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The Nintendo 64’s GoldenEye 007 at 25: A Double O Anniversary

For England, James?



Goldeneye James Bond 007 movie at 25

GoldenEye 007 on the N64: A Retrospective 25 Years Later

You know the name. You know the console. GolenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64. 

Rarely does the title of a pop culture icon hold such vastly different meanings for people. That’s not to suggest that GoldenEye is adored and reviled in equal measure. Mention of the name elicits overwhelmingly positive responses from people all over the world. The twist is that their thoughts will not necessarily jump to the same product. General Bond fans, movie buffs, and people who read our magazine’s sister site Tilt will most likely think about the 1995 film starring Pierce Brosnan. Conversely, the thoughts of seasoned video gamers and readers of Goomba Stomp will conjure up images of Rare’s 1997, global phenomenon, GolenEye 007, released exclusively for the Nintendo 64. There is, of course, the subsection of folk for whom both go hand in hand. 

The game celebrates 25 years in 2022. Its birthday was only a couple of weeks ago on August 25th in North America (November 7th in the UK).  What’s more, the film franchise turns 60 this October 5th. As such, 007 enthusiasts, specifically those who adore both the movies and Rare’s game can look back fondly at not one but two important milestones for the IP. 

In this article, Goomba Stomp celebrates GoldenEye 007 (henceforth GE N64), but with a twist. Rather than bask in its qualities and chuckle at its quirks from a gamer’s perspective (besides, we’ve already done that here and here), this exercise will be from the point of view of a James Bond fan and someone who barely plays any video games at all!

There is no Substitute… Save a Walther for an N64 controller

The Guardian recently published a thorough and eye-opening article about how the game’s developers worked like dogs to make the magic happen. Few people ever consider the toil that programmers go through so that gamers experience happiness in their living rooms. As much as the name Rare brings warm feelings to GoldenEye 007 fans, it wasn’t all roses in 1995 and 1996 when the game was made. Nevertheless, the final product gave, and continues to give, Bond fans plenty to gush about. 

Fire Away
Credit Nintendo

And it was about time as well. First, there hadn’t been any significant 007-inspired game since James Bond 007: The Duel in 1993 for the Sega Genesis. Yes, believe it or not, Timothy Dalton’s Bond is etched in video game history too. 

Second, GoldenEye 007 for the N64 was released late in the summer of 1997. The issue with the release date wasn’t that no new 007 film was coming out. After all, by August fans had mere months to wait for Tomorrow Never Dies. Nor was it that late August means back to school, therefore less time to play games (that’s just the author whining). The fact of the matter was that GoldenEye for the N64 was coming out almost 2 full years after the film it’s an adaptation of. That’s unheard of when it comes to movie tie-in products. They might as well have canceled the darn project at that point. Thankfully, Rare pushed ahead. 

This was a few years before Electronic Arts took over the 007 license and gifted fans with a lineup of James Bond games that may never be matched again: Agent Under FireNightfireEverything or Nothing, and a very cool (if loose) adaptation of From Russia with Love featuring the actual voice of the first James Bond actor Sean Connery. So in 1997, we didn’t know what was coming up. GoldenEye for the N64 was it. Peak “play AS 007 in your own home.” Woah.

A Golden Eye Opener

There is a video game bar in Montreal’s Quartier Latin neighborhood, Arcade MTL. The second-story establishment serves refreshing alcoholic beverages while patrons try their hand at dozens upon dozens of old-school arcades, all lined in rows. One section features a few television sets equipped with vintage consoles. In March, there was a small get-together on a fine Sunday afternoon with local friends to revisit the N64 classic. Naturally, the next couple of hours were spent boozing it up whilst demolishing one another in the game’s legendary multiplayer format. 

It was a special afternoon that, to a large extent, inspired this retrospective. It helps that the game is relatively fresh in mind. It’s quite incredible just how much of the GoldenEye movie it delightfully translates as well as iconic 007 cues from the entire series. Those qualities render it the best Bond video game to write about, talk about, and play in the year of the film franchise’s 60th anniversary. 

GE N64 menus
Credit: Nintendo

In 1997, the very look of GoldenEye 007 was mesmerizing. The engine represented all-time great computer graphics. It was a cause for joy when the game’s opening mission has the camera swoop around the 3D Bond, revealing that the character’s looks were modeled directly after Pierce Brosnan. We’re not just playing as a James Bond (which itself is cool), we’re playing as THE James Bond on record at the time. Sean Bean is in the game along with Famke Janssen, Robbie Coltrane, Izabella Scorupco, and Alan Cumming. They look a little worse for wear considering the graphical limitations, but it’s them. 

