 on the DS! As a huge fan of the original game I admit to blue-skying about it myself, though the mess of red tape between Rare, Microsoft and Nintendo made sure that getting the classic console FPS onto the DS was nigh-impossible.
Time heals all wounds, and six long years later gamers are finally getting a real GoldenEye on the DS. Like its big brother on the Wii
, though, this GoldenEye is a complete re-imagining of the property, taking nostalgic cues from the N64 original and mixing them with an updated story and gameplay. Is GoldenEye 007 the DS shooter we’ve all been waiting for?
Well, first of all you have to know something about n-Space, the game’s developer. I’ve been a fan of their work ever since they released the highly original and underappreciated Geist on the GameCube in 2005. They’ve done a few things on Wii but have mostly stayed on the DS side of things recently, making consistently good licensed games. They aren’t necessarily the most creative 3rd party studio working on the DS but they are one of the more prolific, and next to Nintendo, n-Space is possibly the most technologically innovative. Basically, if you need a handheld version of your big console release, developed quickly and with quality, you go to n-Space.
In a weird twist of fate, back in 2004 n-Space helped make another DS GoldenEye. That game was GoldenEye Rogue Agent, EA’s name-dropping cash-in that had absolutely nothing to do with either Rare’s N64 game or the GoldenEye movie. On consoles Rogue Agent was rightfully panned, but the DS version was noted for its impressive FPS engine and advanced graphics; n-Space was the studio who delivered that engine. Right out of the gate n-Space was pushing the handheld’s meager tech, and now six years on they have the chance to make a real GoldenEye experience for the DS.
For the past few years they’ve been turning out impressive portable versions of the Call of Duty games, with Black Ops releasing this month. These aren’t gimmicky isometric knock-offs of their console counterparts; they’re smooth, fully 3D-rendered first person shooters with all the standard gameplay packed down into the DS hardware with a few in-context minigames for good measure. This track record led Activision to hand n-Space the unenviable task of developing the new GoldenEye for DS.
What they came up with is a strange combination of gameplay types, grafted onto the framework of the Wii game. The basic shooting gameplay from their portable Call of Duty games is more or less intact, but like the Wii version GoldenEye DS spices up the same old CoD mechanics with an intangible 007 style. For some reason the shooting doesn’t feel as stiff or generic as in the DS CoD titles, but it might have something to do with the controls. GoldenEye offers the standard stylus control and while this is more precise, it has the same tendency to cause hand-cramps as every other stylus-based FPS on the handheld. Thankfully n-Space provides a purely button-oriented configuration, which maps a sort of digital “dual analog” scheme to the D-pad and face buttons while the triggers control aiming and shooting, and everything else is a few convenient touch screen taps away. I’m pretty bad at fat-fingering the touch screen and even I was able to swap weapons and reload effectively, so I appreciated the more conventional scheme.
GoldenEye DS has its own distinct level structure that follows the basic plot of the Wii game but mixes up how the levels play out. The dam is run-and-gun but has you on-foot mostly, omitting the stealth and truck segments while sticking with the DS’s strength for more conventional shooter gameplay. On the other hand the facility and some other levels are almost completely stealth-based, downplaying action to the point where stealth is really the only way to go. It’s a decent system that works for the first few levels but it gets a little uneven later on.
Jumping back and forth between the two gameplay styles is a bit disorienting. Thankfully most levels, like the surface, are mapped out well and let you know exactly how to proceed. It’s less dynamic than the Wii’s open-ended “stealth or action anytime” approach but it gets the job done. I just feel like it tries to follow the Wii game’s lead just a little too closely and loses a lot of its own initiative and drive.
GoldenEye is by far n-Space’s most ambitious DS game but I feel like it’s a bit too bold for its own good at times. Levels like the Severnaya bunker are a confusing mix of action and stealth, and push concepts like gas masks and huge open-room firefights that are just a little beyond what is comfortably possible on the DS. It all works to an extent but you get the impression that n-Space’s skill and ambition have pushed the DS past what works well on the hardware.
This is too bad because GoldenEye DS had the potential to be a more nostalgic take than its Wii counterpart. From the start you have the good old curved health and armor bars; I can’t describe how warm and familiar it felt seeing those again. There’s still recharging health but it’s displayed by those orange and blue segments, something I wish could be turned on all the time in the Wii game, not just in its incredibly challenging “007 Classic” difficulty.
