Visual Memory #7 – ‘Spy vs Spy’

Box art for 'Spy vs Spy'

Christopher Bell digs another gaming classic out of the archives…

This month’s article looks at the cat-and-mouse espionage game inspired by a slapstick classic that originated in the pages of MAD Magazine.  Welcome to the MAD-cap (see what I did there?) world of Spy vs. Spy!

The game has the player take control of either the white spy or black spy in their quest to smuggle a set of blueprints to the level’s extraction point, and to do each other in, given the chance.  There are no differences or advantages in their playing styles, but one or the other may have an advantage in a particular level due to starting points, position of blueprints, etc.
Of course, this would never be Spy vs. Spy without some sort of comical weaponry being employed.  Each player can deploy a set of booby traps, such as bombs and electrified water traps.  The player has three minutes in which to collect the blueprints and escape.  However, getting caught in traps will cost them valuable time.  If the timer runs out, you fail the mission.

Classic 80s gameplay

Graphics from a simpler, happier time

The game was based on the comic book strip of the same name, which was started in 1961 in the then-fledgling satirical publication MAD Magazine, by Antonio Prohias.  Prohias narrowly escaped Castro-ruled Cuba with his life after daring to make fun of the new dictator in some of his cartoon strips.  After settling in New York, he took his comic creations to MAD‘s offices, and the rest is history.

Spy vs. Spy features two spies, one in a white suit, the other clad in black, in their eternal quest for one-upmanship.  Unlike double acts like Tom and Jerry or Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner, it’s not a one-sided battle.  The white spy might get the upper hand one day, only to hilariously lose it the next when he fails to notice the black spy’s landmine in his path.

Helicopter craziness

A panel from the classic comic strip

Prohias worked on Spy vs. Spy until 1986, when he retired due to ill health.  He died twelve years later.

Despite this, Spy vs. Spy continues to amuse readers and gamers alike. A trilogy of games was released on nearly every console imaginable throughout the 1980s, sadly of varying quality.  The most fondly remembered version has been re-released twice in last few years, as a bonus as part of a PS2/Xbox remake, and a mobile phone version.

The comic strip is still being published in MAD, under new cartoonists, and celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. (Yes, it’s older than Doctor Who!)

White vs Black

Game: Spy vs. Spy
Developer/Publisher: First Star Software/Beyond Software
Platforms: Pretty much everything at the time!
Year: 1984

2 thoughts on “Visual Memory #7 – ‘Spy vs Spy’

  1. I had that game on the zx spectrum also spy vs spy 2 and 3 lol brings back some memories there. good game though trying to find all the pieces and likes the 2 player aspect… they could make a new updated version which would be good.. but cant beat the fun of the old days..

  2. Hi Darren, and thanks for the comment. You’re a Speccy vet, then! Christopher and I had one as our first computer (before the arrival of the SEGA Master System) but I don’t think we ever had ‘Spy vs. Spy’, sadly. I’ll have to download a copy somewhere!

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