The second you start the game, you're dumped outside Santa's Toy Factory.
Might as well talk about the hub level while I'm here, then. As I said on the last page, you start with 2 doors unlocked, with a total of 14 doors- 5 of those are boss battles, leaving us with 9 different worlds to conquer- and beating a boss unlocks the next 2 doors for you. Once you enter a door, though, you can't leave until you beat the world,
so choose carefully oh, sod it, it really doesn't matter what order you play the levels in- this game's really easy if you know what you're doing. Obviously, before you enter a door, you can doss about outside, although there isn't much to get excited about- doors are basically the only thing out here. Oh, and it's snowing, but you can't make snowmen. Lame.
That said, there are two odd things to be found in the hub- the first on a roof near the start, the second in the far right corner.
This isn't suspicious in the least.
Anyway, here's the first set of doors. Let's do this in order, and start with the door on the left- the Sporting Goods World.
First world's easy. Turn left at the start and you can end it before it even begins. Job's a good 'un.
I'm not even kidding here. The exit to the entire world is to your left. Why?!
Actually, there's a perfectly logical explanation, and it's just five letters long- CHEAT.
CHEAT is the British equivalent of the Konami Code- if you're from my fair isle, like your vid-cons, and don't know about this in your very soul, then what the hell is wrong with you? For those who remain confused, it's pretty simple- there's no universal 'thing-to-collect' in James Pond II, like Mario's coins or Sonic's rings, but instead there's just a load of random shit all worth different amounts of points. However, the random shit on top of the roof we saw earlier actually spells out the word 'CHEAT' if you collect them in the right order- Cake, Hammer, Earth, Apple, Tap.
Collecting them in this order grants Pond invulnerability for an extended period (not the rest of the game, though- it wears off eventually) and also unlocks every door... But only after you beat the first world. That's why the easy exit to the left is there- once you activate CHEAT, then you can duck out the first world and play any level you like. This 'spell shit out' thing also applies to three sets of items in the first level- you can spell out POWER (Penguin, Oil Can, Wine, Earth, Racquet) for a quick health boost, and LIVES (Lips, Ice Cream, Violin, Earth, Snowman) for infinite lives. There's also another set of items to spell out CHEAT with in case you missed it outside.
Once you beat the first world, though, the CHEAT disappears from the roof, replaced with an extra life, a few health stars and some penguins.
Now, let's try that again, and this time, no CHEATing.
The first world is very, very short, and the three levels therein won't be any hassle to anyone who's ever played a platform game before. The very first stage of the game serves as a way of making sure that you get down this whole 'extending body' lark from the off- as you can no doubt see in the screenshot to the left, there's a big spike pit that can't be jumped over... And a roof above it. Put two and two together, and extend Pond so he'll grab the roof, inch your way over to the other side, and you're across. See, this ability has its uses! It's a real shame that it isn't really exploited enough, but it's used here and there. Anyway, let's press on.
Oh, it's our friend, the ? Block, last seen in Märchen Maze, and it seems to be bigger than the ! blocks. I wonder what's inside...
What the hell? Snakes in the ? Blocks again?!
The ? Blocks are not to be trusted in this game. They contain snakes. I won't be betrayed like this again.
Here's the end of the stage, and you might notice some giant penguins. As we saw in the intro, these guys are being held hostage (even though they're not tied up or anything- they're just sitting there) and, in most cases, you'll need to find them all before the exit pole is activated. Some levels don't have them at all, though, and almost 90% of the ones that do just put them at the very end, so there's no challenge in finding them in the least. The ones that do hide them either put them in nice, obvious places or put them in the most awkward spots imaginable... You have to wonder, though, why did Dr. Maybe kidnap penguins, of all things? As it turns out, the answer is far more sinister than you can imagine... That's something we'll find out about soon enough.
Interestingly, in the PS1/PS2/GBA/DS ports, the new maps actually hide the hostages, forcing you to hunt around for them.
It makes the game much, much worse, but we'll get to that later.
The next stage is more of the same, but there's a couple of important things introduced. First, the ropey collision detection- the giant red smiling slab things (now there's a description I wasn't expecting to use today) jump out from the spiked pits, and unless you absolutely nail the bastards right on their noggin, you'll get hit and be sent flying. However, unlike other games with shoddy hit detection, at least Robocod is consistent about it- you simply need to be more accurate that you would in other games, and you adjust to it surprisingly quickly. It also only affects a select few enemies, the slab-thingies being one of them.
The second is how your health works- pick up the stars to add another health battery to your stock, and don't pick up the poison bottles unless you want to get hurt (and, hilariously, get sent flying across the stage like you've been hit by a truck). The stars come in a wide variety of different colours, but don't be so silly as to think that the different colours give you different amounts of health- they all add one battery. No more, no less. Oh, and 5 is the maximum, which is more than enough hits to keep you alive.
Also, there's another ? block here. Ohohoho, nice try, buddy. Once bitten, twice shy!
... Wait, was that a London bus?!
No, couldn't be. Must've been my imagination. I'm just going to keep running and pretend that didn't happen.
Once again, we're at the exit, and once again the penguins are right there, but one of them's on top of that platform that we can't reach. Can't beat the level without him, so how are we going to get up there? The ! block at the very end of the stage has the answer- it gives you wiiiiings! They do exactly what you think they'll do- they let you fly around the stage by tapping the jump button a lot. Generally, when you find one of these things, any difficulty you might've had with the level evaporates completely, which is why they don't appear too often.
The final stage of the first world introduces the most infuriating enemy in the entire game- the dreaded Paper Card Bird. All they do is fly in a straight line, changing direction at a set point, but they're designed to annoy the living hell out you. They're placed in parts of the stage where you absolutely don't want them, they're often used as stepping stones in jumping puzzles, sometimes they'll damage you even if you swear blind you were in the clear, and they'll often prevent you from stretching to grab on to a roof. They are the War Mech to James Pond's Light Warrirors, the Shades Snake to his Alice, the... You get the point. My hatred for these enemies will be duly noted throughout this article.
Ooh, another giant ? block. Will there be another snake in there? Hey, third time lucky, it's worth a try...
It's a plane! I hope there aren't any snakes on it.
Actually, the plane is one of the best things about this game. Sure, it's a total pain in the hole to actually control (you use the Jump button to gain height and not Up), it slips about all over the place, and you're immediately kicked out if Pond himself gets hit, but check it out- Pond gets Biggles-esque aviator goggles when he's riding around in the plane. That's quite possibly amazing. A more practical benefit is that, aside from Pond himself serving as a weak-point, the plane is invincible and you can plough through anything, including those evil, heartless Paper Card Birds. Anything that lets you murder these little buggers gets a thumbs-up from me.
Besides, the plane's necessary to find the game's first BONUS ROUND!!! There's an Exit Pole too high to reach normally- touch it!
Sadly, the BONUS ROUND!!! for this world isn't very exciting.
There's an extra life in there somewhere, and that's pretty much it.
Hopefully World 2 will be a bit more exciting, eh, readers?
Don't worry- we'll be coasting through the rest of the game for the rest of this article. Hopefully.