#59: Spy vs. Spy (1988 Sega)


Long-time readers of the long-running satire publication MAD Magazine may remember a comic strip called Spy vs. Spy, where two spies on opposing sides of some war (one dressed in white, the other in black) always try to destroy each other in slapstick fashion. In 1984 First Star Software crafted a computer title based on their antics and it was popular enough to spawn a pair of sequels, but several years later Spy vs. Spy was brought to both of the 8-bit consoles. While Kemco published the NES version, Sega brought a port to the Master System, though they released it on the long-forgotten Sega Card format (and Spy vs. Spy is indeed the last Sega Card to be released in the U.S.). Sega’s version is pretty faithful to the computer original, unfortunately to a fault which isn’t always a good thing in the post-Super Mario gaming world.

Here a spy, there a spy, everywhere a spy-spy.

Here a spy, there a spy, everywhere a spy-spy.

Here we find the two spies both infiltrating an embassy of some sort, racing to retrieve and escape with some supposedly important items before their opposite-colored counterpart. Through the game’s eight levels you control the White Spy while the Black Spy can be played by either the CPU (with three difficulty settings) or a second human player. Once the game begins the two spies must make your way through a series of interconnected rooms investigating the furniture for the items and the two screens allow them to move independently from each other. You have a limited amount of time to find a key, a bag of money, a passport and some secret documents as well a briefcase to hold all the items (without the briefcase you can only carry one item at a time) then head out the exit door. Thankfully an in-game map is included to help you chart your route and see where things might be found. You can also impede your opponent’s progress by rigging the rooms with booby traps, such as springs, electrified water buckets, time bombs and gun rigs, all of which can be selected from the ‘Trapulator’ to the right of the screens. A spy that sets off a trap will get killed instantly, though each trap also has a remedy you can find to save yourself . If the two of you end up in the same room you can engage in hand-to-hand combat trying to knock the other guy out, though the melee weapons from the other versions are missing here. Either way should you get killed you’ll be penalized some time and forced to wait to regenerate, allowing your foe to do his thing in the meantime and possibly snag your items. Gather all four items and reach the exit door first and you’re treated to a short clip of your victorious spy making his getaway at the airport.

I'll be taking that key now, if you don't mind.

I’ll be taking that key now, if you don’t mind.

Unfortunately Sega tried too hard to make the game look and play just like the computer original, and it keeps reminding you of its origins every second. The game plays fine for what it is but repetition sets in before too long because it’s the same thing over and over with little variation, plus the CPU is not too difficult to outwit, even on the high difficulty. This is definitely a game that’s best enjoyed with two players, beating up a buddy is much more enjoyable. The controls are somewhat clunky since you have to constantly hit Button 1 to activate the Trapulator, pausing yourself the process, then you have to try to deposit it in the furniture you’re bugging. The graphics are bright and colorful but most of the screen is taken up by the interface while the action is confined to the relatively small windows on the left side. As a result the characters look microscopic, though they do sport some decent animation, especially when they trip a trap (while their foe does the trademark chuckle in celebration). Also the catchy background music from the computer and NES versions has been replaced by a rather bland and annoying tune along with some ear-piercing sound effects which will have you reaching for the mute button.

So long, loser!

So long, loser!

So Spy vs. Spy does show its early 1980s computer roots, especially with its somewhat dated and repetitious gameplay and tedious controls, especially compared to the other games at the time. That said it isn’t a terrible card overall and it can be fun for a quick two-player death match. But if you really want to play this game I’d recommend the slightly better NES version, which looks and plays better since Kemco took the time to make their port more console-friendly. Either way this is one espionage war you probably won’t be participating in for very long.

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