Goldeneye 007 is out for Series X/S and Switch – but how do the ports compare to the N64 version?

Goldeneye 007 is out for Series X/S and Switch - but how do the ports compare to the N64 version?

Since its original release on Nintendo 64, GoldenEye 007 has become a near-mythic game, the subject of countless stories about its four-player split-screen deathmatches or single-player objective-driven missions. This myth has led to remasters and re-releases over the years, but recent releases for Xbox and Nintendo Switch consoles have always come as a shock.

While their arrival is certainly cause for celebration, it wasn’t long before the complaints started rolling in – about the quality of emulation, controls and even music. Given the response, I had to know exactly what was going on with these re-releases and that’s what we’re here to do today.

Despite its impact, GoldenEye never got a perfect remaster. The closest we got was an Xbox 360 title that showed a ton of promise – updated visuals with a toggle for the original look, 60fps gameplay, pristine image quality and smooth controls – but everything fell apart at the last minute and was only leaked in playable form in 2021. The game changed the face of FPS and defined the N64, but for a long time it seemed rights issues would prevent any remasters from ever hitting the market, despite the efforts of countless developers coming up with reboot plans.

Here’s the full breakdown of recent Xbox and Switch releases of Goldeneye in video format.

But in 2023, against all odds, we got not one remaster but two – for Nintendo Switch and Xbox consoles, including Series X/S. Both are based on emulation; on Switch using iQue’s emulator designed for Switch Online while on Xbox using an updated emulation layer based on work done for Rare Replay. Each version uses its own modified ROM; on the Xbox side all traces of anything Nintendo were removed and hacks were added to improve controls, while on Switch the focus was on removing unused textures from Roger Moore, Sean Connery and Timothy Dalton – presumably to provide watertight legal defense against any rights issues.

On the surface, what’s here is perfectly usable – it’s GoldenEye running on newer consoles. It promises a few improvements, such as smoother performance, but don’t expect a proper remake or remaster. However, both versions have issues, especially when it comes to the presentation of vintage 3D graphics.

The Xbox version aims for 4K rendering while Switch runs at 720p – both are significantly higher resolution than the original 240p visuals, which is a problem when the artwork for these games was designed to be viewed at 240p on a CRT. By increasing the resolution, the flaws are laid bare for all.

GoldenEye at different resolutions: 240p (N64), 720p (Switch) and Xbox Series X (4K).

Additionally, in the case of the Xbox version, the emulation highlights other issues – warbling vertices, visible texture seams, and lots of z-fighting. Now, you might expect me to criticize the emulation here, but in reality, it’s actually more accurate than what’s used on Switch. This is a symptom you’ll notice with low-level N64 emulation – so it means the Xbox Code Mystics build developer’s emulation work is quite robust.

However, this Goldeneye port occupies an odd middle ground where some aspects of rendering are accurate while others are not. For example, the unique three-point texture filtering inherent in the N64 is absent. Additionally, while 3D is rendered in high resolution, the math that drives it seems to be limited by the game’s original low-res output, which may explain why the slightly chirped vertices and textures stand out so much. They are present on real hardware, but it is difficult to discern them in 320×240.

A downsampling approach arguably looks better than either version of these versions.

This could have been fixed by downsampling, where the game is rendered at 4K or another high resolution with improved color depth and other enhancements, then scaled back to the original target resolution, using all that data additional to produce a more detailed look than the original visuals – but which look true to the original art direction. This approach works well for GoldenEye using PC emulation, so it’s a bit of a shame we haven’t seen a similar approach here as the game looks uglier than it should.

There are also some quirks to do with the frame rate. Code Mystics specifically mentioned that 60fps wasn’t on the table to avoid inaccurate gameplay behavior, but their version has issues with enemies walking through walls and other weird behavior. Likewise, while on a real N64 the game plays the Nintendo and Rare logos at 60fps, on the Xbox version they’re at 30fps – although the Switch port pulls it off. So overall it’s an odd mix of precision combined with obvious inaccuracy that ends up hurting the experience.

