Despite the box-office success of 1997’s Men in Black, based on the Malibu published comic of the same name, North American dedicated console gamers couldn’t play an interactive form of the alien busting bureau until 1998. While PC players and PAL PSOne owners got to experience Men in Black: The Game in 1997 along with the film, those who primarily played on dedicated platforms in North America first time getting to play as an MIB agent would be on Nintendo’s Game Boy family of handhelds. The game wouldn’t be based on the film either, but rather the animated series which spun-off from the movie, simply titled Men in Black: The Series, a title the game shares. As far as close to launch games go, Men in Black: The Series does have some a decent color palette and some neat quasi-FMV sequences that I’m sure were impressive once upon a time, but the game itself is a simple, shallow affair that fails to capture any of the magic of the feature film or the animated show in which it takes most inspiration from.
In the first of what will be a trend for Men in Black portable games, there’s no narrative through line whatsoever to speak of. Instead you’re given a text description of what your mission is before each level, but this doesn’t really mean anything you’ll quickly find out. Whether you’re on the hunt for the alien mercenary Buzzard or investigating alien activity in the sewers below New York, you’re going to be doing the same activity: moving from the left to right. Very slowly. Sometimes like towards the start you’ll get a short, compressed FMV of Agent J, the only playable character in this game, transitioning into an elevator, but otherwise you’re stuck moving in one direction until you reach the end of a level.
The best game comparison I can provide to Men in Black: The Series on Game Boy Color is the first TMNT on the Game Boy where all you really did was scroll through a level and fight Foot Soldiers. I’m a person who grew up with the Turtles and loved the Konami games, but even I know Fall of the Foot Clan was not a good game, but at the very least you got to play as the four turtles and fight bosses made up of your favorite characters from the cartoon; Men in Black has none of that charm. You have three functions, walking, shooting, and jumping and none are handled that well. You walk very slow, but can sprint by double tapping in the direction you want to go to, however doing so more often that not leads you running into an enemy or obstacle that will take away precious health as your agent is far too close to the edge of the screen for you to be able to react. Your jump cycle is equally as awkward, putting you into a canned animation you can’t maneuver out of, however save one stage where you have to strategically land on small tires, the only other obstacles are small ones in the environment that you’ll have to clear to keep moving right.
Other than jumping or moving, the only thing you can do is shoot and for the most part it’s as simple as everything else, but conversely is can also be cumbersome. For the most part enemies are coming from the right and as long as you slowly walk through a level you’ll have plenty of time to fire, but some enemies bounce around a stage or can come from behind. Instead of just shooting left when you need to, Agent J goes into a somewhat slow animation where he’ll turn to the other side that maybe looked impressive for the time this game came out in, but it far more cosmetic than functional. The worst enemies, and even one frustrating boss, are the ones that are above you. You can’t jump and shoot at the same time nor shoot upwards in any way, instead you have to roll the d-pad slightly from the right to the left in a half-circle upwards motion where Agent J will fire his weapon in a right to left arc covering diagonals. It’s common to see an enemy hanging above you, try to pull off this easy only to get wrong input, miss them, reposition yourself, and then try again. Why the developers of this never just allowed you to aim upwards like nearly every other game since Contra in the NES is beyond me.
About the best thing that can be said about Men in Black: The Series is that it’s a nice looking game. It came out early, I’m talking in the month after, the release of the Game Boy Color and it’s a black cart game that can also be played on the original black-and-white Game Boy. Playing on anything other than the very original Game Boy series though and you have a game with a nice color palette where you’ll have no problem picking out what a stage is or what can and cannot be interacted with. Men in Black: The Series though for all its looks is a very short game that you could knock on in a very short time (I actually did so during a temporary black out) that will offer even the youngest gamer little challenge. Bosses, save the one that’s in the air, can be defeated just by finding a spot not to get hit and hitting the shoot button until they die. About the only other power up or upgrade you get is the noisy cricket that’s more harmful than helpful as like the movie or show, Agent J will fall backwards. There’s one boss where you needed this weapon to defeat them for example, and I wasn’t sure if I was doing damage when I fell off-screen.
For a close to launch Game Boy Color game, Men in Black: The Series is an early example of what developers could do with even the slight boost in performance and color from the standard Game Boy, but looks alone can’t save this bland 2-D side-scroller. Whether you’re jumping, shooting, or walking, the latter of which is what you’ll do the most of in this game, nothing feels quite right and even worse, none of it is interesting. There aren’t that many games starring the Men in Black, and this is not a very good start to a pretty small gameography.