Whenever I think of Mad Magazine, I think of 3 things: folding the back cover to reveal the hidden picture, the movie spoofs, and of course Spy vs. Spy. With the great number of franchises based on well known cartoon characters that have failed in their translation to the console, I feared for Spy vs. Spy.
The games developer, Vicious Cycle, is most well known for its visually impressive, but somewhat uninspiring Robotech series. Unlike Spy vs. Spy, the Robotech titles were not marketed as value titles, so I was willing to overlook some of the flaws in the game.
As I said, graphically the game shines. It doesn’t offer anything we haven’t seen before, except the spies themselves in their rendered polygon glory. In a lot of ways, they spies look exactly how you’d expect. From the tops of their hats, to the points of their shoes, the spies are shiny and angular. The gaming environments have a rich cartoon feel, and while there are some camera issues, visually the game is pleasing.
As with the video, the quality of the audio is high. Since the spies never speak, the developers were forced to rely on music and cartoon-like sound effects. The sound effects are solid, and effectively evoke memories of Warner Brothers or Tom and Jerry cartoon pratfalls. Sadly, these effects eventually begin to grate on the nerves as they are heard regularly throughout the game.
It is in single player mode that this game is at its weakest. Your goal in each mission is to avoid traps while setting traps of your own for other spies while attempting to collect secret plans before the games AI spies do. This isn’t much of a problem, because the games’ AI is pretty weak. At times the traps were so obvious, it felt like the game makers were talking down to me, which I didn’t enjoy. The solo missions may have been written towards children, who I could see possibly enjoying the simple. but occasionally funny missions.
As bad as single player mode was, the multiplayer mode was equally enjoyable. Using a split screen, system link, or XBox live, up to 4 players can play simultaneously. With the typical deathmatch or last man standing games, multiplayer doesn’t offer anything new from a game play aspect. The reason multiplayer mode works better than single player is the fact that human competition makes drastically better use of the unique traps and weapons than the AI does. Multiplayer also reveals the games only unique point: two more colors of spies. Along with Black Spy and White Spy, there are now the Red and Blue spies.
Overall, Spy vs. Spy continues Vicious Cycles’ tradition of graphically strong games that lack solid game play. The value price makes the flaws a little more bearable, and the multiplayer mode is decent mindless fun. Finally, I don’t think this game is what Antonio Prohias, the artist of the Cold War inspired Spy vs. Spy cartoon. But I’m pretty sure his grandkids would like playing it.
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