Friday, June 26, 2015

Friday Night Rentals: Spy Hunter

Authentic Arcade Frustration! 

Are insane drivers coming at you with razor blade hubcaps?  Did your car get death-rammed from behind?  Have you started firing an endless wave of bullets from your car in order to clear the road?  Is there a stream of smoke and oil pouring out of your car? Well, either you're driving the L.A. Freeway or you are playing Spy Hunter for the NES! 

I confess I was never a big fan of this game either at the arcade or at home where I didn't have to put more quarters in just to hear a few more notes of the Peter Gunn theme.  Even in the days before iPod, 25 cents for less than a minute of the Peter Gunn Theme was a bit pricey.  So when it was available to rent at the store, it wasn't my first choice, or even second for that matter.  I thought about renting it from time to time, but usually found something else to get that interested me more.

But sometimes that ol' weekend would roll around and come hell or high water, there was going to be a rented game to play!  One weekend it was Spy Hunter for the NES.  So how was Spy Hunter?  Was it a wasted rental or a decent weekend?  Is it worth looking back at now, years later?  


You move forward to accelerate, or not, just sit there, causing a traffic jam until a fellow motorist runs you off the road for being a nuisance.  Should you choose to push forward, you can zip along, or end up slamming into another car.  Navigating the car isn't too hard, but it definitely takes concentration and practice to make sure you don't end up end up losing over and over in the first few seconds.  If you manage to negotiate your way on to the back of a weapons truck, you'll have a cool James Bond-like car gadget such as smoke screen or oil slick with which to prevent the drivers behind you from causing future problems.  Speeding up and slowing down, even using the weapons aren't really an issue.  The issue comes in the gameplay...

Gameplay and Graphics
Yup. Just a typical drive on the 405 freeway.

You zoom down the road in your super rad spy sports car  mercilessly shooting down enemy and innocent motorist alike in a bid to get as far down the road as possible.  So basically it's cos-playing as your average L.A. driver and---What?  Enough with the L.A. jokes?  I lived near there man, I seen things!!!!

Anywho the gameplay is fairly basic.  You drive until you die.  Hey, there's a metaphor in there I think...Any way, you try to rack up as high a score as possible while dodging enemies and obstacle alike.  Its a style of play that very much dates it is a mid-80's arcade game meant to keep you playing so you can see just how high of a score you can get and how far you can drive.  One neat feature is that the season on the various backgrounds change as you drive along.  If you are good enough to get any distance in the game that is.  I never could seem to get past the initial "spring" look.  I'm not sure how much of it is me and my lack of patience to learn the timing of the game and how much of it is the game's inherent difficulty.  I wish there were lives or a continue or a difficulty select.  I guess the lack of those things makes it that much better of a port.

Music and Sound

Just pretend that it loops.

The Peter Gunn Theme plays at the beginning for a few seconds, then stops.  If board an item truck it plays a few bars again, but then stops again.  You also get the ending notes of the song after you die with no reset time left.  Unlike the arcade though, the NES version has a distinctly tinny sound, and not the deep bass you've come to expect from the Peter Gunn theme.  I always felt something wasn't quite right at a basic level, and when I asked my wife about it, she confirmed that the timing is a bit off on the NES version as well.  Aside from the semi-lackluster port of the Peter Gunn Theme, there is not much to talk about.  The firing gun, enemy blade wheels, and various car weapons and explosions are about it in terms of sound.  While this was a port of an arcade game, it seemed like Sunsoft cut corners in ways that didn't make sense to me.  They had plenty of experience creating bass sounds on the NES from previous titles, so why was this lacking?  

Final Thoughts/Overall Impression

Truthfully, I never had a great time playing this game in the arcade under the Midway license, and I think this game falls firmly under the, "I rented it just so I would have a game to play on the weekend" category.   It was never a real quarter muncher for me the way that other games in the arcade were.  Heck, I would plow through half a roll of quarters on Smash T.V. in a matter of minutes and still be ready to pump even more in, but with Spy Hunter I'd try it once, enjoy the theme, and then be done with it.  

I really wanted to hear the Peter Gunn theme throughout the driving time on the NES, but it doesn't do it and without that familiar theme throughout, the game feels flat and can get old rather quickly.  Now that the game has a permanent place in my personal library I might play it every now and again just for kicks.  Even with Spy Hunter being a halfway decent driving game, it doesn't quite compare to another driving experience that Sunsoft gave, which was phenomenally better in every way possible....tune in next week to find out what that experience was.

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