“Spy vs Spy” Review (Atari 800)

spy vs spy titlescreen

(image via ekranownia)

Spy vs Spy

When you first mention spies, many people will think of Jamesch Bond (imagine that was in Sean Connery’s voice), Jason Bourne (try not to imagine that in Matt Damon’s voice) and Austin Powers (probably). Few would think of MAD Magazines’ infamous spy creations, though I think people really should based on this game alone (was never really a comic book person).

Spy vs Spy puts you in control of one of the famous creations as you pit your wits against the other in a bid to collect all of the items required to escape from the embassy.  To help you beat the other spy to the airport, you have a selection of booby traps to slow them down. In your inventory you have bombs, springs, time bombs; and for “door-traps” you have buckets of acid and a gun attached to a string which will fire off when the door is opened. The other items can be used to place inside the various pieces of furniture you find in each room where there may also be one of the items you need to collect. The items you need to collect are a passport, ignition key, cash, immigration papers and the case to hold them all in.

spy vs spy

(image via GiantBomb.com)

When the game loads, you are presented with the main menu where you have various options to choose from. You can choose the level of difficulty, the computer IQ and whether to hide in the airport until the end (this is your end goal once you have collected all of the required items – we’ll come back to this!) The higher the level you select the more rooms are available to you which can lead to a longer but ultimately more difficult game. The same applies to the computer IQ which will, funnily enough, improve the IQ of the computer controlled spy if you’re playing the one-player option. I think if this is your first time playing, keep this number pretty low as you will get your arse kicked (in every sense of the word but mainly physically) if you select the highest option.

Spy vs Spy

“What are you doing?!.. I can see you!?!”
(Image via retrogamingtimes.com)

The genius of Spy vs Spy is the fact that two human players can play against each other simultaneously on two halves of the screen (one for each player), with their own set of traps available. I’m not sure if this had been done before but it is certainly quite an achievement. This could also be your downfall as although you can get on with doing your own thing; the person playing against you can see what you’re up to, so you have to be aware that they may be onto you and know where you’re laying your traps (as much as you may be onto them too, I guess!)

You start off face-to-face with the other spy, where you can either engage in a quick fisty cuffs to get things started or you can try and run away (which, if you’ve selected a high ID level for the computer is always a good option to consider). You fight with a stick which can be whacked up and down (come on, we’re all grown-ups… fnar!) or side to side (whatever takes your fancy). I always found the fights very entertaining and competitive if you are playing against a human opponent (especially if you have an older brother who loves to gloat in your face… argh!). When you do manage to kill the git (or indeed if he kills you) you get a nice animation of your angelic state floating up to the sky whilst your victor sniggers to himself. I always liked that part. The sniggering returns when the other spy falls foul to a trap you may have kindly laid on for your nemesis. Don’t worry if you do get on the wrong side of death, you will come back to life but time is deducted from your limit.

spy vs spy attack

Spy vs Stick

A quick double-tap of the fire button and you go into your trap and map options which are placed to the side of your player screen. A map will show the level you are currently on and where any items are to be found in the form of a dot. The room you currently occupy flashes for your convenience.

Bombs and springs can be set into the chairs, bookshelves and other furniture found in your surroundings to foil your enemy but there are also cabinets scattered around so that you can un-booby-trap (is that a word? Or a three-word thingy?) the furniture if you need to open them to obtain an item you may need. So you really do need to pay attention when the other spy is laying traps as you may find yourself flying across the room if you encounter a vicious spring. You will need to make sure you have the correct apparatus to disarm any traps, a pair of pliers will put pay to any springs you want to get rid of and a man-bag (it’s what it looks like, honest!) will stop any bomb going off in your face. Good times.

spy vs spy gun booby trap

The old “rig a gun up to the door with string, so when someone opens it they get shot!” trick

You can also trap the doors as previously mentioned with a bucket of acid and also a gun which is tied to the door via an item of furniture. These can also be disarmed with the aid of an umbrella and a pair of scissors respectively. The genius part is that you can also trap the cabinets and umbrella stands where you’ll find the apparatus (hee hee!) so you can in effect have the other spy scouring the whole level looking for an umbrella stand that hasn’t been tampered with whilst you go about your merry way and getting yourself outta there. Genius! If they haven’t seen that you’ve trapped them… Boom! (or boing, depending on what you’ve put in there) and you’re laughing, literally, as your little spy snigger’s away on-screen.

spy vs spy booby traps

Guns…Bombs…Springs… all deadly.

