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Spy Vs. Spy Review: This Retro Retread Is Fueled Mainly By Nostalgia

I am apparently a rare thing: a child of the 1970s and 1980s who doesn’t wax nostalgic over MAD Magazine. It’s not that I never read it; it’s just that I preferred buying comic books to funny books. That may be why I was not too impressed by Spy Vs. Spy, the modernized update of the original Spy Vs. Spy console game. While there’s some fun to be had, poor controls and slow, repetetive gameplay bring this puzzler down.

The core gameplay of Spy Vs. Spy is like a hide and seek / scavenger hunt. It pits you, in the role of White Spy (I wish you could choose your color) against Black Spy. You are in a foreign embassy, and you must find the five items you need to escape both the building and the country. You can only carry one item at a time (unless you have the briefcase). As you go, you must slow down Black Spy by setting comical traps for him or, occasionally, just beating him up (which is pure random button-mashing).

For the first couple of levels, I was amused by this game. It’s pretty straightforward; you spend most of your time walking through rooms and trying to keep track of Black Spy. There’s some strategy involved (stash something in a room, trap the doors, then wait for Black Spy to spring them, run to the next item, repeat).

Very quickly, though, my enjoyment of the game began to lag. For one thing, nothing ever changes. Remember, this is a game from the early 1980s, just reskinned for iOS (in fact, you can play in the old 4-bt graphics mode). Video games back then didn’t have a lot of different levels or new twists as you progressed; they just repeated the same levels, only harder. Spy Vs. Spy has that mentality. The boards get longer, and thus more difficult to navigate, but there’s never anything new added. There’s no varying goal from level to level, either — you have to dodge the Black Spy, who follows pretty predictable patterns, then gather the five objects and get out the door. Every time. It’s fun up to a point, but it can get old quickly.

Then there are the controls. They really do stink. Basic movement is done with sort of a virtual d-pad, but it’s not very sensitive and it’s hard to navigate through doors. Items and locations are triggered by getting near them and tapping the screen; but unfortunately the game registers every touch as a tap, even ones where you are trying to move, not activate. This can lead to not only frustrating moments where you stash something or grab something you didn’t mean to; but far too often I trigger a trap I’ve just set because when I try to move away it reads the gesture as a tap.

To the game’s credit, it does offer two levels of multiplayer, local and online, and the ability to replay levels with custom options (including playing as Black Spy). But since these modes all suffer from the same control issues and sameness problems, they’re not exactly standout features.

If I had more nostalgia for the characters or the original cartridge game, I might be more favorable to Spy Vs. Spy. But I don’t, and so I have to judge the game on its modern merits, and in that regard, Spy Vs. Spy falls a bit flat. Playing the game can be amusing, but not enough for me to give it repeated playthroughs.

Our Score: 3 out of 5

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