Spy vs. Spy was a game first published by First Star Software in 1984 for the Atari 8-bit family, Commodore 64 and Apple II computers. It was an innovative two-player, split-screen game, based on MAD Magazine's long running cartoon strip, Spy vs. Spy, about the slapstick antics of two spies trying to kill each other with improbably complex and elaborate traps and weapons.
It was later ported to a much wider range of platforms including the ZX Spectrum, Acorn Electron, Atari ST, BBC Micro, Commodore 16, MSX, Amstrad CPC, Amiga, Master System, Game Boy, xbox, Game Boy Color and Nintendo Entertainment System, which was emulated to the Game Boy Advance. The NES version will be re-released on the Wii's Virtual Console in Europe in the near future.
Two sequels followed.
It is perhaps the first video game to implement split-screen simultaneous two-player gameplay, as it was commercially released before Pitstop II, another early video game with a similar split-screen display.
The object of the exercise is to takeout your opponent as many times as possible, while collecting all the items needed to exit the game before the timer expires. Each spy has a personal countdown timer. When a spy is defeated they drop all their items, and are forced to sit out of the game for a few moments while their timer is depleted at a faster rate. The timer depletes 30 seconds per death.
The arena is an embassy, constructed from a series of interconnected rooms laid out on a grid pattern. Higher levels have more rooms, and therefore a larger play area. As well as hand-to-hand combat (achieved by wiggling the joystick left and right or up and down when the spies are in proximity to each other) the spies can place traps on the furniture and doors which occupy the playing area. These traps are triggered when a spy searches a piece of furniture for an item, or opens a booby trapped door, resulting in a cartoon ****animation showing the subject being blown up, zapped with electricity, etc and floating up to heaven as an angel.
The available booby traps are:
- DYNAMITE BOMBS (Remedy: Water bucket)
- GIANT SPRINGS (Remedy: Wire cutters)
- WATER BUCKETS (Remedy: Umbrella)
- TIME BOMBS (Remedy: There are no items that can remediate this trap, but the character's face will turn blue upon entering a room containing a time bomb. Death can be avoided by immediately going into the previous room when the character's face turns blue, then reentering that room).
Strategy is introduced by limiting the quantity of each trap a spy can use, and by allowing the traps to be triggered by either spy. Some pieces of furniture also contain 'remedies' which match up to specific traps - these allow a trap to be defused, but can only be fetched one at a time.
A successful player must remember correctly where their own traps are hidden, while "reading" their opponent to deduce the most likely location of his or her traps. This makes the game excellent as two player entertainment, but rather ordinary in one player mode.
Experienced players sometimes use various strategies to help them remember which traps are located where. For example an electric shock might be used on vertical (up, down) doors only, while the "gun and string" is used for horizontal (left, right) doors. Or the grid is treated as a cheque board, with odd squares using some traps while even squares use others. A skillful opponent will be looking out for such patterns.
A sneaky way to win the game is to trap all entrances to the final room and wait for the other player, who would have to enter in order to win. The second player would then set off the traps and drop all their items, allowing the first player to collect all the key items and win the game. The game ends with the victorious spy leaving for the sky in an airplane, while the other spy runs after the airplane but after that floating up to heaven as an angel.
Sequels included Spy vs. Spy Vol. II - "The Island Caper" and SPY vs. SPY Vol. III - "Arctic Antics". The third game was also released for the IBM PC.
These kept the basic gameplay, while tweaking some core features. The Island Caper introduced a side scrolling play area, which effectively allowed for a small number of very wide "rooms" (the action actually takes place outside, on a tropical island). It also introduced the idea of traps being built from the sticks and coconuts on the island, meaning that each spy no longer started with a fixed number of traps, but must compete to acquire the raw materials necessary to build their traps. The spies must gather the three segments of a rocket and then dive into a sea where a submarine awaits them. However, only connected segments can be carried at any one time. The second installment also included more complex scenery and continued the dual-screen interface present in the first. The game starts with the two players parachuting onto an island in search of a buried missile. As they search, players are able to build traps to slow their enemy's progress. Andrew Farrell of The Australian Commodore Review said the game "has excellent graphics and sound, and not unlike the original version, is a lot of fun to play", giving the game a rating of 92 out of 100.
The third game switched the location from a tropical island to the frozen wastes of the Arctic. The spies fought by means of throwing snowballs at each other and setting traps, which decreased their life bar. Lost life could be restored by moving into an igloo with a heater inside.
SPY VS SPY vs SPY also comes in Comics!