It's been a while since I did one of these, huh? It's time for a look at the many sprites that over the years have tried to capture the angry, hairy essence of the most famous X-Man of them all - Wolverine. Is Wolverine the most famous X-Man, actually? He must be, unless you count Cyclops' famous amounts of lame-ness. Not that it matters, I didn't choose Wolverine because of his fame or even because he's named after a species of jacked-up weasel - I chose him because he's been in a hell of a lot of videogames. Games such as these ones!

The Uncanny X-Men, NES, 1989

Not off to a great start there, Logan. The Uncanny X-Men is a dismal, almost-unplayable top-down shooter / beat-em-up that can count "turning Wolverine into an unrecognisable hunchback" amongst its many crimes. I'm trying to come up with a witty way to describe what this looks like, but I'm struggling because it doesn't look like anything apart from maybe a Brundlefly-style teleporter accident involving a panda and a slug. Panda-Slug, now there's an X-Man just waiting to be born: the speed of a slug coupled with the sexual inadequacies of the panda species! Hang on, I think that's me.

Wolverine, NES, 1991

Wolverine gets his own game, and an upgraded sprite to match, in Software Creations' 1991 action platformer. It's not a bad sprite, either! A little short on detail, and the lack of a vibrant yellow in the NES colour palette means that he appears to have bare arms and legs, but otherwise not bad. Certainly far superior to the last one. Go on, look at that first sprite again. At least this one is clearly Wolverine, even if he is down to two claws on each hand.

X-Men, arcade, 1992

Here come the heroes, to save the world from destruction. They are...kinda lanky, and with a faintly cheerful expression. Look at that glimmer in Wolverine's eye, he's just seen how many enemies there are for him to get his claws into and he knows it's going to be a wonderful day. He might go for ice cream when it's all over, just to treat himself.
Other than that, what else can you say about the sprites from Konami's beloved arcade beat-em-up? They're just well-crafted, characterful and bursting with comic-book energy. Oh, and Wolverine's ear-flaps could double as an emergency hang-glider for those daring clifftop escapes.

"You'd tell me if my mask looked silly, right guys? Guys?"

Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade's Revenge, SNES / Megadrive, 1992

That's the SNES sprite on the left and the Megadrive one on the right, although it doesn't really matter because they're almost identical. Dare I say that the ol' Canucklehead is looking a little doughy here? Too much beer, not enough hand-to-hand combat in the Alaskan wilderness against a man who named himself after a prehistoric cat.
It's the head that threw me, though. He seems more bird-like than anything else, the yellow nose-piece looking like a beak and his noggin in general looking like it belongs to a super-powered mutant rooster. No such problems in the Game Boy version of Arcade's Revenge, mind you...

...because he looks like he's pretending to be Batman. Maybe this is actually a game based on Amalgam Comics, a DC / marvel crossover publication that compressed two characters into one - in Wolverine's case, he was merged with Batman to become Dark Claw. So, that's Batman, but with Wolverine's mutant abilities. And to think I used to complain about Superman being too powerful.

X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse, SNES, 1994

Okay, now we're talking! Capcom's SNES ­X-Men title features a vibrant, chunky Wolverine who looks like he could have stepped straight from the animated series and into your Super Nintendo. Fine, so his claws maybe look more like paper fans than flesh-shredding instruments of death and yes, his bulbous legs maybe give the impression that he's wearing parachute pants, but given what has come before it I think this is a good effort. Or at least I though it was - the more I look at it, the more grossly oversized his legs seem. More of a mutant kangaroo than a wolverine, this one.

Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems, SNES, 1996

Capcom obviously didn't mind, because they reused the exact same sprite two years later in War of the Gems.

X-Men: GamesMaster's Legacy, Game Gear, 1995

The GamesMaster's legacy: the longest-running stint as the presenter of any TV show ever, countless people initiated into the wonders of astronomy, kickass xylophone playing. Sorry, that's a different GamesMaster.
Not much to say here, because this is a solid Spriteverine, but it does make me wonder about the length of Wolverine's eye-mask-ear-flap things. Are there guidelines somewhere about how long they have to be? Because this in this iteration they're stubby and vestigial. Maybe they get longer the angrier Wolverine gets, and as you can see by his sensitive blue eyes the particular Wolverine is in a lovin' mood tonight.