The final “trap” as it were, is a time bomb that you can set off in the room you occupy with the hope that the other spy will be in the vicinity when it goes off, or if you can hold them in there long enough with just enough time for you to sneak out whilst they go boom and meet their maker. You are playing with fire doing this as it is possible to catch yourself out so you have to be very careful. You can also fall foul of the other traps you lay down so make sure you remember where you put them!

There are many positives in Spy vs Spy that make it for me; the animation of the death scenes (flying across the room as someone has put a spring in the furniture is a joy to behold!), the fight scenes, the way the game is made so that there is no fixed strategy for you to win, being able to not just choose the difficulty level but also the intelligence of the computer. It’s just one of those games that makes you feel that a lot of time and thought has gone into it to make it a “complete” game, as it were.

spy vs spy airport


It is entirely up to you how you want to play this game. Go gung-ho and try and beat the bejesus out of the other spy every time you encounter him, or run away and take your chances that he won’t catch you. Go out to find every item you need and make your escape, or simply find the airport, wait for the other spy to do all the hard work then give him a beating, steal the briefcase and on your way. There are even more options than that, that’s why it’s so great! If you do cross paths on your journey, you will automatically drop any items you may be holding whilst you fight it out, or run away, and you cannot open anything whilst the other spy is in the room.

If you do find yourself the victor of the game, you will get a spy rating based on your score and how you’ve played it. I particularly like the “What a guy, spy” rating, probably something to do with Ace Rimmer (smoke me a kipper and etc.) which you tend to get if you go all out and do all the hard work to get to the end. It seems to always get it spot-on too; you’re always left with a wry smile on your face when you get “A sly guy spy” rating because you’ve just snuck in and stole it at the end. Muuuu-haaa-haa!

spy vs spy haggar final fight

Spy vs Spy vs Haggar …? (artist’s impression)

Spy vs Spy can create an element of tension depending on how you play it. If you do decide to go down the lazy route of waiting for the other spy to the do the work; when you see the spy getting closer and closer to your room, you do feel on edge as you could have done all that work (ahem) for nothing as it will all fall on your final fight. You could probably do with Haggar helping you out, saying that.

spy vs spy zx spectrum

ZX Spectrum version – limited but still good!
(image via World of Spectrum)

I first played Spy vs Spy on the Atari 800 when I took a chance and spent £1.99 on the game at my local corner shop (remember when corner shops sold games? Good times!) and I was hooked. I love the Atari version but I did also own the game for the Speccy.  Anyone who has played the Atari version (or any other version which has music… should have researched that probably) will know what a quality tune it is and it will stick in your head all day.  Here is where I was slightly disappointed in the Speccy version because of the lack of tune and colour but I think it was because I held the game in such high regard that I was expecting it to be as perfect as the Atari version.

Though the Speccy version lacks the colour and music of the Atari version – take nothing away from it as it is still a great conversion and the great gameplay still remains.

Overall, Spy vs Spy is a fantastic game – original, fun, spontaneous, two-player co-op, hitting people; the game has everything you would want, including that amazing tune which brings back many memories from my childhood of playing the game on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Do yourself a favour and load up this game now and prepare to lose a few hours of your day.

Retro Yak Dave says: I’m ashamed to say I never played this game.  I always seen it and it’s sequels in the magazines over the years and was aware of the hype but for some reason never purchased it.  After reading this I will definitely give it a go now!

Did any of you play this game? How about it’s sequels? What did you think? Let’s hear about it in the comments below..