When a factory full of terrorists is discovered by the CIA, they decide to send in a lone agent to put an end to their bomb-building plans. You might expect this person to be a highly skilled operative, able to move quickly and sink into the shadows with ease, or alternatively someone armed to the teeth to blast their way through the hordes. Langley have instead taken the unusual step of sending in Roy Heart, a woefully underequipped individual who favours punching everyone in sight and moves forward with the pace of a winded hedgehog.
The Super Spy is mostly about action, with no stealth element other than Roy’s ability to crouch to slide under and past security cameras. This prevents some tougher enemies turning up, but there’s still plenty of regular goons roaming (and smoking) in the hallways who will not fail to notice the hunched pillock trying to shamble past.
With its first-person perspective and large sprites, this is actually an impressive looking game considering its 1990 release date. Bad guys scale up convincingly as they move closer to attack, with limbs and weapons heading towards the camera. Similarly, it works well when you send them flying backwards with an attack of your own to crash into the wall, maybe even breaking a pipe or the plaster in the process. Roy is unfamiliar with the concept of turning, however, and so must sidestep his way through the game, something he admittedly does at a smoother and more natural pace than the occasions where he walks forwards through a hallway. There are also times where you must walk backwards, and like forward momentum, this too is something Roy does with little in the way of urgency.
Luckily the side-stepping forms the bulk of the gameplay as you work your way through different floors, sliding along fighting an array of different foes; you can’t just slide past everyone as invisible barriers block your way until screens have been cleared of attackers. The combat system works well, with you able to sidestep or duck attacks whilst looking to get in some offence of your own. There’s a button to punch and one to kick. Punching also gives you the option of throwing hooks (when used with directional input) or you can hold down the button to charge up a strong punch. Pushing both buttons briefly performs a blocking manoeuvre (also mapped to ZL). It’s useful, but not easy to time correctly.
Roy also has some weapons he can use, but they are a little lacking given the huge number of terrorists encountered. He has a knife that weakens as it is used, but he can at least keep using it, unlike the gun for which idiot boy thought to bring along a mere twelve bullets. You can restore your knife and bullets by dying and continuing, but this results in a score reset and obviously isn’t an option in the Hi Score and Caravan modes, where you are limited to a single credit.
Rooms can be entered throughout the game, some containing more fights and some containing people hiding from the terrorists. Some of these people will help you out, offering advice or patching up your wounds. Others provide weaponry such as an upgraded knife and brass knuckles. Most helpful are the people who hand you a machine gun. It flails about, but it is still extra bullets for you to fire and it has a better range than your handgun.
There’s a good variety of enemies in the game that have different attacks and movements (some even jump to appear elsewhere), whilst throwing punches, kicks and headbutts your way, and also looking to stab, shoot or electrocute you. A number of boss characters are encountered, but other than requiring more hits, don’t really offer any additional challenge. The exception being the final big bad whose speed gives you a smaller window of opportunity to get your own hits in.
There’s a method to maximising your potential on a playthrough as Roy’s various attacks are better suited to some goons than others. For example, the knife may weaken quickly but it’s the best option for some attackers, more likely to connect than your fists and thus worth favouring. Get to know the enemy attacks and you’ll also fall into a pattern of ducks and sidesteps to help avoid taking damage. Firearms are useful against all enemies, but due to the limited ammo should only be deployed in an emergency.
The lack of gun usage slows down the gameplay, particularly as you can only walk short distances without encountering more of the murderous group. There are also occasions (increasing in frequency the deeper into the game you get) where you’ll clear away the bad guys, go to walk down a corridor only to be prevented as more walk onscreen, then more after them and yet more still. It gets very repetitive.
The game actually starts off quite fun as you encounter the different types of attackers and flick between your abilities to take them out, but then it keeps going and you find yourself doing the same thing over and over again. Your time in the factory is actually just the short opening part of the game, set across three floors and a basement before you follow the terrorists to the Tadoya Corp building which features a more corporate-looking environment, but gameplay-wise, has you doing the same as before. Across sixteen floors. Admittedly some of the floors are brief, but it’s quite a slog to get to the end.
The arcade mode serves as a way to see all the game has to offer, but The Super Spy works better in either HAMSTER’s Hi Score or Caravan modes. By limiting you to a single credit you have to focus on survival and avoiding unnecessary risk as you seek to improve your score to move up the online leaderboards. The Caravan mode works particularly well due to the five-minute time limit where it’s a good idea to learn a route that avoids rooms that lack point-scoring opportunity.
SNK's The Super Spy is an impressive looking game for its time, providing first-person action as you work through floors of terrorists, fighting your way to victory. Slow walking speed and a lack of turning ability make gameplay a little awkward at times, but the bulk of the gameplay is comprised of more elegant sidestepping. There's a good variety of enemies, but a lack of ammo sees you resort to other slower methods to battle them. There are a few options to consider during combat and finding a balance of what to use (and when) works well with the five-minute Caravan. Outside of that though the many, many enemies encountered and length of the game dilute the variety, and just lead to a repetitive trudge to the end. While we applaud HAMSTER's quest to showcase the Neo Geo's full library on Switch, this is one title that can't really be considered a classic.