X-Men: Mojo World, Master System, 1996

This sprite's pretty much the same as the last one, but I included so that I could draw your attention to the fact that Master System games were still being released (in Brazil, at least) in 1996. To put that into perspective, the Playstation was first released for sale in 1994.
One last word on this sprite - stand up straight, Logan! You're setting yourself up for a future of chronic back pain! What? Oh yeah, the healing factor. Never mind, then.

Wolverine: Adamantium Rage, Megadrive, 1994

Can adamantium rage? Wolverine seems to think so, and I suppose he'd be an expert on the subject. He certainly looks angry, although his (adamantium) rage is tempered with the faintest hint of a smile. Say what you will about Wolverine, but when it comes down to it he really loves his work.
Good proportions on this one, too - compact and muscular without looking like a hairy boulder.

X-Men 2: Clone Wars, Megadrive, 1995

Sadly, those proportions went out the window then it came to Headgames' 1995 effort, set in an alternate universe where Wolverine's mutant abilities caused his torso to grow wildly out of control while his wrists and ankles took on the dainty proportions of a Victorian street urchin. Look at his right foot, I think he's actually using a peg-leg. Buying shoes must be a nightmare for him.
That was a bit harsh. X-Men 2 actually looks really nice in motion, even if that motion seems like it should end in ruptured Achilles tendons.

X-Men: Wolverine's Rage, Game Boy Color, 2001

Nope, I'm sorry, but that's Bananaman. Even his claws look like bananas.

Various Capcom Fighting Games, Multiformat, 1994 onwards.

Finally for today there's Capcom's take on Wolverine that first appeared in Children of the Atom and, with the release of Marvel vs. Capcom Origins, was still popping up in 2012. When I think of Wolverine, this is what I think of. Not any of his comic book appearances, not even his incarnation from the X-Men animated series, but his hunched-over, feral, let's-go-bub look used in Capcom's Versus series. That's probably why it's my first mental port of call when Wolverine is mentioned - it's just because Capcom put him in a ton of games without changing his sprite. Lazy? Not really, it helps to speed up development time and plus he looks great.The best on this list by a long margin, even with his strangely flexible claws that wiggle around during his idle stance like grass blowing in the wind. Really sharp grass that'll slice you up. That stuff you get on dunes at the beach, then.

So that's that - Wolverine through the ages, and by "ages" I mean "from 1989 to 2001, not including re-releases." He's had some low points, like The Uncanny X-Men, (although frankly that game wasn't kind to any of the featured characters,) but mostly he's fared pretty well, helped by the fact that Capcom and Konami brought many of his videogame adventures to life. And hey, at least he's not Dazzler.



Once more I trudge ahead, heavy-shouldered and grey of beard, to bang away at the endless granite mountain that is the licensed home computer game, hoping to unearth a shard of something interesting but mostly just coming away with bruised childhood memories and a growing contempt for "the old days." Which is it going to be today, hmm? Well, let's find out as I look at Melbourne House's 1987 Commodore 64 cash-in Inspector Gadget and the The Circus of Fear!

Or INSPECTOR GADGET AND THE CIRCUS OF !!FEAR!!, as the casette cover has it, giving it the air of an email about possible clown terrorists forwarded to me by my grandmother.
First, a quick overview of the Inspector Gadget cartoon series for those of you who don't remember it or never knew it to begin with, and as it first aired thirty years ago that might well be quite a few of you. Thirty years! Sorry, sorry, back on track.
Inspector Gadget is a bumbling, Clouseau-eque detective who has many adventures while trying to scupper the fiendish schemes of the villainous organisation M.A.D. While the utterly oblivious Gadget blunders his way through a series of almost-fatal scrapes, the crime is actually solved by his young niece Penny and their dog Brain. The international terrorist organisation is repeatedly foiled by a nine-year-old girl, Gadget takes all the credit and oh, did I mention that Gadget is a highly advanced cyborg whose body houses an array of technological upgrades that make Robocop  seem like a man in an iron lung? Because he is. He's got extendable limbs, a phone in his hand, the ability to inflate like a beachball which I'm sure the designers had a very good reason for including in a robot policeman... and of course, they never work properly when Gadget wants them to. That's the humour of the show, you see.
It's colourful and goofy and full of the usual cartoon action, elevated above the average by Don Adams' work as Gadget's voice. Think on that as you gaze upon the title screen of the Commodore 64 game.

