Spy vs. Spy

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Source // Wikipedia

When I was setting up my RetroPie I made sure to test out a few games that I knew were on the 1001 list, and Spy vs. Spy was one of them.

I'm only vaguely aware of the characters, insofar as I've seen them before, but don't know where and don't know why. The game is therefore a complete unknown to me, and I first fired up the Sega Master System port.


"What the hell am I doing? What is going on? Why did I die? Do I need to get that? Oh I've lost." I simply haven't learned the lesson of not going into a game blind...

Spy vs. Spy tasks you with escaping the country on the one plane available, which will only be accessible when you have your passport, some secret documents, some cash and a key. These items are hidden about the embassy you find yourself in and you need to get them before your opponent does, be they human or computer.

Being the devious spy that you are however, you can use all kinds of tricks and traps to thwart your foe from making any decent progress. You can even be a complete arsehole by watching their screen, following them and mugging them of their belongings before they manage to escape - all is fair in love and war.

Initially, I hadn't got a clue what I was doing - it was after all a quick test of the RetroPie more than anything - so I knew I'd have to get some research in when I get round to playing it properly.

Fun Times

Was that a wise thing to do or what? Finding out how to play (this time on the NES) changed the game completely. It was no longer a case of run into your opponent and whack them about the head (despite that being a viable tactic), but was much more strategic.

The levels consist of a number of rooms containing a couple of items of furniture and little else. Hidden amongst all these pieces of furniture are the four key items you need to escape, so you need to get searching from the start.

Ooooorrr, you can get busy laying traps.

You've a number of items at your disposal, from bombs to springs to buckets of water, each able to be used only in certain places and each with their own method of defusal. Dump a bucket of water on a bomb, cut a spring with some wire cutters, and walk through a bucket trapped door safely with an umbrella. Suddenly, walking around with an umbrella inside doesn't look so stupid after all (although you are doing so to avoid being electrocuted from a bucket of water propped up over a door falling on you, so maybe you still look a bit strange).

You can only place a certain number of traps depending on the difficulty level you're playing, but you'll likely lose track of what you've put and where, or even more likely will have been caught out by a trap you've walked into - even if it's one of your own.

Looking at your opponents screen is a must, but you can't take note of everything with a ticking clock counting down to a game over. The more you manage to kill your opponent, with traps or hand to hand combat, the less time they have to find all the items and escape, but spend too much time dealing with your opponent and you'll not find the items quick enough.

This probably didn't end well for me.

Final Word

That makes Spy vs. Spy a manic multiplayer game, if both players know what they're doing. I don't think you'd get as much fun out of it if one or both of you are bumbling about without a clue what's going on. But, against human or computer opposition, Spy vs. Spy manages to keep your attention. You won't know what lies in wait for you through the next door, and that's especially true when the levels start to get bigger and bigger, with multiple floors to navigate - and still only four items to find, one exit to reach and a clock to beat.

It's been ported to more platforms than you can shake a stick at, so finding a version shouldn't be too tricky, though the 1001 entry mentions that the Xbox version is to be avoided. Might have to have a look and see why one day...

Until then, it's a strategic gem of multiplayer game.

Fun Facts

The sequel, Spy vs. Spy: The Island Caper, introduced traps that you first needed to make out of sticks and coconuts. This is the first game though, where there's no outdoor areas, let alone sticks and coconuts.

Spy vs. Spy, developed by First Star Software, first released in 1984.
Versions played: SMS, 1986, via emulation.
NES, 1988, via emulation.