A recurrent motif that emerged from 80s and 90s gaming was the accusation that developers of licensed tie-in games would more often than not fail to capture the true essence of a movie, TV series, comic book, crazy neon-haired doll, or even fizzy soft drink. Let’s face it, they don’t have the best track record for ticking quality control boxes or breaking new ground in terms of gameplay mechanics or artistic ingenuity. In extreme cases, some games bear so little resemblance to their supposed inspiration because they were never intended to be correlated in any way to begin with.
Take Live and Let Die by Domark for instance. Allegedly it’s the gaming accompaniment to Roger Moore’s first James Bond movie; the 8th in the boundless franchise, released in 1973. Not that I’d put money on it passing a DNA test mind you!
While considering how they were going to wrap a game around the wonderfully freaky, child-spooking, voodoo-centric blaxploitation movie they already had the rights to produce, Domark spotted that Elite were working on a third-person perspective speedboat racer that closely aligned with the iconic eleven and a half minute water-based chase sequence featured in Live and Let Die.
So rather than create an original game from scratch they offered to team up with Elite, retro-fit their work in progress as an official Bond game and publish it on their behalf.
Neatly demonstrating how little it was adapted to Bondify the offering it was also published by Keypunch Software in the US – where the jurisdiction of Domark’s licence didn’t apply – under the name ‘Aquablast’. Its box art, music, title screen and story were tweaked – or rather kept as initially intended – while the game under the bonnet remained identical. Boats don’t have bonnets do they? What’s the equivalent? It doesn’t matter. You know what I mean.
Whereas licensed movie adaptations are typically multi-genre affairs, Live and Let Die revolves entirely around speedboating. It’s intrinsically a single mini-game ported over from the Atari ST and sold at the price of a premium complete title.
ACE magazine rather perceptively summed it up as “Buggy Boy on water with a couple of Roadblasters and Outrun bits thrown in”. It wasn’t a sentiment that came wholly ‘out of the blue’; the same developers were responsible for Buggy Boy, and Aquablast was considered a kind of spiritual sequel.
Live and Let Die/Aquablast features three very similar practice stages (albeit alternately themed in environmental terms) for fine-tuning your targeting and steering, and just one real level set in New Orleans. It’s kind of an intro and finale all in one. How economical! As such the game can be beaten in under ten minutes, as evidenced by the longplay on YouTube.
In Aquablast the goal is to save the planet from being poisoned… by destroying an unhinged despot’s toxin installations. Martin Ward who coded the game goes into more detail on his own homepage (where all his games are thoroughly documented, and all the images oddly plastered with watermarks)…
“Once again the world is in danger from a mad tyrant bent on total domination. In this case, the foe is creating a deadly toxin capable of destroying all life on the planet.
Until now, he could not be stopped, but the U.N.’s Intelligence Agency have discovered that there are three installations, based in some of the most inaccessible regions of the world where the toxin is being manufactured.
You have been given the task of destroying these bases, but the only way to reach them is by a complex route of waterways, heavily guarded by both natural and man-made obstacles. To combat these problems, you have been given a highly powered jet boat with mounted machine guns and a limited number of missiles.
The task ahead will be difficult, but with courage and skill you can overcome any odds.
LET THE MISSION COMMENCE!”
In Live and Let Die the world hangs in the balance due to the influence of a different kind of poison; class A ‘recreational’ drugs.
Playing as Roger Moore (we have to assume since his likeness wasn’t covered by Domark’s licence) we’re up against Mr Big/Dr Kananga and must destroy his heroin plant, as in the movie. Well, if you use your imagination and suspend any disbelief.
Some bloke in a boat sets fire to a sea of marshmallow fluff. I think that’s the gist judging by the Atari ST’s title screen.
Oh no, wait. This is what they were ‘shooting’ for.
