Saturday, October 2, 2010

NES Month: Spy Hunter

Spy Hunter
  • Publisher: Sunsoft
  • Developer: Sunsoft
  • Platform/Release: NES: September 1987
  • Genre: 2D Action (Shooter), Driving
  • Rarity/Cost: Common (US$1-10)
I'll kick of NES Month with what has been my online namesake for almost a decade: Spy Hunter. Bally Midway first launched it as an arcade machine in 1983, one which most of us probably remember more for the coolness of its sit-down cabinet than for the game itself. But since Midway didn't produce their own cartridges for the NES, they let Sunsoft port Spy Hunter to the system in 1987. The stories about the game's development are rather well-known in the gaming community, as is the gameplay itself, so I won't bore you with it. Long story short, it's like a space shooter on wheels.

I figured I could get more miles out of this review by discussing the differences between the arcade version and the NES port. First of all, the graphics are... I don't want to say worse, but they're certainly less detailed than the original game that came out four years earlier. Then again, you could make the hardware in arcade machines as powerful as you want it, but with a console, you're stuck with what they give you. And besides, you could argue that the NES port had the best graphics out of all the others, such as ColecoVision, Commodore 64, and especially the Atari 2600.

But who cares what Spy Hunter looks like, when I have more important things to discuss? Like the fact that, in some ways, the NES port is a tad easier than the original. There are fewer cars on the road in this port, and thus fewer opportunities to crash into something you only have scant milliseconds to get out of the way from. But as far as the enemies thrown at you, more of them are the heavy types that are impervious to your machine gun and must be knocked off the road. Eventually, you might as well forget about them and drive away quickly when one pops up. Also, there are reported to be a few minor bugs in the NES port, such as one that lets you drive around offroad without crashing. You can also make the helicopter (which you must use missiles to destroy) leave you alone by repeatedly stopping when it catches up to you from behind.
Just deal with the helicopter until you get missiles.1
The controls in the NES port are simpler than on the complicated arcade machine that we know and love. The Control Pad handles movement in all four directions, B fires machine guns, Select toggles between available special weapons (Oil Slick, Smokescreen, and Missiles), and A uses that weapon. Even though Start is not otherwise used, it doesn't pause the game -- you have to press A on a controller in port 2. Now there's a wallbanger. At least you don't have to hold Up to keep moving, and there's no gear shifter to worry about here, either.

You're going to appreciate taking the transmission off the list of things you have to handle, because port or no port, this game is hard. Sure, you start out with infinite lives for a minute or two, but once that timer's gone, you're on your own. An extra life is available if you score 10,000 points before the timer runs out, and another for every 30,000 points. My best advice for you to help stretch out your sessions is not to run at top speed all the time. Sure, you rack up points at a faster rate depending on how fast you're driving, but you have even less time to react to cars, enemy or not, appearing from the top, so if you keep crashing, it's not worth it. Especially considering the fact that if you crash, you lose all the items you waited so long to pick up. That part's always bugged me.
You start out with unlimited lives for a minute or two.1
Spy Hunter on the NES is a solid port of a questionable game. It's one of those games that never ends -- you just keep at it until you lose your last life and try again. There's not much replay value unless you want to make it to one of the hidden boat stages or beat your high score. It does best, however, if you're looking for a game you can kill 15 or 30 minutes with -- that is, if you can handle it in the first place.

Control: 3 missiles out of 5
Design: 2 missiles out of 5
Graphics: 2 missiles out of 5
Sound: 4 missiles out of 5
Value: 3 missiles out of 5
The Call: 60% (C-)

[1] "Spy Hunter - NES Screenshots". MobyGames.

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