A word about the controls for Spy Hunter:

Instead of a steering wheel, the game features a U-shaped handlebar, with a trigger and thumb button at the apex of each arm. Also included are an accelerator and a "gearshift" with two settings -- HI and LO.

The truly amusing part of the game was that because of the placement of the gearshift, a user would have to steer with their left hand and shift with their right, while manipulating the accelerator pedal with their right foot (assuming standard human limb configuration). The catch was that the first weapon added to your car's arsenal (a machine gun firing from each headlight) was operated by use of the right trigger.

Imagine, if you will, the awkwardness of steering using your left hand on the right arm of the handlebar (so you could reach the trigger for the machine gun), while your right hand worked the gearshift.

Of course, it didn't help that I was only 8 at the time, and had a hard enough time seeing the screen, much less operating the car with panache.

This game was also made for the Nintendo (NES), and was one of the earliest games for the above system. Gameplay was (is) nearly identical.

You speed up or slow down by pressing UP or DOWN on the control pad, and using LEFT or RIGHT allows you to steer. The B Button shoots your gun (it is rapid fire), and the A Button allows you to use the special abilities that you gain from driving into the semi's with the various logos on the tops. These items include water, oil, and missiles.

It also has very catchy music, some of the finest on the NES.

Also, mkb informs me that after 120,000 points, the game stops giving you extra lives.

Spy Hunter is a classic video game, and widely considered one of the true greats. It was released in 1983 by Bally Midway Mfg. Co. Like most of the great classics, it ignored the standards of the genres of the day to create a totally novel gaming concept.

Most games made give you a limited number of lives. Once those are gone, you're game over. Spy Hunter didn't follow this formula. When you start a game, you're given a certain amount of time (90 seconds, by default) to do as much as you could manage - and it didn't matter how many times you died during this time, you got to keep playing. Once this time limit was up, it reverted to a limited number of lives. This was a fairly novel concept (only Turbo had used a similar setup before), and it is surprising that more game companies don't use this setup. What this did is it allowed new players time to get a feel for how to play the game, and gave experienced players enough time to "get into the groove," so to speak.

The controls of the game were complicated, but laid out in such a fashion that it was easy to play.

  • There was a central steering yoke (not wheel) with 5 buttons on it: One trigger and one thumb button on each arm of the yoke, and a central pushbutton.
  • To the left of the steering yoke was a two-speed gearshift, Up for low gear (slow) and Down for high gear (fast).
  • On the floor was a gas pedal. Push it down to go faster.
  • The left trigger fired machine guns, which were unlimited.
  • The right trigger fired homing missiles. This was the ultimate weapon - it would lock on to the closest enemy target and blow them away.
  • The left thumb button dropped oil slicks which would make any vehicle that drove over them spin out and crash. You only got points for dispatching enemies this way if they crashed onscreen!
  • The right thumb button sprayed a smokescreen. When you triggered this, any enemy cars that were behind you would get washed away as they lost track of you. You didn't get any extra points for this, but it WAS a good idea to clear the screen of enemies once in a while.
  • The center pushbutton had a light inside. If it was lit or flashing, it would call for the Weapons Van, which would drive onto the screen and position itself in front of the player's car. It allowed you to get ammunition for one of the three bigger weapons - if you could manage to drive into it, which wasn't always easy.

There were only five different enemies in the game. All of the enemy cars were dark blue, which allowed you to tell them apart from from civilians, which looked like motorcycles or light blue VW Bugs. If you killed these, you lost points.
  • First was Switchblade. This was the most numerous of the enemies. At first, he's no real threat, but after you've been playing for several "zones," he starts using wheel blades - if he has these out, and sideswipes you, you lose control, spin out, and crash on the side of the road.
  • Next was The Road Lord, also called the Bulletproof Bully. He arrived several zones after Switchblade started using wheel blades. The Road Lord was immune to machine gun fire, and his attack strategy was to pull alongside you and ram you off the road. Unless you had a more powerful weapon than the machine gun, your only method of getting rid of the Enforcer was to bump HIM off the road. The Road Lord had one other important use: You could force him to bump Switchblade, which would break off the wheel blades on the side of Switchblade that he bumped.
  • Several zones later, along came the Enforcer, a slick limousine. His attack method was to pull alongside the player car, and shoot sideways out the back window of the limo. If his shot hit the driver's compartment of the player's car, you spun out and crashed. To avoid this, you had to either speed up or slow down just as he was about to fire. It was also useful to manipulate Road Lords or Switchblades to block his line of fire. Although the Enforcer was vulnerable to machine gun fire, getting behind him was extremely difficult.
  • Next up was The Mad Bomber. Once you'd gotten a good long way into the game, a helicopter would come along and start bombing you. Not only did you have to dodge the bombs themselves, but you also had to dodge the craters that the bombs would leave. The only way to kill the Mad Bomber was to hit it with a Homing Missile... hope you have some when he arrives.
  • Far into the game, you would sometimes see a small road off to one side. If you drove down it, you'd hit a small shed, and pop out the other side in a speedboat! This is where you'd encounter the fifth enemy: The Speedboat. The Speedboat dropped mines in the water if you were behind it, which you had to dodge or die. If you were in front of the enemy Speedboat, he would fire torpedos of his own.
The Water Zones were intended as sort of a rest break for the player... by the time you'd get there, the road would often be crowded with Road Lords and Switchblades. The only enemies in the Water Zone were Speedboats and Mad Bombers. The Missile and Oil Slick weapons functioned a little differently in the Water Zones - the Missile became a Torpedo, which could be blocked by sandbars (less effective), and the Oil Slick became a Flaming Oil Slick, which would take out Speedboats immediately (more effective). The first few times that the turnoff to the Water Zone came up, it was an option, but later in the game, you'd have to take the turnoff or die... the bridge would be out!

Contrary to some claims, Spy Hunter never ended... you kept playing until you ran out of lives. It would give you extra lives on a preset basis (Every 30,000 points, by default).

The music track for Spy Hunter was Peter Gunn, the theme song for the show of the same name. Supposedly, the designers of Spy Hunter wanted to get the James Bond theme, but were unable to secure the rights... so they went with the next-best thing (which was probably better, anyway).

I don't know what Ninja-Lad was talking about... the controls were deliberately laid out so that your most-used weapon could be used while you were shifting. Perhaps the one he played on was assembled wrong.

The PC version of this was interesting in that you could drive at the same speed as the civilian traffic for ages unmolested by the enemy cars. The bridge out sections were also missing, instead the road would suddenly become incredibly narrow forcing you into the boathouse. As arcade to PC conversions of the time went it was a pretty good version, especially in the light of the dire CGA version of Contra.

If you still want this game it's available in a fairly nice version for the Game Boy Color together with Moon Patrol... all the elements are there in tiny-graphic'd form.

Once you got a bit bored in Spy Hunter, there was always fun to be had trying to bash off the truck that deposited your new cars onto the road.

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