Thursday, 14 August 2014

Chapter XX: Sly Spy

Nowadays, every time we buy a new game there's an expectation to finish it. When that doesn't happen, it's usually because the game in question isn't good enough to make us waste our time, or because we got distracted by something else in our Steam backlog. Rarely a game is shelved because of difficulty issues. That wasn't the case a couple of decades ago.

If contemporary games give achievements for just loading them or for collecting 25 furs, old games gave reasons for just go the street, take a deep breath and play some football. These games used to be mostly about chasing high scores and surviving against immeasurable odds. Reaching a game's end, any game at all, was worthy of celebration. That's the reason why I remember so clearly the first time it happened to me. The game in question was Sly Spy.

I had a Spectrum before, but never did I experience this feeling of triumph and glory in my early gaming years. When I finally did it with Sly Spy, I had to tell everyone of my peers about it, specifically to Walter and his friends, since they were older than me and because of that I used to be on the receiving end of their jokes and pranks.

How does someone infiltrates a city? It's possible by just walking by?
They didn't believe it. If I wanted this achievement to be acknowledged, I Had to do it in front of them. When that moment came I was even more nervous than during my participation in that Decathlon tournament. It wasn't like I had mastered the game or anything, as I only did it once and that could have been a lucky run.

I wasn't also comfortable with Walter's joystick. It was Quickjoy I with loose screws while mine was a very tight Turbo II. Every kid in the neighbourhood came to watch my feat. I kind of recall that there was hardly any space left in Walter's room.

Not cool playing with water balloons in front of the president
After the hard first few moments of adaptation, I settled in that zone of absolute concentration that nothing could have distracted me. I made a flawless run that surpassed even what I had done at home. I thought these older kids were going to respect me from now on, but that acknowledgement only lasted for a few days. It was still worth it.

I'm curious to see how hard this game is. Was what I had done really a big feat, or were we basically crap gamers?

So much for being a Secret agent
I have to say it was a bit of both. My first try at Sly Spy was terrible, not only because I wasn’t getting into the slow control of the main character but also because I was too worried about taking nice screenshots of the game. After that reasonably fast Game Over screen, I was impressed by how much young Ricky Skegg could achieve 25 years ago.

This is one of those “not bad” games that were not uncommon during the early Amiga days. It very much looks like a late 80’s game, right to the Atari ST style colours and the impossibility to play with both sound effects and music. The last aspect still annoys me after all these years, but I always go for music, even in this case where the tunes are for the most part forgettable.

The gameplay switches between a sidescrolling Dragon Ninja/Rolling Thunder hybrid and some unique levels which include parachuting, riding a motorbike and sea diving. One curious thing is that I like more of the unique levels than the ones that are the core of the game. Both the bike and the sea levels were fun, even if a bit easy, but most of all, the controls were much more responsive. The parachuting level is kind of weird, since I bet most of the enemies were already dead the moment they were thrown off the plane since they don’t care about my presence at all. It makes me feel less bad for shooting so many of them.

"Skydiving with the dead" - Great song name
The main problem with most of the game is that movement is kind of slow, and some enemies, like dogs or barrel-throwing thugs require fast reactions otherwise we’re guaranteed to get hit. Bosses also vary between super easy and annoying, but to be fair, Data East games were never known for its consistency. This game reminds me of Dragon Ninja in a lot of ways.

Eventually I got to grips with the game, and each new game took me somewhere further. The process of learning to play this is very much trial and error. For example, the aforementioned dogs and barrels are very easy as long as we know when they’re coming. No wonder that this iterative approach could allow me to finish it, as time wasn’t really something that I had lack of when I was 9 years old.

It's still raining dead bodies
So did I finish it? No, but that’s because I didn’t want to. I know that’s the most childish thing to say, but let’s leave young Ricky happy and full of himself, even if nobody else but me remembers that particular moment.

Even if in the end I got to know that those achievements were no big deal, I wonder why the rest of the kids were so impressed by them. Maybe they didn’t think Sly Spy was a game deserving of dedication. If that was the case, I guess the joke was on me.

That's the most blasé way of running from a tiger I've ever seen


  1. Man, this brings back some unfinished business-type memories. I remember seeing a demo of this game at a friend's house, and being ridiculously excited about a finally proper James Bond game for a Commodore machine without an official James Bond stamp. To this day, I haven't properly played this one, for whatever reason, and I'm not sure if I ever will - I want to think it's better than it must be. =P But I have to say, it still does look rather good.

    1. It definitely looks better in screenshots than in motion. Trust me:) There's another "unofficial" James Bond game for the Amiga in Operation Stealth. It's seems it was all the rage in the late 80s