Retro Resolution Retro Review
System: Sinclair ZX Spectrum
Developer: Beyond Software
Rare’s Goldeneye may well be the one of the most well known secret agent games but it certainly wasn’t the first; into a 1985 choked with substandard TV and film tie-ins, Beyond Software’s Spy vs Spy triumphantly brought to the small screen the antics of MAD magazine’s eponymous battling super spies. The attractive central premise casts the player in the role of espionage-minded spy conducting a raid on a foreign embassy, stealing four secret items (plus a briefcase to hold them) before escaping via means of a handily-placed aircraft.
The target building is devoid of all occupants save a lone rival hell-bent on the exact same mission, yet this title is much more than a simple collect-em-up. As all good spies know gadgets, weaponry, and stealth are staples of the trade, and as such the game provides an arsenal of booby-traps to hinder your opponent’s progress. Accessible via an icon-driven ‘trapulator’ are six items including time bombs, trip-wire activated guns, and electrified buckets of water. Tactical placement of traps is vital as utilisation of each weapon requires advance planning, as does the strategic placement of counter measures (such as scissors to disable the gun, and fire-bucket to douse bomb fuses).
Although designed from the ground-up as a two player experience Spy vs. Spy is extremely fun to play in single-player mode, thanks both to the rare and perfectly implemented example of Spectrum split-screen action, and to a wide range of gameplay options. Five user-selectable levels of enemy AI are available running the gamut from ‘sharp as a tack’ through to ‘dumb as a bag of spanners’, along with a general difficulty level which controls the number of rooms in the embassy (ranging from a simplistic six to a decidedly devilish 36).
Should you and your opponent run into eachother the action switches to a single monitor; where the spies come into physical contact it is possible for precious items to be lost to a spot of light-fingeredness, or for the pair to engage in one-on-one combat with cudgels, implemented in similar fashion to the equally furious close combat of EA’s later General Chaos in the 16 bit era.
Spy vs Spy betrays its C64 origins in the chunky double pixel-width sprites and room rendering, albeit with a monochrome tone which perfectly fits the source material and is arguably more appealing than the colourful hi-res graphics of the sequel (admittedly the White Spy does somewhat resemble Cthulhu when viewed face-on…) Plinks, plonks and the odd buzzing are the sum extent of the title’s sonic efforts, although the sound of baton on skull is disturbingly pleasing.
In true cartoon style successful annihilation of your opponent is rewarded with schadenfreude in the form of animated sniggering as the unfortunate victim rises towards the heavens upon angel’s wings. Any of the items that the deceased may have been carrying are redistributed, often at the scene of the demise, giving rise to the dastardly tactic of heavily arming the room containing the runway exit (luckily for the longevity of the challenge an option exists to conceal the doorway until all the items have been amassed).
Whilst original inspiration for Spy vs Spy must surely have been 007, the Speccy incarnation is about as far from Goldeneye as it’s possible to get, and a highly recommended work of genius in its own right.
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