Playing through the dam, I had an initial inkling that GoldenEye DS would skew closer to the N64 original. The run-n-gun action, mixed with destructible scenery, touch-screen minigames and other n-Space innovations, make it play like an enhanced version of the old game with modern FPS mechanics—an updated classic, like the Wii game but different in its own way. However as the game veers off in over-ambitious directions it loses a lot of its early steam. What could’ve been a tribute to the N64 game, using the similarly-powered DS tech to its advantage, ends up as an enjoyable but truncated mirror of the Wii game. If the story mode had stuck to a more basic, action-oriented focus it would’ve been stronger.
The thing that bothered me the most were the omissions. Maybe n-Space was pressed for time, because there are some pretty glaring cuts from the main story. The runway is condensed into a custscene; Zukovsky’s nightclub is missing entirely. The frigate is suspiciously short and linear, completely glossing over the hostages and bomb situation and omitting the Dubai arms fair that was the entire first half of the level on Wii. Similarly, the train level is a brief end-cap to the admittedly awesome tank chase, but removes the construction site entirely.
I suspect that n-Space had much bigger plans for most of these levels but time frame and the DS cartridge’s crippling memory constraints reined in the developers. As an alternative I would’ve liked levels closer to the N64 ones. Instead of just avoiding a huge explosion-heavy runway level, why not a quick hectic race to the plane like on the N64? A nice, long N64-reminiscent train level, complete with brake units and cargo car shootouts would’ve been easy both on memory restrictions and framerate. While the cavernous nightclub is obviously unfeasible on the DS hardware, why not replace it with something completely different, like, say, remaking the N64’s missile silo?
I don’t want to sound too down on this game because it does a lot of things right. The archives, statue park, jungle and cradle are all great, as are the opening dam and facility. The ejector-seat escape from the exploding helicopter is both far more interactive than the Wii sequence and a stunning example of what the DS’s graphics are capable of when you know how to use them. The whole game has some of the most impressive visuals you’ll find from a 3rd party developer on the aging DS hardware, although you can expect similar overall quality to the DS’s CoD games. Just expect an abbreviated, more linear and scripted story experience and you’ll have a good time with GoldenEye DS’s single player.
While the story mode is a bit of a let-down, the multiplayer is incredibly robust for a handheld game. There are several game types, with N64 classics like Golden Gun and Flag Tag returning to join standards like capture the flag, king of the hill and conflict deathmatch. You can also switch on a whole host of modifiers including single-shot deaths (very reminiscent of N64’s License to Kill), shoot to move, and unaided, which takes pretty much the whole HUD away for a more realistic experience. There are also over 70 multiplayer achievements to earn that are all recorded in your personal dossier.
It’s safe to say that GoldenEye is the DS’s deepest multiplayer FPS since Metroid Prime Hunters, but there’s just one problem. At this point in its lifespan the DS has been hacked six ways to Sunday so you’ll encounter a lot of cheaters in global matches. You’ll often encounter maps saturated with proximity mines or populated with players using nothing but rapid-fire rocket launchers; it would be nice in these situations if you could mandate the “no explosives” modifier. Needless to say the cheating is a huge waste of the incredibly deep gunplay and strategy possible in GoldenEye DS’s multiplayer. However, if you stick to local wireless battles or fill up your friends list with trusted players, you can have a ton of fun with this game. It would be a real shame for such a rich multiplayer to fizzle out just because of hacking cheaters.
In the end GoldenEye DS probably would’ve been better if it stuck with a simpler gameplay dynamic rather than half-mimicking the Wii game’s fine-tuned action/stealth mixture. It also would’ve been a stronger story mode if n-Space had replaced some of the more technologically-challenging levels with retro ones reminiscent of the N64 game, instead of cutting them down or removing them entirely. That said, what GoldenEye DS has going for it is impressive and you have to give n-Space credit for their gutsy kitchen sink approach. In its own way the multiplayer mode is just as rich as the Wii game’s, and that serves as proof that n-Space could’ve done a lot more with some extra time and resources.
For that reason, I’m a little scared to see what these people can pull off on the 3DS. I’d certainly welcome an enhanced version of GoldenEye on the upcoming handheld and I kind of wish they’d waited to release the game on the 3DS where it could really meet its potential. Who knows? Eurocom and n-Space have shown that GoldenEye is just as strong in the minds of gamers over a decade later, and if the developers can do it justice on the current consoles, I’d love to see n-Space re-imagine GoldenEye on 3DS. As it stands, GoldenEye is a solid DS shooter that’s just a little too brazen for its own good.