To enjoy Spy Hunter, the 1983 arcade classic ported to the NES, it helps to meet a few requirements:
One: A love for fast cars, that also are known to shoot rockets from their grill, a la James Bond.
Two: A practically illegal lust for the Peter Gunn theme.
Three: Something to prove, and the belief that a high score in an outdated NES game will fill this gaping need.
I never fully understood the backstory to Spy Hunter. Some claim that you are an elite hunter of spies, chasing them down on the road and sending them to a fiery demise, in the spirit of Mad Max. Others claim that YOU are the spy, being hunted by a number of fast-drivin’ spy hunters. The latter certainly seems the most likely, as the game has you driving your armed spy car as fast as you can, while being pursued relentlessly by other vehicles. Luckily, the story in games like this doesn’t matter a slice, and if you insist that it does, you can eat it.
Spy Hunter hearkens back to simple arcade beat-your-score challenges of yesteryear. You pilot a speeding Ferrari down highways that scroll from the top of the screen to the bottom. Along the way, you will be accosted by armored cars, bullet shooting cars, and tire-popping spiked cars. They have to die, and points are your reward. Your point tally increases more rapidly the faster you go, which is accomplished by moving your car up closer to the top of the screen. This, of course, means that your reaction time is cut shorter, and you must be on guard for road curves, hazards, and traffic. One hit at high speed makes your car kablooey. You must also watch out for the innocent cars, which temporarily suspend your ability to gain points if you toast them.
In an effort to link all of the reviews of this site together, you could make pretty easy comparisons between this game and the fighter-flying 1942. Both are vertical shooters. Spy Hunter, however, narrows the area that your bad guys can come at you from to the strip of road, but also introduces environment hazards that call upon those quick reaction times gamers have. You can also run across trucks that you can drive into the back of, and receive a weapon for your troubles. Smoke screens and rockets do wonders for satisfying road rage. The track itself will never change, just simply loop forever, alternating between one and two lane roads. If you can keep going for long enough though, your spy car will transform into a spy boat, and you’ll continue the chase over water for a brief section. Now that’s variety, baby.
Spy Hunter scrolls quickly, even on the NES, and this is obviously very important. The action is kept fast and harrowing. The other graphical elements are simplistic, but clear. There is a reasonable variety in the cars and vehicles you will encounter, from trucks to motorcycles, and even a machine gunning attack chopper. The effects of the freeway battles are also well done. It’s rather rewarding to shoot out the back end of a car, or sideswipe one into the trees. Explosions are notably lacking, however, which is disappointing as they are frequent.
As for sounds, well, I hope you like Peter Gunn, because the classic spy theme is present throughout the game. I consider this a welcome addition, as it only plays at the beginning and demise of a run, keeping the actual driving music-free. The sound effects as you drive are quite capable for the NES, and you’ll never question the screeching tires or chattering of gunfire. The controls could be slightly more responsive, but that could simply be because I’m trying to make up excuses for getting frapped while rocketing ahead at top speed.
As a typical high-score game, Spy Hunter never really ends. You will drive your wheels until you die thrice, after which your final score is presented. It still can offer quite a bit of fun, and certainly a lot of challenge. Definitely worth trying once if you’ve never played it before. You may not keep it, but you’ll probably enjoy the experience.
Fast cars, fast guns, fast women
Could have used stages and different environments beyond the spy boat section.