Growing up Spy Hunter was the game everyone seemed to have in their library. But here’s the thing: no one liked it. The marketing for that game had to have been stellar if it duped legions of kids into buying a subpar title. I hated Spy Hunter so much that I immediately wrote off its sequel. Didn’t bother reading reviews, looking at screenshots, nothing. There’s something to be said about cheap games however. Super Spy Hunter was another game I bought from Blockbuster dirt cheap when they cleared out their NES stock. It took less than a minute for me to realize my mistake in writing it off. This is a fantastic game that has flow under the radar way too long. But this one.
Super Spy Hunter takes everything that made the original famous and does it better. But here’s the thing; it actually isn’t a Spy Hunter game. Originally released in Japan as Battle Formula Sunsoft’s US branch wisely snapped it up and rebranded it. It’s hard to believe this was an original title and not a sequel as the two games are so similar. The silly story takes place in the year 2525. An international crime syndicate known as X plans to attack the United Nations and it is up to you and your tricked-out car to stop them. Outside of its fancy cars you would never know this was the future, but I digress. Ignore the silly plot and enjoy an underrated NES gem.
Spy Hunter was notable for its fast pace. The same applies here but Sunsoft have significantly expanded the general gameplay. Rather than lining up with an obnoxious truck you smash designated vehicles for power-ups. There is a decent assortment of weapons this time, some returning and some new. The ever-popular oil slick is joined by shot upgrades, missiles, and most importantly cannon control. This important weapon automatically targets enemies but can also be manually targeted. Finally you have a life bar. It starts out small but within minutes you can significantly expand it.
The level design in Super Spy Hunter is what truly makes it great. The game does not take place on a straight highway and instead varies the terrain. Not only will you drive through quicksand but race across broken highways, pilot a motorboat and even fly a helicopter. The roads bend and curve in a way that is technically impressive for the system. Spy Hunter wanted you to go as fast as possible due to the time limit. Here you have no such worries. You control the pace and the game challenges you to do exactly that. It does a great job telegraphing upcoming hazards like jumps and electric gates as well. If you were good enough some of these elements were in the original but I doubt most ever saw them. Or maybe they didn’t care. Super Spy Hunter’s tight design fulfills the promise of that game’s premise.
As much as I like the level design it does have some flaws. Although Super Spy Hunter is six levels long it feels double that length. That is because its stages run far too long in my opinion. When they introduce a gimmick they run it into the ground. The quicksand of stage 2 makes for an interesting driving experience. But it grows stale fast. The shooting action of its helicopter portion is just as intense as any dedicated shooter on the system. But it is way too long, with repetitive enemy waves and an unchanging blue background. Chopping some of the longer levels in half would have done wonders for the game’s pacing.
Although you are better equipped this is still a challenging game. Slightly touching anything inflicts damage, even the walls. Initially when your life bar is short death comes quickly. It is very easy to miss your desired power-up in the heat of battle, namely life. The trucks come frequently at first but become spaced out as you progress. Death starts you back at square one, including your life bar. If this happens during a boss battle, forget it. For as long as these fights are it is near impossible to manage at the default power level. The game is challenging but not completely unfair though. A few tweaks would have made the frustration less annoying.
Sunsoft were at the top of their game by Super Spy Hunter’s release and it shows. The game moves at a blistering pace and features little slowdown. The raster effects used to simulate the twisting roads defy the hardware as well. The bosses are massive screen sized mechanical constructs that need to be taken apart piece by piece. The game throws many sprites on screen to its detriment though. Super Spy Hunter has some of the worst flickering on the system although it doesn’t affect gameplay that much.
Super Spy Hunter is an awesome hidden gem in the NES library and redeems its awful predecessor. High production values, a great soundtrack, and tight gameplay make Super Spy Hunter an awesome addition to any NES library.