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[Scene: Outside Nuff Respekt Gamez, a seedy and run-down computer games store in one of the less pleasant suburbs of Bolton, Lancashire. It's the middle of a too-hot and muggy summer afternoon, and there's a ruckus in progress.]

PC Trouserpress (arriving on the scene and fingering his truncheon nervously): Alright, alright, break it up. What's going on here?

[The tussle continues unabated. It appears to involve two small, fat moustachioed men in dungarees, and a fish with boots on.]

PC Trouserpress: Right, I warned you.

[PC Trouserpress draws his truncheon and wades in, swinging indiscriminately to the left and right. In moments, the combatants lie dazed on the ground and PC Trouserpress takes command of the situation.]

PC Trouserpress: Now, would one of you gentleman like to explain this unseemly commotion to me? You, the fat one in the red.

Mario: It wasn't our a-fault, officer. It was him, him a-there.

[Mario points at the fish, who PC Trouserpress recognises as one-time big videogame star James Pond]

James Pond (sullenly): I didn't do nothin'.

Mario: Did a-too.

Pond (in a menacing low growl): You're dead, chubby. You hear me? A dead man.

PC Trouserpress: Now then, that's quite enough of that, sir, or I'll run you down to the station right this minute.

Mario: You ask-a my brother, he'll a-tell you.

Luigi: That's a-right, officer. It was the fish's a-fault. He tried to steal the a-bread from our mouths.

PC Trouserpress (to Pond): Is this right, sir?

Pond: I wanna talk to my lawyer, filth.

PC Trouserpress: Right, that's it. You're all coming with me.

[Scene: The station. Desk Sergeant Stepladders is taking a statement from Pond.]

Sgt Stepladders: So, you say these men accosted you in the street, accused you of trying to steal their jobs and ruin their reputation by stealing all their ideas and then doing them really badly, and then physically attacked you?

Pond (now heavily bandaged): Yeah, that's right.

Sgt Stepladders: And you deny these charges, do you?

Pond: Is my lawyer here yet?

Sgt Stepladders: Hang on a minute, I'll check at reception.

[Sgt Stepladders leaves, only to return a few moments later accompanied by another man, a short, black-clad figure with a strange and unsightly hairstyle. He is carrying a briefcase, and has a Scottish accent.]

Sgt Stepladders: Here's your lawyer, he arrived a couple of minutes ago. Now, can we get to the bottom of this?

Lawyer: I need to consult with my client for a moment, Sergeant. The noo.

[Pond and the lawyer huddle around a monitor screen in a corner of the interview room. The monitor is attached to a computer of some sort, and their feverish but hushed discussion is punctuated by Pond urgently pointing at sections of the flickering image and gesticulating as expressively as it's possible to do with fins. The lawyer begins to exude an air of concern.]

Lawyer: Er, could we possibly arrange some kind of plea bargain, do you think?

[Scene: A busy courtroom. Judge Filingcabinet calls the assembly to order.]

Judge Filingcabinet: The defendant is accused of being a dire attempt to clone the Super Mario games, except with incredibly dark graphics which try to suggest the cold, airless atmosphere of the moon, but actually end up suggesting nothing more than the incapability of the programmers to draw proper backgrounds even when given a 32-bit hardware platform. Furthermore, it is claimed that even though the said backgrounds are simply walls of black with a few single-pixel purple dots on them, they don't move at all, meaning that anyone playing the game can be subject to the disconcerting experience of flying through the air for the duration of about half a level without anything on the screen moving at all.

There is also an additional charge that the defendant's actions are incompatible with the speed of the game's update, leading to unpleasant instances of slow-down and jerkiness when many sprites are moving on the screen at once, and that his control is irritatingly skittish, in as much as that it's very difficult to move him small amounts, and many of the platforms he must stand on are stupidly small. Finally, it is alleged that the defendant contains areas in which the player's character can be damaged and killed simply by standing on completely innocuous-looking sections of ground, and also areas in which the player's character must leap blindly into an inky black void in the fervent hope that there shall not be some manner of danger beneath him. How does the defendant plead?

Lawyer: My client pleads guilty, but with extenuating circumstances, m'lud.

Judge Filingcabinet: Extenuating circumstances? And what might these be?

Lawyer: Well, m'lud, my client would like to point out the extreme profitability of games of the Super Mario 'genre', and the understandable desire on his own part to emulate this fiscal success. Also, my client feels that the court should take note of the substantial value for money offered by his large number of levels (in excess of 100!), save facility, recognition of two-button joypads and extra disk drives, and of the many hilarious cheese- and custard-related jokes contained herein. And, erm, the slippery movement is, um, a deliberate gameplay device to, er, er, simulate my client's slippery fins. Yes, that's it. Fins.

Judge Filingcabinet: Hmm. I'm not convinced.

[Later. The jury have retired to consider their verdict and return, led by - oddly - PC Trouserpress.]

Judge Filingcabinet: Have you reached a verdict upon which you are all agreed?

Foreman of the jury: We have, m'lud.

Judge Filingcabinet: And what is your verdict?

Foreman of the jury: We find the defendant guilty on all charges, plus several other ones that weren't previously mentioned, such as having spiky pits in the custard worlds, suggesting some kind of dangerous spiky custard which is demonstrably ludicrous. Furthermore, the defendant suffers from severely flawed collision detection, a dull and largely yellow colour scheme, unpleasant music, incredibly frustrating sections at a very early stage, levels that all look the same, a lack of interesting enemies, and some really crap puns. There was even a [dramatic pause] slippy-slidey ice world near the end, m'lud! [Court gasps] The members of the jury expressed a unanimous desire to stop playing the game by approximately the middle of the second stage (some five and a half minutes in, including loading time), and on being forced to continue ended up in extremely bad tempers.

Lawyer: Yeah, and it got me so annoyed I broke my favourite joypad. Git.

Pond: Hang on, you're supposed to be on my side!

Foreman of the jury: With respect, m'lud, lock 'im up and throw away the key.

Judge Filingcabinet: Make it so.

UPPERS It's absolutely huge, and there's lots of secret stuff to go exploring for, both on the map and in the actual levels.

DOWNERS It's annoying to play from the off, and you'd expect a 1200-only game nearly two years in the making to look a little more impressive than this. Well, we would, certainly. Just not engaging in any way.

THE BOTTOM LINE It's perhaps inevitable that any game you have to wait this long for is going to be a bit of a disappointment when it finally arrives, but James Pond 3 is as much of a letdown as anything I've seen for quite some time.


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