Meme town has no citizens but you. That might be a code for some spies, but not the kind in Kemco’s 1988 NES port of Spy Vs. Spy. Crosstix and I battled it out in this MAD magazine based game. Two arch nemesis spies are locked in a building and must escape. Only thing in their way is the other spy and countless devious elaborate traps. If you are clever enough then you escape the death match with the loot while savoring the destruction of your opponent.
The entire game is a simple death match. You begin in sparsely decorated room. The battle arena consist of a set amount of rooms you choose in the selection screen. Items are hidden in specified rooms behind furniture. Use the same furniture and doors to lay traps for your opponent. Collect all the items and go to the plane door before time runs out to win.
The concept is very simple. With few buttons it takes a minute to scroll through the options and decipher what each symbol means. We found whoever figured out what items did, and more importantly how to diffuse them, gained the upper hand.
The crux of the game comes down to something that is considered very dirty in most games. I remember shouting matches in college over “screen watching” during Halo battles. Here though it is essential to watch the other person’s screen, know where they are at, and remember what traps they set. Forget one and you will die.
Look out! Sex Bob-omb!
The arenas, or map, were the worst part of the game design. Spawn locations drastically limited one player’s chances and could be used as a trap to lock the player in. The balance and level design needs work or spawn kills can be exploited endlessly. Multiple levels, upstairs and down, seem like a good idea. In actuality, the load time to use the stairs takes forever and plays obnoxious sound effects to accompany it. The biggest weakness of this lay out is that you can not exploit being above or below your opponent. Missed opportunity likely limited by the technology of the day.
The pacing of the game compared to modern games feels painfully slow. It was too tempting when behind to sit yourself next to the exit and booby-trap everything. Then wait for the other person to get the items for you. There was no incentive to move out. In classic death match lingo, you just become another “camper”.
Strategy and humor are the backbone upon which the game is built. Many of the strategies and mechanics we have already discussed survive to current first person shooter death matches (heck I love camping with Bastion in Overwatch now!). The humor doesn’t translate as well from the cartoon. The unique silly traps do not translate when you only have six to choose from. Nothing can become a counter trap either, like Rochambeau.
Finally, the combat is weak. On the pseudo 3D plane, it becomes very hard to get the right position to take out your enemy. If they have a weapon then all you can do is run, but you will eventually be caught. There is no strategy to this piece other than mash the button and hope your opponent is stupid enough to walk into it.
Poor fool, never had a chance.
Spy VS Spy was a pioneer. It demonstrated a licensed game could provide fun and challenge. It also set the stage for many death matches in FPSs to come. Unfortunately does not stand the test of time due to its poor map designs, slow pacing, poor combat, and long cut scenes (damn ladder!). It might keep you and a friend entertained for about 20 minutes, but that is about it. Now if you’ll excuse me I have a plane to catch with my loot!