It’s really only the manual’s narrative that makes it a James Bond game and it’s so short I’ll insert it here to fill in the blanks…
“Dr Kananga, the infamous and ruthless Prime Minister of the Caribbean island of San Monique, an island whose people are controlled by the fearful power of voodoo, is harvesting huge fields of poppies concealed under camouflaged netting on this paradise island. He plans to control the US drug market by flooding America with tons of free heroin which would create a living hell for millions, and incidentally, provide money for arms to Eastern bloc allied San Monique.
Dr Kananga or ‘Mr. Big’ as he is known in the underworld, is a shrewd operator who conceals his dealings from prying eyes. His headquarters, which are well hidden beneath a cemetery on San Monique, ships all of the unrefined heroin to processing factories in remote and inaccessible locations.
James Bond, 007, the world’s top secret agent must undertake a series of dangerous missions to overcome the covert operations of Dr Kananga. As James Bond you must carry out the orders of ‘M’, travelling by the only accessible means.”
In case it’s not clear from that precis, Mr Big’s nefarious scheme is to muscle out all the competing dealers by serving their customers for free. Then once they’re hopelessly hooked, charge them exorbitant fees for his illicit wares. He’d then be absolutely rolling in it and… oh, I don’t know, likely look towards taking over the world somehow. Bond villains usually do.
Mr Big and Kananga – unbeknownst to Bond – are one and the same person, separated by locations, ‘occupations’ and a rubber prosthetic disguise. Rather comedically, when Bananga (for short) comes out of the closet to prove this to James, he peels off the pliable mask in squidgy chunks revealing a face beneath that looks barely any different to the artificial one. Or is that just racist in an “all black people look the same” kind of a way? Probably.
It’s all a bit Clark Kent/Superman, only dramatically more unsettling for any little kiddies watching. Really quite a disturbing movie all round for a PG-rated title. Especially for any ophidiophobics in the audience!
Kananga: Kananga, Poppy grower in thousands of acres of well-camouflaged fields, protected by the voodoo threat of Baron Samedi.
Then there’s Mr Big, distributor and wholesaler through a chain of Fillet of Soul restaurants.
James Bond: Wholesale?
Kananga: ‘Sell’ heroin, for money?!
James Bond: My apologies. I’m sure you simply give it away.
Kananga: Excellent, Mr Bond. That’s precisely what I intend to do. Two tons of it, to be exact. When entering into a fiercely competitive field, one finds it advisable to give away free samples. Man or woman, black or white. I don’t discriminate.
James Bond: Two tons of heroin with a street value well over a billion dollars nationally distributed free? That should make a certain group of families rather angry, wouldn’t you say?
Kananga: Angry? Why, my dear Mr Bond, it’ll positively drive them out of their minds. And subsequently out of the business. Quite ingenious.
James Bond: A sort of junkies welfare system.
Kananga: Well, merely until the number of addicts in the country has doubled, shall we say. Then I will begin to market that acreage that you blundered into the other day. That heroin will be very expensive indeed, leaving myself and the phone company the only two going monopolies in this nation for years to come.
James Bond: And here I thought it was Solitaire that did the fortune-telling.
Domark’s game also glosses over the reason James ended up in San Monique/Harlem in the first place; he was sent in to investigate the disappearance of three fellow British MI6 agents who have vanished under mysterious circumstances. I don’t suppose it’s really relevant to the game. None of it is, so trying to synchronise the two mediums seems a bit pointless. Which begs the question, what am I doing here? Hmm.
This explains why Live and Let Die includes levels that take place in the Norwegian fjords, the Gulf, and jungles of South America. And also why there’s no sign of the menacing one-armed Tee Hee Johnson with his metal pincer hand…
…or Solitaire, the alluring psychic tarot card reader.
While we’re on a roll, Baron Samedi, the voodoo priest of dubious sanity, is AWOL.
As is Kananga’s alligator farm, Bond’s reptile-hopping island incident…
…the double-decker bus chase stunt involving a low bridge…
…the notorious shark tank in Kananga’s lair…
…and occult-infused coffin, alive with writhing venomous snakes.
Since I feel like cheating too, I’ll let part two of the manual put you in the picture as to what’s left following all these omissions, although not necessarily a James Bond ‘picture’ (tee-hee, boom-boom-tish etc)…
“As James Bond you must travel along the various waterways; Target practice, South American jungle mission, Norwegian Fjords and Middle East desert exercises.
