MAD magazine's Spy vs. Spy is a long-running comic strip about two pointy-nosed spies that are constantly fighting. What are they fighting for? That's not important. The eternal struggle between Black Spy and White Spy is legendary, and that's really all you need to know. Their adventures have been captured in game form before, starting back in 1984, when First Star Software released a Spy vs. Spy game for home computers. Now, Spy vs. Spy is making its way to the Xbox, trying to recapture the classic characters and the classic gameplay of the old games, but ultimately failing on both counts.
There's a single-player adventure available, but playing though the game's levels against the weak artificial intellgence and navigating your way through the simple traps that block your path isn't an interesting task. Additionally, the game is horrible at telling you what you're supposed to do next, and the mission objective screen usually doesn't clear things up. Thoughout most of the game's modes, you'll run around, opening safes, setting traps for other spies, buying extra weapons, and trying to collect a batch of items and escape before any of the other spies can do the same. But if that's too much for you to handle, there's classic mode, which strips the already-thin concept down even further in an attempt to make it more like the original Spy vs. Spy game. If you want to do away with all of the item collecting, you can just opt for deathmatch or last man standing, but the combat in the game isn't sharp enough to make this any fun. This is a shallow game, regardless of which mode you play. The multiplayer supports up to four players on a split-screen, system link, or via Xbox Live, but not even the competitive nature of the multiplayer can light a fire under this dud.
Stylistically, Spy vs. Spy doesn't really live up to the source material. The cool line art that Antonio Prohias used to first draw the characters has been replaced here by your typical polygonal models, right down to overly shiny surfaces on the spies' hats and all the other generic graphical tricks you'd expect from a budget game. The sound effects and music attempt to lend a wacky, madcap feel, but the lack of variety makes the music fall flat fast.
Fans of the original Spy vs. Spy games won't find anything worth playing in this Xbox update. But even if you don't know what the series is about, you aren't really missing anything. It would have been cool to maybe hear a remix of the classic music from the first Spy vs. Spy, and unlockable versions of the old games might have given this one some value to the nostalgist. But as an attempt at a modern third-person action game, Spy vs. Spy has nearly nothing to offer.