Spy vs Spy brings the mad cap combat of MAD Magazine’s legendary comic to the Nintendo Entertainment System with a two player scavenger hunt. The game plays in split screen, the first player is the spy in white on top and the second player is the spy in black on the bottom. Both of you are put into a building and forced to race against time and each other. The object is to find the five necessary objects, then be the first one with them all to make it to the door marked with a plane. If you try to use the door, you get catapulted backward to your doom.
Since you’re both searching for papers, a bag, money, a passport and a key, you’ll need to walk up to objects like desks and search them. This is where it gets dangerous, because you can leave traps like bombs in objects such as cabinets, in safes and so on. You can also put buckets of acid above doors,
When one of you falls prey to a trap its more cartoon violence than true death. You’ll even see the victim flutter away with angel wings, while the other one laughs. Every death costs thirty seconds on their clock before respawning. If you run out of time, you’ve failed.
There are of course items you can pick up to circumvent these traps, such as taking an umbrella will keep you safe from the acid. These dynamics make the game feel completely unique from anything else on the NES.
You start a game by selecting if you want to train, take on the computer or take on another player. You’ll also select the “level” to play in. Each level is a building. These buildings are built in a grid with each room being a square. You see three walls of each room from your perspective and you run from room to room, screen to screen through doors. When the game begins, you briefly see a map layout of the building and its floors.
If both spies are in the same room, you can fight to murder one another with your bare hands or the weapons you’ve found. Fighting amounts to button mashing in order to drain the other spy’s health.There’s nothing to restore health, so the victorious spy really needs to stay away from the other spy once he respawns. Weapons like a club or a knife help get a quick advantage.
If you die while holding any of the five items, you lose them, so that’s why you can stash the items in any object. If you want to carry more than one of an item, you’ll need to get the briefcase. You can even hide multiple items in an object, but they can be found by your rival. If you die by your opponent’s hands, then they keep the spoils. Its a nice game if you have two people playing, but it can get dull pretty quick. The rooms are all boxes with different colored walls and a few simple objects in each as a point of reference.
After the level is complete, you see a brief scene where the winner makes their way to the plane with the loser chasing them. There’s only room enough for one on the plane and the loser is either gunned down or bombed by the pilot. Its a good way to humiliate the loser.
The music is pretty forgettable. Its just a single loop and the sound effects aren’t much better. Just high pitched giggles for the laughter and low basic sounds for the weapons and combat. Its clearly a low point of the game.
As a kid, I didn’t really understand the game. All I knew is that it was fun trapping my friends and forcing them to walk through doors I knew were trapped. Then when they’d die, my spy would laugh and so would I. Setting traps almost seems like a waste of precious seconds. A human player can see what room you’ve placed a trap in.
I want to like the game, but it just feels like its missing diversity to keep me playing. The real problem is that later buildings get pretty big, so you’ll either get lost or not be able to find the other spy when you need to. People will also forget where they left the items, so larger maps become even longer for those with a poor memory. I didn’t want bigger more complex levels, I wanted the same small buildings to keep the matches short.
Spy vs Spy only works with another player next to you. Without that, the game just feels so flat and dull.