Sneakiness: F [Caught 607 Times]
Spy Grade: Novice
Above, I’ve listed a summary of my stats after completing Mission 3 of Master Spy, developer TURBOGUN’S new PC game about seeing how many times you can die within the span of one minute. I spent 1 hour and 32 minutes making my way through the headquarters of an elite group of assassins you meet on your journey as the titular Master Spy, and I died 607 times before I finally made it to the end of the third mission (“Getting caught” is the equivalent of dying in Master Spy). Not the end of the game, mind you, but the end of the third mission. The game houses five missions in total — with ten stages in each of those missions — and I “got caught” 1686 times by the time I saw the end credits roll if you’re keeping track. Needless to say, Master Spy is hard…really, really hard. However, to those of you who love punishing and precise platformers, you could do much worse than to spend an afternoon with the insanely addicting Master Spy.
Title: Master Spy
Developer: TURBOGUN (Kris Truitt & John Coxworth), @TURBO_GUN
In Master Spy, you play as a…um…master spy who goes by the name of… Master Spy. A reel full of top secret information concerning some newfangled hush-hush technology has been stolen, and Master Spy’s been hired by the poor corporate victims to track down both the reel and the perpetrator of this heinous act of espionage. The game’s Steam page proclaims you’ll uncover “a plot of conspiracy and intrigue that thrusts you into a role far greater than your contract promised.” It’s all delivered very tongue-and-cheek; Master Spy is an uber-cool, ever-consummate professional who runs around in a trench coat and ski mask while brandishing a cloaking device. He also constantly smokes cigarettes… through his mask. I love the stylish 8-Bit cutscenes used to deliver the story as well (think Axiom Verge from earlier this year). The story is generally nonsensical, clichéd, and essentially irrelevant to the gameplay focused affair that Master Spy ultimately is, but the narrative is still a good bit of dumb fun and is sure to elicit a smile or two from gamers who enjoy a more lighthearted affair.
Master Spy is obviously a retro-inspired 8-Bit platformer, and developer TURBOGUN is all in when it comes to playing up this aspect of the game. In addition to the aforementioned story and cutscenes, the game is played with a d-pad (unless you’re an inhuman keyboard wizard, a good controller is absolutely necessary to enjoy this game) and two buttons — one for activating your cloaking mechanism and one for jumping. Basically, if this game were to be released on the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) today, it could easily be played with an NES controller. This all plays into the charm of Master Spy — a trait which the game oozes in spades — and it’s one of the game’s most endearing features.
Did I mention this game is hard? Like, controller-throwing, wall-punching, self-mutilating, earth-cursing hard? Master Spy is not for the platforming-weak-at-heart. There are some brutally difficult sections in this game in which you’ll die upwards of 100 times trying to make it to the next checkpoint. That said though, Master Spy is actually brilliantly designed. It takes one simple mechanic — cloaking yourself so that you’re invisible to enemies, cameras, security devices, and the like — adds in a jump button, and creates an entire game experience around this one idea. New enemies, obstacles, and environments are constantly being added to the mix as you progress through the game’s myriad of missions and stages. Once you’ve figured out how to bypass security guards, animals — who can smell you, nullifying the ability to cloak yourself to stay hidden — get thrown into the mix. You know how to get past those surveillance cameras? Let’s see how you handle motion detectors now. Cloaking yourself significantly slows your movement as well, adding even more strategy to the mix as you try to determine when and when not to go invisible. Even though you’re technically only cloaking and jumping your way through each stage, the game always feels fresh as you attempt to tackle each of the new challenges thrown your way.
In a game of this nature, pinpoint controls are paramount, and Master Spy mostly delivers on this front. The ultra-precise platforming requires split-second timing and quick reflexes, and I never felt like the game was working against me in this respect; every timeI got caught, it was my fault. I utilized a DualShock 4 plugged into to my PC’s USB port when playing the game, and it performed admirably. My one qualm control-wise is with the double jump mechanic. First of all, I didn't even know you could double jump! It wasn't until Mission 4.10 (the game’s 40th stage) that I finally figured out double jumping was an option as it was necessary to progress to the next level. (Master Spy doesn't hold your hand; you are dropped into the game with no tutorial and left to fend for yourself.) The timing of the double jump always felt a little off to me, and it was something I could never quite get my head around when playing. Thankfully, it's not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, and with a little practice, it at least becomes manageable.
I want to make special mention of the game’s soundtrack by André Allen Anjos/RAC. It is simply fantastic. A pulsing, intoxicating mix of modern disco and electronica with just enough of a “spy feel” to it to tie into the subject matter, I couldn’t get enough of it as I was repeatedly dying over and over. It’s sure to be one of the game’s most understated and overlooked aspects, but in a game based around challenge and retrying stages again and again, a good soundtrack goes a long way in keeping you engaged in the proceedings. This one warrants an immediate purchase.
Master Spy really surprised me. When I first started playing it, I didn’t think the concept and gameplay mechanics would be enough to hook me, but I was totally wrong. Early frustration quickly turned to obvious addiction as I couldn’t stop hitting “A to retry.” The game is exquisitely designed, taking a simple core gameplay mechanic and designing an ever-evolving, complete game experience around it. Its extreme challenge will be too much for many, but to those who enjoy a challenging, pick-up-and-play-platformer with fast-paced, addicting gameplay, Master Spy should be the next title in your Steam queue.
A review copy of Master Spy was graciously provided to us by developer TURBOGUN
- Fast-paced, addicting gameplay
- Fantastic soundtrack
- Brilliantly designed
- Stylish aesthetic
- Brutally difficult at times
- The double jump mechanic