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James Pond and the Deathly Shallows

There are distinct aromas and sounds that take me back to my past. The smell of spaghetti bolognaise cooking will always remind me of Saturday afternoons as a child, when we’d sit down as a family to eat around the table with the football results being read out in that timeless voice on Final Score. James Pond was one of my most beloved video games of this time. Endless hours were poured into the underwater world, searching all of its secrets but never completing the game. It’s one whose voice can still be heard as the sea waves hit the shore, calling me back to finish what I never did, ending the saga once and for all.

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When news broke of an iOS James Pond title this dream seemed a reality, but, alas, it was not meant to be; this is a new title using the classic character. Your job, as Mr. Pond, is to seal several pipes that are pumping oil into the sea and end this wanton pollution. The political message ends there, however, and out comes the bubble gun and breathing apparatus.

Searching the sea for the pipes vomiting oil isn’t as easy as a few swishes of a fin – everything has turned rampant. Walls inflict huge amounts of damage, crabs have become angered by anything that swims, fish-bulldog crossbreeds are up for some Friday night fisticuffs and even jellyfish have become sentient. These choppy waters are no holiday vacation.

James can be controlled by tapping the screen to swim up. Forward movement is automatic, balanced by the speed of your tapping. Break through the surface of the water and you’ll leap into the air, donning a goldfish bowl breathing mask. Waggling James’ fin will keep you flying through the air, though your oxygen quickly depletes when out of your natural habitat.

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So most of the time you’ll be moving up and down, dodging oncoming obstacles and auto-firing your gun at underwater critters. Why these creatures of the sea want to stop you and help pollute the sea they live in is uncertain, perhaps their jealous of the female fish that adore him, but hey, it’s a video game, so it can do whatever it pleases.

In many ways this is more spiritually attached to the 1987 game Bubble Ghost, requiring you to navigate a maze without touching the sides. Hitting the side will deplete your health, as will coming into contact with anything else. Air from oysters will fill your lungs as James seems to have forgotten that he’s a fish and can breathe underwater. Health packs and air canisters that fishermen have littered the seabed with can be used to James’ advantage.

The frustration in playing through James Pond and the Deathly Shallows lies in the controls themselves. They feel loose which makes venturing through tunnels more difficult than it should be. There’ll be many times when you’ll become stuck on a piece of rock sticking out from the ceiling or on the edge of an island. Holding down your finger on the screen does make James swim backwards, but this is awkward and uses up a lot of oxygen.

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The first tap on the screen makes James do a little wiggle and swim up slightly, with extra taps increasing in height each time. However, while the differences with each shift don’t appear to be massive, it does become an issue when the environments are compact. If it was open seas throughout this would be fine. But it isn’t, and you’ll often have no choice but to collide with other objects. All the levels do run seamlessly into one another, which is a nice touch. There’s no break other than a quick notification that you’ve finished a section. This makes it a coherent playthrough that can start at the beginning or from any level checkpoint.

In fifteen minutes the last level had been unlocked. It’s easy to breeze through the majority of levels. But then the final swim to victory throws every trick at you. Firstly, James turns around, heading to a new route. This presents a problem as he almost always gets caught on walls, losing the majority of his health.

This happens often, which suggests this is done on purpose to punish the player. Then a number of leaps over islands and enemies await, with little to no time for you to fire enough shots or space to awkwardly navigate to safety. It takes all the irritating sections from earlier and runs them in a constant sequence of unrelenting torture.

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The most memorable part is the character himself, who no doubt will be the reason many fans check the title out. What would have been nice to see is a new take on The Aquatic Games, a parody on Track & Field that featured James Pond and friends, or even a similar idea integrated into the game. James Pond and the Deathly Shallows is a quick – if not awkward – adventure through the sea.

Review based on version 1.1

4 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in December 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @shaneryantb.

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