Spy vs Spy Review

The Cold War has been over for twenty years, and blowing up spies isn’t as much fun as it used to be. Or is it?

Spy vs. Spy is the remake of a 1984 computer game based on the classic Mad Magazine comic strip. The comic featured two spies killing each other with elaborate deathtraps; the game took this premise and added something suspiciously like a plot.

You play as the white spy or the black spy. Choose wisely, because the two sides are… exactly the same. The spies are searching an embassy for a briefcase and four items they need to escape the country. They run about from room to room, looking into drawers and behind paintings, setting traps and ambushes for each other.

It’s bad luck to open an umbrella indoors.

When they’re in the same room, the spies can beat each other senseless with batons and kicks to the shins. Combat is simple– there are several buttons to tap, but the only thing that matters is how quickly you tap. In this, the remake is true to the original, but a simple combo or rock-paper-scissors system would have been a nice addition.

Each spy also has a Trapulator, an elaborate little device that provides a map and a selection of deadly traps. The map shows your location and where nearby items are. It’s handy but costs points to use, so use it sparingly– unless you have a terrible memory and would rather make up the points by killing the other spy a lot. In that case, do what we did and use it constantly!

The traps are where you’ll find the real mayhem. You have five kinds of top-secret spy ordnance: small bombs, big bombs, tightly coiled springs, buckets of water, and the ever-popular gun-on-a-string gag. With a few taps, you can stash these traps in the furniture the spies are searching, the doors they are moving through, or the ladders that lead up and down to different floors of the embassy. When either spy taps the trapped object or entrance, BOOM! SPLASH! BANG! No more spy, at least for a few seconds.

Mind-blowing artwork.

Traps can be defused, if you know what has been set. This is where the genius of Simulvision comes into play. Spy vs. Spy didn’t invent split-screen play, but it was the first game to make ‘cheating’ by looking at your opponent’s screen an important part of the game. By watching what the other spy is doing, you can follow his progress and see the traps he’s setting. You even get free peeks at the map. That’s handy, especially as the maps get larger and it gets harder to remember where everything is.

The enemy AI has a solid search pattern and– at higher levels– an uncanny knowledge of where the exit and traps are. However, it can still be tricked and ambushed. Sometimes the best strategy is to guard one item, let the other spy collect the other items, then bushwhack him and head for the exit. It’s a high-risk strategy and a dirty trick– but isn’t that what this game is all about?

There are 24 embassies to search, a three-star bonus system, and a solid two-player mode using local Wi-fi or Game Center. There’s also a retro mode that duplicates the original graphics, the sight of which will make younger gamers glad they live in 2012. These features and the strategic gameplay make Spy vs. Spy a fantastic remake and expansion of a classic game. Now, if we could just remember where we put that furshlugginer bomb…

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