Spy vs Spy Review

The spies are back in town

I fired up Cruisin’ USA for the N64 in a recent fit of nostalgia. I smiled as the cheesy music greeted me, surprised at how much I remembered from playing it as a kid. But as I began a race, a deep sadness began to well up within: The framerate was downright awful. With a reminder that nostalgia can be a fickle beast still fresh in my head, I approached the remake of Spy vs Spy with apprehension. Would it hold up?

Based on the classic Atari II and Commodore 64 game, Spy vs Spy is just under 30 years old. Which, if you think about it, is about 1 million years in video game time. And like with every reimagining, it’s tasked with two wildly different jobs: To please the fans of the original, as well as provide entertainment to those who are playing for the first time.

It’s a tough line to walk, but the game does a decent job of it. In fact, there’s a dedicated retro mode where fans of the original can indulge in some pixelated goodness. I found myself spending more time there than the modern version, though the only real differences between the two is that the retro one is less helpful when it comes to showing the player where they’ve been and where items are hidden.  

Spy vs Spy

The game gives you the option of playing as the spy in white or the spy in black, though the only differences between the two are cosmetic. Your main goal is to gather four separate items – as well as a briefcase to hold them in – and escape the embassy in one piece. Problem is, your opponent is trying to do the exact same thing. To thwart their plans, you’ll have to engage in hand-to-hand combat and strategically place booby traps around the playing field.

The traps in the game consist of things like a spring, a bomb, a bucket of water, and a rigged gun that fires when a player tries to open a certain door. They’re not always crucial to your victory depending on how you play, but that doesn’t take away from the satisfaction that comes with seeing your opponent open a drawer and fly across the room courtesy of a spring.

Thanks to the game’s “Simulvision,” you’ll have a constant view of where your opponent is located on the playing field, whether you’re playing online or against a CPU. You’d think this level of transparency would cheapen the experience, but it adds strategy to an otherwise random game. Plus you can’t just sit there staring at your opponent’s screen the entire time – there’s a timer running down, and you need to pick everything up as quickly as you can.

Spy vs Spy

When you and the opponent set foot in the same room, you’ll immediately be prompted to engage in melee combat. This is likely the weakest part of the game, in that he who taps the screen the quickest will emerge victorious. The key items that each Spy has on them will be hidden throughout the room before the combat begins, and the winner of the fight will have the chance to search the room and pick everything up. It’s a neat concept, but I disliked how something that can so easily determine who wins or loses a round is hinged on who can mash (virtual) buttons the fastest.

In the beginning, I also had a bone to pick with the controls. Movement is based on a virtual d-pad that crops up whenever you swipe your finger on the screen, and while it felt clumsy and difficult at first, it felt more natural after repeated play. It’s not as if precise movement is all that integral to a game of this nature, but you need to be in the general vicinity of things like desks and containers to attain the items integral to your victory. Were it any more demanding of how close you needed to be to things, I’d probably be a little more condemning here. But the game is lenient where that’s concerned, in both the modern and retro versions.

Spy vs Spy for iOS doesn’t stray far away from the original game, but that’s to its benefit. It holds up incredibly well as a multiplayer experience, and the inclusion of enhanced graphics, additional levels and online play makes the game feel like so much more than just a simple port of a classic. And as a bonus, nostalgia goggles are far from required here; a love of explosions and humor, on the other hand, most certainly are.  

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