In the target practice section, the red targets must be shot with the forward-mounted machine gun, the black targets must be shot using missiles. There are two exercises that enable Bond to learn about the type of defence systems used by Kananga, and finally, the mission which is bristling with Dr Kananga’s defences. You must avoid mines, gun emplacements, dive-bombing enemy helicopters, submarines, enemy planes and enemy boats, some of which drop mines or booby-trapped fuel barrels and can only be destroyed with a missile.
Along the way, you must completely pick up fuel by driving over fuel barrels, as well as the canisters containing fuel and missiles dropped by the C.I.A. helicopters. Your speedboat must travel through dark tunnels, slide up slopes to avoid obstacles and must destroy closed lock gates with ‘snuff’ missiles.
With a lot of skill and some luck, you will reach the heroin processing factories at the end of the waterway. The factory can only be destroyed by leaping off a log into the air and letting off a ‘snuff’ missile to finally destroy the evil installations.”
So that’s that then. We’ve destroyed a non-existent villain in record time, leaving us free to retire to M’s pad for tea and jammy cream scones. I feel double-crossed, manipulated, violated. I bet Rosie Carver was behind this and she was working for Dr Kananga all along! See, this boat trip malarkey is relevant after all.
Rosie Carver: (James and Rosie lying on a picnic blanket kissing) Oh, James. Ooh you don’t know what finding you has meant to me.
James Bond: Oh I can imagine. And you’ve no idea what finding this has meant to me.
(James shows her a Queen of Cups tarot card that Solitiare sent him)
James Bond: You do know what the Queen of Cups means in an upside-down position? A deceitful, perverse woman. A liar, a cheat, and I’d like some answers now.
Rosie Carver: Please… uh… You don’t understand, sir. They’ll kill me if I do.
James Bond: (James Bond produces his gun and points it at Rosie) And I’ll kill you if you don’t.
Rosie Carver: But you couldn’t. You wouldn’t. Not after what we just done.
James Bond: Well, I certainly wouldn’t have killed you before.
Karaoke time, sing along…
When you were young and your heart was an open book
You used to say live and let live
(You know you did, you know you did, you know you did)
But if this ever-changing world in which we’re living
Makes you give in and cry
Say live and let die
(Live and let die)
Live and let die
(Live and let die)
And on that score I’ll leave you with some Live and Let Die speedboat stunt scene trivia…
Erm, so it was filmed in the Bayou Des Allemands, Louisiana, known as the “Catfish Capital of the Universe”.
The spectacular jump orchestrated in “Scene 156 – The most terrific boat chase you’ve ever seen” (as it was originally described in the movie script) received an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for its impressive distance covered; one hundred and ten feet. A record that held for three years.
Sheriff J.W. Pepper: (on Radio) Now you listen to me, trooper boy! We got a swamp full of Black Russians drivin’ boats to beat the band down here.
It wasn’t scripted for the boat chasing Bond’s to collide with Sheriff Pepper’s car, though when it did, the unexpected turn of events was worked into the plot. Clifton James’ character is a repulsive creature so cheers likely went up in the audience!
State Trooper: That look like a boat stuck in the Sheriff’s car there, Eddie?
Eddie: Boy, where you been all your life? That there’s one of them new car-boats.
Sheriff J.W. Pepper: By the powers INvested IN ME by this parish, I hereby do commandeer this vehicle and all those persons within!
(spits and looks at Eddie)
Sheriff J.W. Pepper: And that means YOU, smartass!
A total of 26 boats were constructed for the shoot by Glastron. Only 9 survived beyond the rehearsals to be used for filming the final take!
A water-ski display team was initially to feature in the speedboat chase sequence. The plan was for their precision-balanced human pyramid to be scattered haphazardly as Bond and his pursuer obliviously tore up the peaceful river. It’s not clear why the idea was scrapped, although I’d imagine health and safety considerations played a role.