Of course, these are relatively minor issues compared to the actual frame rate, which was generally very poor on the original hardware – with some missions running around 10fps for long stretches, and multiplayer in split-screen doesn’t fare any better. Despite this, the game still looks decent to play thanks to careful camera movement, subtle momentum and smooth animation – ensuring it remains at least moderately playable even when scraping single digit frame rates. With that in mind, the new versions run much smoother than the original.

Four-player split-screen is somewhat of a worst-case scenario for performance, with Switch bettering the N64 version but only the Xbox Series X offering a locked-in 30fps.

On Xbox, there have been many performance complaints with its 30fps cap and users reporting stuttering and lag. I’ve experienced this as well, but the frame rate measurement results in an almost locked 30fps – it looks like the frame rate cap works one way, but maybe the distance your character travels between images is more variable than it should be. This makes the game more inconsistent than it should be, even though it’s light years away from the original game.

Switch, despite initial impressions, runs slower than Xbox with frequent frame rate drops and choppy frame times. Again, it’s faster than the original N64, but not as stable as it should be. It’s especially infuriating when unreleased versions of the Xbox 360 deliver a completely locked-in 60fps in all modes.

Here’s our live gameplay of the leaked Xbox 360 version.

In addition to the litany of visual and performance complaints, there are other issues in these remasters. Most notably, the Xbox version features extremely muffled audio; it’s compressed and crispy in a way the original on N64 isn’t. Considering the quality of the game’s music, it’s a real disappointment. The Switch version fares better, with almost identical sound and music compared to the original version.

But while Switch works well on the audio side, its controls are a bit messy. The default controller mapping here is fine with the single N64 controller, but on the Joy-Cons or Pro controller there are some definite quirks – like firing with ZL and strafe left/right with the right stick. To fix this, I would suggest choosing the “1.2 solitaire” control scheme in-game, then swapping the analog sticks and remaping the ZL button to ZR in the Switch system menu. You can make additional tweaks if you want, but basically these tweaks allow the game to control much like a modern dual-stick first-person shooter.

The Xbox controls are noticeably easier, as it’s been tuned to behave like a modern FPS with dual analog support, typical button mappings, and even a tweak to the aim setting. These changes impact techniques used by seasoned GoldenEye veterans, such as strafe running, but I think for most players this is a logical setup.

Ultimately, when we talk about controls, visuals, and sound, none of these new releases come close to perfect and are disappointing overall. Each has its own benefits – controls are better on Xbox and work faster, while Switch has online multiplayer via the NSO service and better sound.

The thing is, neither version really does justice to this game and its legacy. There’s no context here – it looks like a random ROM dump. i could imagine something so much more robust but that will never happen. With all the licensing nonsense surrounding this game, it’s a wonder it made the leap.

Still, it’s hard to complain about an extra way to play GoldenEye and that doesn’t take away from the existing options. You can always use a real N64 or run an N64 emulator to enjoy the game at 60fps – there are even mods to add new fonts and UI elements to the game at a much higher resolution. There are also other options, but the thing is, GoldenEye has never been more accessible.

Six years ago we covered GoldenEye and Perfect Dark for DF Retro. Here is this video.

And despite its dated visuals and lackluster performance, my respect for GoldenEye has only grown over the years. It brings together so many disparate elements into a cohesive and enjoyable whole. The missions are all relatively short but are designed almost like miniature sandboxes, with a wide range of objectives and tricks to discover. Clumsy gimmicks and obtuse goals would look out of place in a cinematic scripted game and impossible to enjoy in an open-world title, but in GoldenEye the constraints create something that feels just compact enough to be enjoyable. As you learn the cards, your execution improves, almost channeling arcade-like sensibilities.

The multiplayer too, although very simple, is still fun and customizable. My son had never played this game before he was enlisted to help us with our testing, and despite describing the game as having “the oldest graphics he’s ever seen”, at the end he was laughing and was jumping around the room having fun. GoldenEye’s core stays as golden as its name suggests.

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