For me, The Super Spy is one of those guilty pleasures. It's a repetitive game that's hated by many, and honestly I felt the same way for a long time. But over the years I started to develop a weird appreciation for the game. I discovered that there was a surprising amount of technique that could be involved in the gameplay. I managed to work out strategies on how to go about getting as far as possible on one credit, and even finished the game without using a single continue (once). Why did I bother to put all this time into a game that very few people bothered to play more than once? Hell if I know. (actually it probably had something to do with a certain character near the end of the game). But at this point I certainly feel like I know more about The Super Spy than anyone else out there (minus those that actually worked on the game of course). So I guess now it's time to come clean and talk about the game in detail, because god knows nobody else wants to.
Great, I'm already being overly negative... but stick with me on this one! There are definitely some highlights along the way.
The situation that SNK was in back before the Neo-Geo launched was that while the games were virtually identical between arcade and home, they were now faced with the challenge of making games that were enjoyable for both the regular arcade players, but also enticing enough to make home console adopters spend $200 on a single game. A lot of arcade games in the late 80's were often designed to be played through in around 20-30 minutes, if the player was good enough (or had enough tokens to keep continuing). That's all well and good, but if you were buying a $200 game, then it better be DAMN good if it's all over within half an hour. I remember reading a review in EGM of Ninja Combat, where the entire Review Crew all complained about the game having unlimited continues, making it a $200 game that "lacked challenge" since there was no way to discourage people from just mashing that Start button and seeing the entire game with no effort.
Yes, a memory card! Long before the Sony Playstation popularized the use of memory cards as a means of saving game data, SNK was doing it with the Neo-Geo in 1990. Not only did the home consoles have the memory card slot, but it could also be found on original arcade multi-slot cabinets (along with headphone slots, another rarity to see on an arcade cabinet). Save data was also compatible between arcade and console, which was used as a selling point, but... it always seemed like an unlikely situation to me. If you already owned the home cartridge, why would you be spending money playing it in an arcade? Let's face it, SNK just wanted to show off how the games were the same from arcade to console. But anyway, this was a means to satisfy both parties - with a memory card, a player now had a way to play through a longer game in the arcades, and a longer game would be a more attractive $200 purchase over one that was over in a half hour or less (of course, this introduced a new problem... WHERE do you get the memory card in the first place? Only a handful of retailers carried Neo-Geo stuff in the first place, and despite what that above flyer says, I don't think many arcades ended up selling the memory cards. Anyone who wanted a memory card that didn't have a store to buy them from would have to resort to ordering from a mail order store in the back of those game magazines). Games like Baseball Stars had a "season" mode which let you track your team's progress so using a memory card for something like that was mandatory if you were playing in the arcade. And then there was Riding Hero, the only motorcycle racing game with an RPG-style "Story" mode... which ran off a timer in the arcade, so good luck getting through that without spending serious coinage in one session. Of course, they had to make sure the games were still fully enjoyable by arcadegoers without needing a memory card, too.
And then of course, there was The Super Spy. While they did not place a limit on the amount of continues for it in the home version, they decided to take the approach of making the game longer than the average arcade game. You could still finish it in the arcade without having a memory card, although it would take one looong play session and most likely a lot of tokens if you didn't know what you were doing (which was everyone who dropped a token in). How did it all pan out? As most early experiments usually go, and judging by the reception the game got even back then... not very well. But we're going to take a look at it anyway...
For its time, The Super Spy was definitely a bold and original concept not seen before in an arcade game. It's best described as a cross between Double Dragon, Punch-Out!, and an RPG. It's sort of a precursor to the first-person shooter craze - except it's more of a first-person walk-around-and-punch-or-stab-and-occasionally-shoot-stuff game. In theory, that sounds like it could actually be pretty cool!.... if done right.
Let's take a look at the story given in the manual:
Your experience count will still continue to go up after you hit the max level 10, but there's no real point to it obviously.
So far, this might not sound so bad if you've never played the game before. You've got a variety of attacks (well, some of them are worthless), and beating up enemies in first-person view is a neat change of pace, especially if you're a fan of Punch-Out!!. But alas, here comes the fatal flaw that unfortunately drags the game down.
When you're walking around the building, enemies will always show up. That's understandable. But once enemies are onscreen, you're not allowed to scroll the screen any farther past a certain point until every enemy is defeated. Once the final enemy is knocked out, 1-3 more enemies take their place within seconds, and you're again not allowed to move the screen any farther past the short distance you were able to walk between the spawn time of the two groups of enemies.
Even worse, those vertical hallways where you can walk up and down? You will NEVER make it all the way through one of those, enemies always show up right as you're nearing the end of it. Even stranger about these hallways is that you're not allowed to move left or right at all, you can only press down to duck. The enemies get to slide back and forth though, so you're locked into place for the duration of the fight. Luckily, a lot of times there will be enemies that will attempt one attack on you and then jump up off the screen, or you'll have the machinegun guys who will fire bullets and then run away. So always be ready to duck just in case the machinegun enemies drop in for a visit.
