Being a relatively young gamer, I’ve not really had the chance to play a lot of popular games that released before the late nineties. Spy vs Spy is one such game I never got my thumbs on. Learning that the game was ported to the App Store with a fresh coat of modern polish, I was quite interested to give it a shot. Keep in mind, I had no experience with Spy vs Spy before, so I’ll be reviewing the game as if it’s a new release. Thus, if you’re a huge fan of the franchise, you might want to skip a few paragraphs, since I’ll be explaining old knowledge for you.
Spy vs Spy pits two vaguely rodent-like, not-so-secret agents against each other, in an attempt to simultaneously escape an embassy before the other does. Since only one spy can escape in the end, they’re not going to play nice with each other, and are prepared to set lethal, albeit comical, traps and use other dirty tactics to impede the other spy’s progress. Throughout each session, you’ll have to race to find a briefcase and fill it with illicit items in order to reveal the exit and escape successfully, all while dodging your opponent’s attempts at your cartoony life, and deciding between focusing on the top part of the screen where your spy is, or diverting your glance down for a few seconds to get the scoop on your opponent’s nefarious deeds.
Spy vs Spy offers three modes with which you can engage your embassy crawling antics. A Campaign mode, which offers 28 embassies of increasing size and/or complexity to sprint through; a Custom Match mode, which allows you to play through any of the embassies from Campaign with preset regulations; and a Multiplayer mode, where you can engage actual human players in online or local Bluetooth battles of wit. Each mode offers nods to fans of the originals, by allowing them to play in either “Modern” mode (which, in addition to updated graphics and sound, offers tweaked gameplay mechanics), or “Retro” mode (which I can only assume is as close to the original as possible).
The retro mode is, and I don’t mean to offend any die-hard fans here, bad. The original soundtrack grates more than rubbing your eardrum against an actual grate, the hand-to-hand combat is simply pure button mashing luck, and it can be difficult seeing what items you are holding. Overall, the retro mode is dated, and even if you need a shot of nostalgia, it should probably be avoided.
The “Modern” mode is better, and it offers more than just shinier graphics and better music. The hand to hand combat, with a touch of rock-paper-scissors-style strategy added, is the biggest improvement. However, other little things, like distinct-looking items (which, admittedly, is part of the devs upgrading the graphics) make the mode interesting and worthwhile even for fans of the original gameplay.
I had complaints about the gameplay permeating both modes, though. The trap system is badly designed, offering too many traps and a confusing system of disarming them. Try to remember this: “White cases on the walls disarm bombs, red cases disarm springs, medical cases disarm guns, and coat racks disarm water”. It may sound simple, but is too hard to think through when playing a match at a breakneck speed. I found myself purposely running into traps and waiting to respawn, rather than spending the time scouring the rooms looking for the specific tool I needed to disarm the thing. And the controls in both modes (virtual D-pad or joystick), could use some more polish, as they feel clunky.
The biggest problem with Spy vs Spy is that when you’re playing the single player modes (which the gameplay was not built for), matches just become boring. The AI is far too easy to beat up in Campaign (in modern mode, at least), so in a small embassy, you can just wait for the other spy to snatch up the items, ambush him, and sprint to the exit. And the actual embassies eventually become so big and multi-floored, that they become a nightmare to navigate.
Thankfully, online multiplayer and Local Bluetooth compatibility prevent you from being isolated. But if you don’t like the game already, even the addition of another human might not keep you interested. (Also, I had a few moments of lag during the quick matches I played.)
If you were addicted to the original Spy vs Spy, it’s a good bet that you’ll want this version on your iPhone. For this gamer, however, the gameplay, even with the “modern upgrades”, fails to win me over. If you have never played the game before, this is a good place to start, but it’s not going to convert all newcomers.