Spy Hunter is coming to the GBA--and not quite in the form you'd expect. Logic would have you expect something along the lines of the classic arcade game, with a top-down perspective, hand-drawn graphics, and old-school play mechanics, but not so with the upcoming GBA game. It's actually modeled after the recent console versions of the games, and it seems to be pulled off exceptionally well. With rendered 3D graphics, a nice, full option set, and a solid sense of speed, it looks like it's shaping up quite nicely.
Though the game feels decidedly light on story elements, at this point, you can assume that the themes are the same as in the recent console versions. You, as the elite superspy who pilots the sleek Interceptor, must put a halt to the plans of the evil and powerful criminal organization Nostra. This usually involves driving through the streets of various exotic locales and destroying the various munitions that Nostra is using to mobilize its attacks against the civilized world. Many other elements from the console versions come into play as well, and they all translate perfectly, for the most part, to the handheld. Missions will each have primary and secondary objectives, for instance, one of which will always be to activate the satcoms that are scattered throughout the level. If you've played the other versions, you'll recognize the satcoms as Spy Hunter's version of jiggies or coins--if you collect them all, you'll get access to all manner of bonuses. In Spyhunter, collecting satcoms fits into the larger scheme of completing secondary objectives--the more you complete, the more extras will be unlocked in the form of bonus vehicles, play modes, and the like.
As you've probably imagined, the game is played from a "behind the car" perspective, just like in the console versions. The actual terrain is a 2D bitmap, laid out by means of the GBA's Mode 7 graphical mode, the result looking a lot like, most notably, Super Mario Kart. The team has also managed to simulate elevation on the maps, so you'll note all sorts of dips and grades throughout all the levels. The actual buildings and cars were made with the same 3D models used in the console games, albeit rendered out as sprites and touched up after the fact. A good number of angles were rendered, though, so all turns look quite smooth and, in regards to perspective, quite logical. Some of the enemies seem like they didn't receive as much TLC as the Interceptor itself, but they all look solid enough at this point. The water stages look particularly impressive; some sort of reflection effect was implemented, and it looks quite good. As with some sort of environment map, objects within the environment are reflected quite nicely on the surface of the water. By all accounts, it seems like it'll turn out to be a very nice-looking game.
The gameplay will similarly make players of the other versions feel quite at home. All the functions fit quite nicely on the GBA's control scheme, though some buttons had to be jam-packed to make room for everything. You fire your equipped weapons with the R button, and you cycle through your armaments with L. Gas and brakes are mapped to A and B, and a double-tap of A yields a turbo boost that lasts as long as you hold the button down after the second tap or as long as your boost meter is fully depleted--whichever comes first. Your rear-deployed weapons--stuff such as smoke screens and oil slicks--are released by pressing both L and R simultaneously, and, finally, pressing up cycles through your targets when you're using lock-on weapons, like missiles. The actual weapons you'll use mirror the ones you found in the console versions--machine guns, missiles, oil slicks, railguns, and the like. You can reload your gear by driving into one of the friendly semis, which also serves to repair whatever damage you may have sustained. Conversely, weapon pickups are littered throughout most of the stages and most conveniently replenish weapons you'll likely need for whatever particular sequence you're playing.
Aside from the main mission mode, there's an arcade mode and a two-player link mode. The arcade is especially amusing--you'll get to drive through any of the environments you've already cleared in the mission mode, but this time under classic-style time constraints and limited lives. While the timer is running, you'll spawn immediately after each death. After that, though, you'll start to tap into your stock, which isn't a good thing. The link mode, finally, lets you go head-to-head with a friend, car-combat style. Four players would have been cool, but we take what we can get.
Spy Hunter definitely looks like it's going to be a neat little game. We'll have a full review for you when it's released in June, so if it sounds like something you'd be into, keep your eyes on this space.