Spy vs. Spy (1984 video game)

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Spy vs. Spy
Spy vs Spy cover.jpg
European Commodore 64 cover art
Developer(s)First Star Software
Publisher(s)Beyond Software (UK)
Tynesoft (BBC, Electron)
Wicked Software (Amiga, Atari ST)
Kemco (NES, GBC)
Robots and Pencils (iOS)
Composer(s)Nick Scarim, Hiroyuki Masuno
Platform(s)Acorn Electron, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, BBC Micro, Commodore 16, Commodore 64, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, MSX, NES, Sega Master System, Sharp X1, ZX Spectrum, iOS
Mode(s)Single-player, multiplayer

Spy vs. Spy is a game published by First Star Software in 1984 for the Atari 8-bit family, Commodore 64 and Apple II computers. It was a two-player, split-screen game, based on MAD Magazine's long running cartoon strip, Spy vs. Spy, about the slapstick antics of two spies trying to kill each other with improbably complex and elaborate traps and weapons.

It was later ported to a much wider range of platforms including the ZX Spectrum, Acorn Electron, Atari ST, BBC Micro, Commodore 16, MSX, Amstrad CPC, Amiga, Master System, Game Boy, Xbox, Game Boy Color and Nintendo Entertainment System, which was emulated on the Game Boy Advance. A remake with a retro version was also released on iOS in 2012, which was later incompatible with the advent of iOS 11 (and the exclusion of 32-bit apps).


White Spy has just found the briefcase, from the Atari 800 version

The object of the game is to collect various secret items in a briefcase and exit the building through a door to the airport before the opposing player, or before the timer runs out. While searching for the items, traps can be laid to take out the opponent (or the player himself, if careless). Each spy has a personal countdown timer which depletes by 30 seconds upon each death.

The arena is an embassy, constructed from a series of interconnected rooms laid out on a grid pattern. Higher levels have more rooms, and therefore a larger play area. As well as hand-to-hand combat (achieved by wiggling the joystick or directional pad left and right or up and down when the spies are in proximity to each other) the spies can place traps on the furniture and doors which occupy the playing area. These traps are triggered when a spy searches a piece of furniture for an item or opens a booby trapped door, resulting in a cartoon style animation showing the subject being shot, blown up, etc, and floating up to heaven as an angel. The game is an example of the broad "trap-em-up" genre, which also includes games like Heiankyo Alien (1979), Space Panic (1980), and Lode Runner (1983).

Strategy is introduced by limiting the quantity of each trap a spy can use, and by allowing the traps to be triggered by either spy. Some pieces of furniture also contain 'remedies' which match up to specific traps – these allow a trap to be defused, but can only be fetched one at a time.


Spy vs. Spy was favorably reviewed in Video magazine which described it as "a rousing action-strategy contest" and praised the game's "excellent" graphics as "befit[ting] a game so rooted in a visual medium". The reviewer also noted that "no one has more successfully captured the original feel of the source nor offered a more satisfying result".[3] Ahoy! agreed in its review, calling it a faithful adaptation of the comics and praising both the simultaneous two-player and one-player options.[4] Antic called it "one of the most original and clever games for the Atari computers yet". The magazine also praised the simultaneous two-player display and concluded, "I cannot recommend this game highly enough."[5] The ZX Spectrum version was rated number 20 in the Your Sinclair Official Top 100 Games of All Time.[6]


Two sequels to the original 1984 game were produced. These were Spy vs. Spy - The Island Caper and Spy vs. Spy - Arctic Antics. The third game was also released for the IBM PC. These kept the basic gameplay, while tweaking some core features.[7]

Spy vs. Spy: The Island Caper [edit]

The two spies engage in hand-to-hand combat. When spies are in the same room, both are displayed on the same split-screen, leaving the other blank.

Spy vs. Spy: The Island Caper (also known as Spy vs. Spy II: The Island Caper)[8] introduced a side scrolling play area, which effectively allowed for a small number of very wide "rooms" (the action actually takes place outside, on a tropical island).[7] It also introduced the idea of traps being built from the sticks and coconuts on the island, meaning that each spy no longer started with a fixed number of traps, but must compete to acquire the raw materials necessary to build their traps. The spies must gather the three segments of a rocket and then dive into a sea where a submarine awaits them. However, only connected segments can be carried at any one time. The second installment also included more complex scenery and continued the dual-screen interface present in the first.[7] The game starts with the two players parachuting onto an island in search of a buried missile. As they search, players are able to build traps to slow their enemy's progress.[7] This game was going to come out on the NES in North America from Kemco but was scrapped because of poor sales of the first game on NES, but in 2009 reproductions of the game in cartridge form were released in both regular and black and white limited edition cartridges.


Andy William Farrell of The Australian Commodore Review said the game "has excellent graphics and sound, and not unlike the original version, is a lot of fun to play", giving the game a rating of 92 out of 100.[7] Ahoy! praised the real-time two-player gameplay and called the graphics "beyond reproach". The magazine concluded that the game "demands quick thinking, but it's guaranteed to keep players on the edge of their chairs until the final seconds".[9] Compute's Gazette approved of the game's "excellent color graphics and sound", stating that two-person play was "even more fun" than against the computer.[10]

Spy vs. Spy: Arctic Antics [edit]

White Spy is inside an igloo replenishing body heat, while Black Spy waits outside.

Spy vs. Spy: Arctic Antics (also known as Spy vs. Spy III: Arctic Antics)[11] was the third game in the series, and switched the location from a tropical island to the frozen wastes of the Arctic. The spies fought by means of throwing snowballs at each other and setting traps, which decreased their body heat bar. Tools the spies used included a saw which allowed a hole to be cut in the ice for the second player to fall into and lose body heat. Lost body heat could be restored by moving into an igloo with a heater inside.


  1. ^ http://www.gamingrebellion.com/2014/12/spy-vs-spy-nes-release/
  2. ^ http://uk.gamespot.com/sms/action/spyvsspy/similar.html?mode=versions[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ Kunkel, Bill (February 1985). "Random Access: Spy vs. Spy". Video. Vol. 8 no. 11. Reese Communications. p. 35. ISSN 0147-8907.
  4. ^ Fried, Greg (March 1985). "Spy vs. Spy". Ahoy!. pp. 33–34. Retrieved 27 June 2014.
  5. ^ Bernstein, Harvey (May 1985). "Spy vs. Spy". Antic. p. 81. Retrieved 8 January 2015.
  6. ^ "Readers' Top 100 Games of All Time". Your Sinclair. September 1993.
  7. ^ a b c d e Farrell, Andrew. "Spy vs Spy II Review". The Australian Commodore Review. Saturday Magazine Pty. 2 (7): 6. ISSN 0816-5874. OCLC 217544012.
  8. ^ http://www.atarimania.com/game-atari-400-800-xl-xe-spy-vs-spy-ii_6757.html
  9. ^ Katz, Arnie (January 1986). "Spy vs. Spy: The Island Caper". Ahoy!. pp. 52–53. Retrieved 2 July 2014.
  10. ^ "Spy Vs Spy II: The Island Caper". Compute's Gazette. January 1986. p. 60.
  11. ^ http://www.atarimania.com/game-atari-400-800-xl-xe-spy-vs-spy-iii_6197.html

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