One year after the Bad Dudes saved the day, President Ronnie stepped down. The newly elected President Bushie might be safe from ninjas but not from the nuclear-armed terrorist group Council for World Domination. A group of CWD baddies intercepted the president's motorcade, kidnapping the leader of the free world along with his family. The Bad Dudes have left the planet so that leaves only one guy to handle the rescue: The famous British spy look-a-like, Sly Spy.
Even by 1989’s standards, there certainly is a lot of cheese on that plot. That didn’t stop Sly Spy from becoming one of the finest James Bond games ever, even without any sort of proper official license. Right from the start the influence is tangible, with the game demanding players to insert a three digit number code to identify your secret agent. Only savages among you will enter anything other than '007' (but we're okay if you enter a treacherous '006' instead).
What set this game apart from the usual arcade crop of 1989 was variety; There are a total of nine missions/levels, but you will hardly ever be doing the same thing twice. Right off the bat you’re skydiving on top of Washington DC, taking out CWD baddies who seem to be falling from the sky for no reason except to be jerks. On the ground you will be in a more traditional horizontal scrolling level that could almost pass as a reskin of Bad Dudes. The end of this level sees the statue of Honest Abe approving your disposal of a CWD special unit. The bad guys' boss is on the run in a car? Time to jump into your motorbike and give chase just before arriving on the CWD’s parked yacht and off to do some scuba diving.
Despite the many different gameplay styles, its controls are surprisingly simple with the classic two-button setup of jump/attack giving your secret agent all the tools needed for the job. You have your trusty side pistol always at hand, but bullets are limited. If you run out, it is time to let your kicks do the talking, making the game feel a lot closer to Bad Dudes. There are a few extra pickups along the way such as the burst-firing sub-machine gun, and if you manage to assemble all the parts from fallen bad guys, the Golden Gun. Unlike the more true-to-life GoldenEye one, this is remarkably similar to Data East’s own RoboCop Cobra Assault Cannon, acting as an all powerful, nearly infinite ammo screen clearing tool.
By 1989 standards, the graphics were incredible, with several detailed sprites running around the screen without a hint of slowdown. Keen-eyed Data East fans will find several nods to other games from the veteran producer, with posters of Karnov and Atomic Runner Chelnov popping up here and there, some Bad Dudes adverts and even a (somewhat disturbing) Robocop easter-egg. Music and sound effects are competent, but they do the job nonetheless.
Despite the thrilling ride, the same issues that kept this from scoring higher in back 1989 once again show up nearly three decades later: namely the briefness of it all. Stages are all relatively short, so even if you’re having a lot of fun doing something, you won’t be doing it for very long. Some pick ups offer great advantage like the scuba-jet that shows up on both scuba diving levels, but you will probably not be alive long enough to fully enjoy it. Bosses are, however, the biggest issue here - they're simply not iconic enough and the anti-climatic final battle looks like someone at Data East just ran out of time and needed to ship the game pronto. Even a couple of Bond villain look-a-likes and an actual Jaws (the shark, not the villain) throwback will actually become the least memorable bits of the game.
Flying Tiger’s emulation wrapper once again falls short from HAMSTER’s and Zerodiv’s offerings by only offering just a few filters and screen ratio options, locking players out of DIP switch settings or even the ability to play the Japanese version instead of the US one. A shame and minus point that could be easily patched in the future.
Sly Spy is yet another excellent slice of uncompromised, over-the-top arcade top action that will surely fit in snugly along the previous Johnny Turbo Arcade releases. It trades off two-player co-op mode for a bigger variety in play styles and it certainly felt fresher for it. A short but sweet ride on her majesty’s service saving the Yankees from nuclear terrorism that leaves very little to fault or recommend for what it is: A perfect representation of what a good arcade game used to be and should you feel the need to relive those glorious times, you can now do so conveniently on your Switch. For England, Sly.