Basically, this is akin to playing an RPG where you have to go into a "random" battle every two steps, without having the option to run away (although as mentioned before, some enemies will escape on their own). And combat in this game requires a little more concentration than just zoning out and pressing "Fight" or casting a spell. This can get really frustrating if you happen to get lost somewhere along the way, which is a definite possibility if you're not paying attention to where you're going. And there are a couple cruel spots later in the game that are designed to trip up the player if they go in the wrong direction.
So........ against my better judgement, here's an attempt at a walkthrough for the entire game. WARNING: this is going to be long. Really, really fucking long. I'm actually typing this part out before I start on it, because I know just how bad this is going to be. If you're actually reading this, then somehow I actually managed to finish and upload it all to the internet. Or maybe this text will just stay on my hard drive for years and years until the drive crashes. Who knows??
(Please ignore any inconsistencies in the score/experience from screenshot to screenshot. I ended up having to go back and take more screenshots of certain things I didn't take screenshots of the first time so I used cheats to speed things along)
A couple more enemies appear in front of an open door. If you don't check every door, you may end up getting stuck - doors lead to rooms that might have innocent hostages who'll give you info (or waste your time with Engrishy nonsense), hostages that will actually help you out by restoring life or giving you machinegun ammo / new knives, or they could be traps with enemies inside... but these rooms are also the locations of bosses who contain the necessary keycards for advancing. Let's see what's behind door #1.
Ok, what about it?
Right.... guess I'll be leaving now...
Hey, another door. Let's see who's in this one...
Damn, I'm sorry to hear that bro.
Moving on, we come to the first hallway that requires walking north. You're going to learn to hate these, as each hallway means one guaranteed enemy encounter and you lose the ability to walk left and right for that battle. Better be ready with that knife.
Here's another door. What useless information will we get this time?
Fuck, this is even worse. Midboss battle!
This room in particular is a complete early dick move by the designers - this bald scientist dude is a tougher enemy than the first couple enemy types. He does more damage with his attacks and is much faster with the counterattacks too. Speaking of which, let's talk about a couple of these attacks. He can give you a too-close-for-comfort view of his bald head, which surprisingly hurts a LOT, an instant 2/8 of your health gone. And what has to be one of the most amusing means of attack in the game, he can shove a screwdriver in your face. I'm not saying getting jabbed with a screwdriver wouldn't hurt, it's just... a rather unexpected means of attack. I'm trying to think of another game in which a player or enemy can attack with a freakin screwdriver, but am coming up empty. Kudos to SNK for being sorta original, I guess.
He also has the ability to leap off the screen and come down a couple seconds later. This isn't even an attack, it just wastes your time. Well, I guess it could be considered an evasive maneuver to make you miss if you're trying to shoot him with your pistol (which you need to do if you make the mistake of entering this room). If you've tried using your pistol on the low-level terrorist thugs, you'd see that they die with one shot... but this guy takes 3 bullets. Definitely the safest thing to do since if you try fighting with the knife or your fists, it'll take around 32 hits to kill him. THIRTY-TWO. Considering enemies up to this point have taken 2-6 hits (Even less if you were stabbing with a fresh knife), this is such a dumb thing to throw at the player so early on. I never really observed how long other people's credits lasted in this game when they played it in the arcade, but I imagine that quite a few people met a Game Over here if they didn't know to use their pistol. God, fuck this guy.
So anyways. If you did enter that door and had to fight Baldy McScrewdriver, you'd probably be thinking "Hmm, maybe I shouldn't enter every door I come across". You might feel so inclined to skip the next door you see, but that's a mistake as it's the first USEFUL door in the game.
Hell yeah, now we're talking! Thanks anonymous injured dude, I'll put that machinegun to good use.
Unfortunately, the next door you see is another person providing no help with anything.
Scroll all the way to the left to receive an interrogation from Don King. Pointless. Instead try to head up the hallway, which you'll soon find to be a surprisingly frustrating endeavor. You have to be PERFECTLY lined up with the hallway in that brief period of time before the next group of enemies appears. Use the guide arrows at the top-right part of the screen to figure out whether or not you can walk north. You don't want to screw up the placement and have to slog through another battle (although most of the enemies won't be putting up much of a fight right now).
Then you have a choice on which direction to head. The left route gives you another hostage. Head to the right instead.
Oh great, the first door of this route is a trap room with two enemies in it. At least they're easier to kill than Baldy McScrewdriver!
The next door reveals... a map. And as we can see from the map, we're almost at the end of the floor when they decided to show us the map, with the elevator closeby. There's just one door inbetween you and the elevator... is it worth entering?
The answer is YES. Because here you'll find a hostage that will "stop your bleeding" and recover up to 4 hit points of damage. These guys are the only ways to recover your health, so if for some reason you're playing this game in an arcade (riiight) or for score (ahahaha), you need to seek these hostages out!
(Hell, if you're playing for score, and you have 5 to 8 hit points when you reach one of these doors, you could actually build up some points by "leeching" enemies and continually killing them until you screw up and take enough hits to get down to 4 hit points. THEN you can enter the door and move on with the game. But, ya know... this is The Super Spy and there's combat everywhere... sooo....)
And with that, we're finally at the first elevator! We've completed the first stage of the game! (out of how many, you ask? You're probably better off not knowing. Ignorance is bliss).
The green X is your starting point. The yellow X is your goal, the elevator on the other end of the floor. The red square is the map room, obviously. As for the rest of the doors: