It was almost twenty years since the release of the original arcade classic overhead driving combat game Spy Hunter until this version graced the GameBoy Advance. This game tries to hold true to the original with its destroy the blue vehicles while avoiding civilians. You still get guns and an almost intuitive way to destroy enemies with them. It turns into a blend of Spy Hunter and Road Blasters. A lot has changed since the original and rather than trying to fit the arcade mold of the original, Spy Hunter now goes for mission based objectives.
This is a port of the version that came out on bigger consoles of the era. Having them on a GameBoy Advance makes me want to play them on the big screen even more. It does include several still frame cut scenes that I assume are from the other versions. On the small screen, the graphics are serviceable, its tough to see bullets, because they look like straight yellow lines. Playing the game on a larger screen makes them look pixelated and downright ugly.
For the uninitiated, Spy Hunter puts you in a high tech car with dual guns in the front. That’s about where the car combat stops in similarity to the original. Your machine guns now use ammunition that you can pick up from yellow glowing orbs with the correct icon. You also now have missiles that you can either fire forward or lock onto a target by pushing up. To switch between weapons you push the L and to fire them you press the R. There are rear weapons such as an oil slick, but with no way to see behind you it feels useless.
There is a new turbo boost that has its own meter up at the top. Double tapping the accelerator when you have enough in your meter will boost you forward, which is necessary for using ramps to jump and collect items hovering over the road. You have a brake as well, but there is no way to reverse your vehicle, although you can drive forward and turn it.
When you take enough damage, your car will break apart into a motorcycle. The cycle is slim compared to your fat super car, but the disadvantage is not having your turbo boost. Its more of a visual representation of your health. You can still collect white health orbs or make it to a checkpoint inside your delivery truck for full health and ammunition.
The game makes good use of terrain, smooth roads let you go faster, dirt slows you down, mud even more so, but in true Spy Hunter fashion, your car or motorcycle can also take to the water in their aquatic variants of a boat and a jet ski. Its some nice diversity to have the ability to travel on land and water. The enemies also change, which is nice.
Speaking of the enemies, all of the classics are back, the limo with a pistol, tire slashing foes that really damage your car in a hurry, bulletproof cars that manage to take a lot of damage. There are bomb dropping boats and helicopters as well. New enemies include giant, slow moving trucks, several armored vehicles, hydrofoils and the most hated of all, the towers that can shoot you accurately from very far away. The missiles make any enemy easy to destroy. The lock on is biased to the taller enemies like towers and helicopters, which is what I use it for.
You start by selecting a mission from those that you’ve unlocked and review the main objective and several secondary objectives. If you fail to complete your primary goal, you’ll need to try again and you can fail your mission long before you ever reach the end of the mission. Each mission ends when you blow up or reach your trailer truck that takes you away. If you’ve completed your primary objective, you can play the next mission and see your time.
Along the way there are forks in the road that lead you down different paths. There are several branches and you’ll have to remember where some are, because they contain the primary objectives. These objectives have time restrictions, such as stop mobile missile launchers from firing a rocket before the time runs out. Its a cheap way to extend the life of the game. So in one way even when you fail your main mission, its still best to continue on and memorize everything else.
There are at least seven missions to the GameBoy Advance version, which seems like enough on a portable console when a mission gives you a time limit of ten minutes to finish it. There are also special missions that seem like filler where you play on the same courses as the normal missions, but this time you need to beat your best score for collecting green pods and murdering chickens. Yes there are at lest two special missions to kill chickens with your weapons or just plowing into them.
One of the biggest things that turned me off from the game is its first mission, a training course with cardboard cutouts. Sure its a good way to get your feet wet, but I wanted to be put into the thick of action. The course felt a little too long and a lot of the courses feel too long.
Its a fair game that leans more to the challenging side of things than the fun side. Having missions rather than more of an arcade style throws me off. There are a few visual issues with the game, such as vehicles on the road moving through one another. You’ll also see vehicles hovering over the road if there’s a ripple in the pavement between yourself and them. Other issues include a car in the distance overlaps a truck that’s between the two of you. Its nothing game breaking, but it just could be better.
Where the game starts to get bad is having to replay the same missions over and over, because you need to memorize a few of the later levels. There is also a learning curve here to using the weapons. You need the manage them and remember your objectives, such as shoot a bomb with an EMP rather than a rocket. One will disarm the bomb, the other will blow it up.
Other than the bulk of the game, there are cheats to unlock and even an arcade mode. Could it be that they’d include the original arcade game or just a never ending arcade version of the core game? Well as it turns out, its more of an arcade version and what I’d rather be playing. The game goes on for a long time and when you die, that’s it, you get to enter your initials to the scoreboard.
While Spy Hunter feels like a tough sell, it does have its fun moments and bright spots, but the harsh reality is there are better games for your money and better driving games. While the original game will forever be a classic, this one will just be forgotten.