Spy vs. Spy – Game Boy Color
Platform: Game Boy Color
Publisher: Vatical Entertainment
Release Date (NA): June, 1999
Nerd Rating: 4.5 out of 10
Wow, look at this – my first Game Boy review. First portable review, really.
Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not a big fan of portable games. Take this into consideration while reading and know I will do my best to rate this type of game in a fair, unbiased manner. And now, on to the review.
Spy vs. Spy for Game Boy Color was my first foray into the franchise. In fact, this was my introduction to Mad Magazine. For all I knew at the time, these were some bizarre bird-men fighting over a briefcase with an assortment of esoteric odds and ends. Regardless, it left an impression. I loved this game so much as a child, I soon had myself a subscription to Mad Magazine, where I would flip straight to the “Joke and Dagger Department” every month. It became one of my favorite comics, and soon I was obsessed.
Sixteen years later, and the question on everyone’s mind…
Do I still think it’s good?
Here’s the thing: Spy vs. Spy for Game Boy Color is basically a rehashing of an older game released on several different platforms – notably the NES. I had the NES port when I was around 15 or so.
And I sold it.
Fifteen-year-old me didn’t even want it. Buuuuut, that’s the NES version.
This one is much better. It looks a hell of a lot prettier than its predecessors, which brings me to my first note in this review.
Spy vs. Spy is a very nice-looking Game Boy Color game. Really, for such a small space, the spies are quite sharp and defined (unlike the horrid NES port) with a certain amount of liveliness in their movements and mannerisms. The Man in Black and The Man in White really come alive on the portable screen.
Because it looks so much better, this version feels more complete. This does not mean it is complete.
Your objective is to run around in some nondescript office building looking for four items to bring to the exit before the other spy gets to them. If he makes off with the goods, you lose the round. But don’t worry, lives are unlimited and you pick up right where you left off.
You enter each room checking in, under, or behind set pieces to find the necessary objects, and you can only carry one at a time until you uncover the briefcase. Among the treasures you will encounter are a knife or a stick to fend off your opponent.
There’s hand-to-hand combat whenever you cross paths with the enemy spy.
Once you’ve collected the requisite items, it’s a race to the exit before the other spy finds you and punches you to death. Or the time runs out. Yes, there’s a timer, but don’t worry about it for now. Just be sure you find the correct exit as there are more than one.
Both spies are equipped with four booby traps, and there are three “defense items” found throughout the map to disarm those traps. You have dynamite, coil springs, water buckets (for electrocution purposes), and time bombs. None of these can be used in combat, however, they can be hidden throughout the map to eliminate your opponent (both spies automatically re-spawn after only a few seconds). You can find an umbrella to protect yourself from the bucket, wire cutters to cut the coil spring, and a bucket of water to put out the dynamite. For the time bomb, just haul ass out of the room when your spy turns blue and you hear a ticking sound.
Okay, so there’s the long and short of it. It’s a rather novel and fitting concept for a video game based on the Spy vs. Spy comic. The only problem is, well, it’s kind of a shallow experience when this is all you do for 32 levels. You have four missions, and the only real difference between each of those is the type of items you’re looking for. Every stage has a unique layout with two alternating music tracks for each mission…and set pieces change a bit, but you’re essentially doing the same thing from beginning to end in an identical setting. Sure, they throw you an additional floor or two from time to time, but is this enough to keep it fresh?
It’s not really tiresome or monotonous. I’m not sure if Spy vs. Spy is long enough to justify such adjectives. I like the idea, and if this formula was perhaps one mission in a variety of different objectives, it could have been a winner. But unfortunately this is all you get. And there are a number of other issues furthering the empty feeling you’ll have after you finish.
It’s too easy. I blew through Spy vs. Spy in a couple hours (including a break between missions), and yet you still have passwords. Part of the problem is the AI is downright pathetic. You will find it amusing to watch your enemy set off his own traps constantly as you bypass them thanks to their clear indication on the map. Occasionally you’ll be bested, but it doesn’t take much to come out on top. There is a two-player option, which could make this more appealing. It certainly has a lot of potential to be a very competitive game, but good luck finding another soul who owns Spy vs. Spy for Game Boy Color.