Even the start of the second level has players sneak through the shafts of the Arkhangelsk weapons facility until they plop down into a bathroom stall, as Bond does in the movie when he “forgot to knock.” Dialogue is lifted from the movie, albeit in text only, as are entire sets, like the weapons facility, the Severnaya satellite control center, the hidden Cuban base, and the Ministry of Defence’s library. Who can forget the streets of Saint-Petersburg, which the players must traverse by riding a tank while blowing enemies into smithereens?

Tonally, the game strays far from its source material. Even though the film features Bond machine gunning more people than he had had in the past, GoldenEye 007 for the N64 was almost exclusively a “run and gun” experience. Funnily enough, 99% of the action consisting of launching hails of bullets leads to some surprising graphical touches. A carefully aimed shot can pop a guard’s hat off their head, or an accidental bullet fired into a scientist’s hand has them writhe in pain. Poor targets even react to getting shot in the derriere.

A Full James Bond Interactive Experience

GoldenEye 007 does so much more than transpose the film to a 3D gaming experience. Its creators paid keen attention to Bond lore (the Guardian retrospective even reveals that the team watched Bond movies while on break during the game’s development). They included as many small and significant details as they saw fit, resulting in a lovingly tailored James Bond experience. 

Even before the menu screens, players are greeted by the iconic gun barrel scene with a tiny rendering of Brosnan walking right to left and firing at the screen. The flourishes continue with said menus. While not fanciful, they consist of classified document folders with markings of “For Your Eyes Only” and feature OHMSS stampings (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which is what Bond does while also serving as the title of the 1969 film). 

Credit: Nintendo

Things get even geekier when specific objectives are achieved throughout the levels. As a reward, special bonuses are unlocked, many of which are the stuff of Bond fan fantasies. A couple of additional levels are added, one of which calls the player to foil the launch of Hugo Drax’s Moonraker shuttles from the eponymously titled 1979 movie. Another sends gamers into strange catacombs to face off against the “man who cannot die”, Baron Samedi from 1973’s Live and Let Die.

But that isn’t all. More goodies await in the multiplayer section. Achievements unlock a “Golden Gun” setting in which whoever wields the famous pistol dispatches their opponents with a single shot (“I only need one,” Scaramanga threatens in The Man With the Golden Gun). Moonraker laser guns can be used. Better still: double-wielding of Moonraker laser guns!

It goes without saying that the pinnacle of all the supplements is the 4 historical characters in the multiplayer segment: Oddjob from Goldfinger (although he is unusually small in stature), Baron Samedi from Live and Let Die, Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, and May Day from A View to a Kill. Collectively, these details make GE N64 a celebration of the entire Bond phenomenon, circa 1997.

Feel His Presence in the Crowd

The history of James Bond in video games is a bit like Star Wars, Marvel, and Final Fantasy. It is long, it is varied, and fans have an armada of titles to choose from when reminiscing about their favorites (and least favorites). The Duel007 RacingJames Bond Jr.Tomorrow Never DiesNightFireEverything or Nothing007 LegendsBloodstoneRogue Agent, etc. In 2010 there was even a remake of GoldenEye for the Nintendo Wii starring Daniel Craig!

But GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64 stands out from the crowd. It was the first game to immerse players in the world of 007 as lavishly as it did. It was based on a beloved film, sprinkled references in the menus, included bonus missions calling back to classic movies, and offered playable iconic villains from Bond’s past.  

At the time of this writing and as recently as the last few months, reports suggest that yet another remastered version is being released. Time will tell whether that proves true or not, but considering that gamers and Bond fans alike clamour for it, that means something.* 

Nobody had done it better at the time. Some argue nobody has done it better since. 

-Edgar Chaput

*Lo and behold, 24 hours after publication official 007 channels on social media have announced that GoldenEye 007 will be available soon on the Nintendo Switch and Xbox Series X, including online play. The news is as of Tuesday, September 13th, 2022.

Credit: screen capture from Edgar’s Macbook of the 007 Twitter account. Sept 13th, 2022.

A native of Montréal, Québec, Edgar has been writing about film since 2008. At first relegated to a personal blog back when those things were all the rage, he eventually became a Sound on Sight staff member in late 2011, a site managed by non-other than Ricky D himself. Theatrical reviews, festival coverage, film noir and martial arts flicks columns, he even co-hosted a podcast for a couple of years from 2012 to 2014 with Ricky and Simon Howell. His true cinematic love however, his unshakable obsession, is the 007 franchise. In late 2017, together with another 00 agent stationed in Montreal, he helped create The James Bond Complex podcast (alas, not part of the Goombastomp network) in which they discuss the James Bond phenomenon, from Fleming to the films and everything in between. After all, nobody does it better.