Gamers of a certain age often have fond memories of Goldeneye 64 and split-screen multiplayer in what was arguably the first console title to really make FPS deathmath play work. Some of us, however, have a different early association when someone says "spy versus spy" deathmatch. We remember the granddaddy of them all, Spy vs Spy [$1.99], in glorious pixelated 2D, and now in Retina on your iPhone.

Returning to this game, I was shocked by its depth and complexity. This is one of those games, like UFO/X-Com, that could have spawned a genre. But it didn't. Here's what I mean. This game was designed for split-screen. Goldeneye players ofter refer to looking at another player's quadrant of the screen as "cheating." In Spy vs Spy, it is essential, basic strategy. Spying on what the other player is doing is the only way to know what kind of traps they've placed where (so you can have the appropriate countermeasure).

It's also a memory game. You are just as vulnerable to your own traps as the other player's, so if you think you placed a bomb trap in that wall safe (hidden behind a painting, of course), when it was actually a spring trap, bye-bye-birdie.

If it was just those two things, I'd probably be aces at it, but it's also a fast-paced action game. So if you're staring at the other player's side of the screen, you may get to watch him collect the passport, money, key and all-important secret plans and take off for the airport. Or, if you're slow placing your traps, the other player might walk into the room you're in and slap you silly.

Face to face combat is one of the game's weak points: as in the original ZX Spectrum (Atari, C64, etc.) game, fighting is random button-mashy. Also up for debate are the movement controls, basically in the form of a touch-anywhere d-pad (touch to show the pad, then move relative to the pad to move your Spy). The effort is good, and the pad lighting up in the quadrant you're moving in helps, but it still tends to be imprecise. A smart tap-to-move control schene (tap the dresser to walk to it, tap the other spy to pursue and him with your blackjack) would have been a nice option. The App Store description mentions new controls coming soon, so we'll see.

The game's multiplayer is seamlessly integrated, and all that's missing is the ability to curse at the other player and attempt to slap their controller out of their hands (no chat - there's no time for it), but you can also start a local game via Bluetooth, which risks turning into a game of B.U.T.T.O.N.

Robots and Pencils deserves kudos for the game's new look, with larger objects, and more distinctive rooms than the original, all in a funny cartooned style very similar to the original Spy vs Spy comic. There's also a "cheat" map, which shows you which rooms you've explored and where the key objects you need to win are (but not what or whether they're trapped). They also included a very faithful "retro" mode, which strips out features that didn't exist in the original game (like that map).

Antonio Prohías, a talented Cuban cartoonist, created Spy vs Spy for Mad Mad Magazine in 1960. The near-wordlessness of the strip was intentional: he spoke little English on his arrival in the states (fleeing censorship and accusations of being a spy). He satirized the schemes and one-upmanship of the Cold War for almost 30 years, before he went up to the great "BOOM" in the sky in 1988. I think he would be happy to see that his creations are continuing to senselessly blow up, electrocute, and blackjack each other, and that they're now doing it in people's pockets.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Jack_Crow

    X-Com didn't spawn a genre? You're kidding me, right?

    • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

      No, he's saying X-Com DID spawn a genre and the original Spy vs Spy had enough depth and novel mechanics that it could have too, but it didn't for some reason. Rearranged the wording to be a little more clear.

  • Maniacfive

    This was an instabuy when it was released but I haven't played it yet.

    Those faces... They're just, so creepy. The black eyes, the long pointy nose. That evil grin. Ugh, sends shivers down my spine worse than the end of Who framed Roger Rabbit when Christopher Lloyd gets run over by that steam roller.

    • Benegesserit

      Beetlejuice movie

    • 1Fcm

      Spoilers! :)

  • Drewskii

    Years later I still suck at this game. Great game though. Wish I was better.

  • http://twitter.com/skip_au skip

    There is a second control scheme buried in there. It's better than the d-pad...

  • http://twitter.com/gamander gamander

    Very well written review.

  • Kafu

    Instant buy. I remember the time spent with it with my brother on C64! A big plus is - for old men as me - the "retro" mode that uses the same graphics of the original title. Congrats to the developer for the good porting.

  • tally.bookman

    This has to be one if the worst games I ever played. I wanted to like it VERY much - these guys scratch the nostalgia itch really well for me. But the gameplay is terrible. The AI is moronic; the controls are difficult; half the time whatever I want to do doesn't work at all, then it will with no rhyme or reason; the help is almost worse than having no info. Sorry to be so negative, but I think the positive article and reviewers are too quick to blame themselves for not being good at it. I don't think you CAN be good at it, though you can certainly win sometimes; it won't be skill or strategy that does it. It hard to be critical of a game that reminds us of "the good old days". But once I broke through that spell, it was easy to see that this is just another crappy game like do many on the App Store. Which is too bad since the theme is a great one and it makes it that much harder to find the gems that are also in the App Store.

Spy vs Spy Reviewed by Tof Eklund on . Rating: 4