There’s also a harder setting, but this only shortens your clock. Since a lot of chance is involved anyway, less time doesn’t make a huge difference.
The controls can be a little frustrating. In a genre such as platforming where precision jumps are crucial to making progress, poor handling can ruin a game. In Spy vs. Spy…it’s just a minor nuisance. Your movement feels slightly unresponsive and clumsy – but not terrible. It’s sometimes a pain in the ass trying to go through a door, but otherwise controls will do nothing more than leave you mildly perturbed. Of course, when a time bomb is about to go off and you’re just a tad off-center from the door, death might occur.
Combat. Another aspect of the controls.
Combat is very rudimentary, but somehow it’s more involved than you’d expect.
The enemy spy seems to attack at varying intervals, which might throw off some seasoned button mashers. At times there’s a certain rhythm you’ll want to adapt to or else you could be grave fodder. Bare fist is what you start off with, but if you find a knife you kill your opponent twice as fast. If you have the stick it’s much harder for him to be near enough to land a punch without being pulverized. But all this strategy business aside, most of the time, button mashing will do the trick. You’ll just have to move away and into another position if he has the upper hand.
Let’s talk about music for a second because I don’t have much to say. It’s very fitting. It’s smooth, it has style, and there’s a decent amount of variety. I loved it as a kid, but now? Well, truth be told I find it a little boring. Some tracks have held up well, others are a bit of a drag.
I personally find this to be an incomplete experience, but am I expecting too much from a portable game? This is one of the reasons I’ve never been big on handhelds, as many of the older Game Boy titles I have played have been far too quick and simple. Then again, there are some great Game Boy games I have yet to play. In fact, I’m sure there are plenty of ball busters out there for this system. I am simply going off of my own childhood experience.
Overall, what are my thoughts? Well, I definitely give it points for being novel. And it is fun. I can see how this makes for an acceptable handheld game, but does it measure up to console games? It’s essentially a multiplayer mode as the main campaign with subpar AI and a low probability of playing with another human being.
Let’s put it this way: I paid $5 for this at a game store. That’s about what it’s worth. And I’ll probably play it again during my lifetime. But I don’t think I’d recommend it unless you’re a hardcore fan of Spy vs. Spy. Now, if you find yourself in said category and are determined to take it for a spin, I have gone through the trouble of preparing a little guide to make this effortless game even easier. Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, I present to you…
ZB’s Unabridged Guide to Blowing Through Spy vs. Spy
- Always carry an umbrella. You never know when you’ll pass through a booby trapped door. You do, however, know when there’s a time bomb, dynamite, or coil spring. Your map will have a red square in rooms hiding dynamite or a coil spring, and time bombs tick/turn your skin blue, so there’s no need to ever prepare for any of those traps. If an item winds up in a room where the opposing spy has set bait, it will show as yellow on the map (the color of rooms with items) and you won’t know if it’s safe or not. It’s rare, and the risk of checking the trapped set piece is about even with the chance of having the wrong defense item.
- Don’t bother planting traps. It slows you down and is kind of a waste of time. Sure, some strategy can be easily incorporated to keep the enemy at bay, which will be fun and satisfying…but it’s not necessary. Your opponent will trigger his own devices enough for you.
- Use the map to avoid irritation. What do I mean by this? Every time the other spy dies, your character stops what he’s doing and quivers with a shrill laugh. This is very annoying, especially when you want to keep moving. Simply select the map right before the enemy’s ghost reaches the top and avoid this god-awful squeal. And if you kill the other spy in combat, be sure to exit the room fast enough to activate the map.
- Go for the stick. While there’s no way of knowing what items you’ll find, sometimes if you grab the knife while you have the stick, you can see the latter weapon landing in a room previously itemless. If you can figure out where the stick went, find it. The knife is good, but with the stick you’ll be like M.C. Hammer. What? It’s not my fault if you don’t get the reference.
Well, I think that about wraps it up. See you next time!
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