It may be a little stark, but, erm... it is stark, and empty, and so is the rest of the game. I'm gonna go ahead and tell you right now that all the things you might associate with Inspector Gadget - Penny, Brain, Dr. Claw, Chief Quimby, Gadget's super-cool transforming policecar, mishaps, pratfalls, exploding orders, fun - none of those things are in the game. The only things in The Circus of Fear that are definitely taken from Inspector Gadget are the hero himself and one other thing that'll I'll discuss later. Yes, I know, Penny and Brain are even featured on the cover but that's the only place you'll be seeing them.
So, what does this Inspector Gadget game actually include instead of, you know, anything from Inspector Gadget?

Roll up, roll up, and experience all the fun and thrills of the circus! Gaze in wonder at the rotting, moth-eaten Big Top! Thrill at the large Iron Cross used to decorate the center ring! No, we don't have elephants or a human cannonball but feast your eyes on Gloopzo, the Living Oil Slick!

I think that thing's actually supposed to be a seal. A broken, mutated, oh-please-God-let-its-torment-end seal. Honk honk!

Okay then, the gameplay, and I'm not sure what kind of game you'd describe it as. A puzzle game, maybe, where the only puzzle is to figure out what the hell you're supposed to be doing? The icons at the bottom bring to mind a graphic adventure, but that's not really what's going on here either. For the first half of the "action," I'd have to describe Inspector Gadget as a "rub-up-against-the-scenery-and-press-fire-em-up."

You'll notice that the bottom of the screen is filled with empty spaces and a "look" command. The empty spaces are reserved for Gadget's, well, gadgets - at some point he lost his robotic arms and legs, his gun, his helicopter hat and his inflatable coat, which does at least sound like something that Gadget might do. Seriously, it's difficult to overstate just how much of an utter moron Gadget is. Your first task is to find your missing equipment, which is randomly located throughout the circus, placed invisibly in the backgrounds. Fifty percent of the game is spent pressing against anything that isn't just a plain wall and pressing fire in the hopes that you'll uncover a missing gadget.

Here I went through one of those blue doors and found a small stone cabin that makes a mockery of the circus' topography. The main circus tent is hardly vast, made up of only ten or twelve screens that form a closed loop, with several of these charming mountain getaways somehow bolted onto the outside. Maybe they were already there when the circus came to town and M.A.D. just pitched the Big Top around them.
Never mind their relaxed relationship with the laws of physical space, though - by searching that dresser while a silent and immobile bearded lady looked on, I found a pair of binoculars! I know it doesn't sound as exciting as rollerskates that pop out of your feet or a head-mounted helicopter, but the binoculars are very important, as we shall see later.

That's half of the gameplay, right there. Brush up against everything that's not a striped wall, tapping the fire button. Melbourne House essentially created a "looking for your keys after a drunken night out" simulator and slapped a cartoon license on it.
The only impediment to Gadget's hunt for his missing body parts are the enemies that patrol the various screen, and I do mean patrol: walking back and forth is their only offensive option. If you touch an enemy, you lose thirty seconds from your remaining time and you're warped back to the starting screen. The enemies are at least consistent with the circus theme: we've already seen the seals and the bearded ladies, and there are also dwarves and lions. I think.

They're either small lions, or dogs that have wedged their muzzles into a pencil sharpener at some point in the past. The lions behave the same way as all the other enemies, doing nothing but pacing back and forth along their patch of the screen. They are circus animals, after all. They've probably had the will to do anything else long since whipped out of them.

After a while, you'll have collected all of Gadget's parts. Except you won't have, because there's always one empty space where Gadget's hat should be. I know it's supposed to be his hat, because you're shown what fills each slot when you start a new game, but after playing through The Circus of Fear five or six times and frantically grinding Gadget along every available surface as though he were the world's most dedicated circus-based sexual deviant, I never once managed to find the hat. As far as I can tell, it's simply not there. Don't feel too disheartened, though. Of the five items you can collect, only two of them are actually required to finish the game and the hat isn't one of them. But what do your gadgets do?

Go go Gadget legs! Using the legs makes our hero's torso hurtle upwards, the slimy pink mess of his intestines trailing from his severed midsection.

"Wowsers! The agony is unbearable!"
Not really, they're just telescopic legs that lift you up to the high-wire.

That's all the legs do. They bring you to this pointless screen where a midget advances toward you along the tightrope. There are three possible outcomes here. One, the midget runs into you and you're teleported back to the start. Two, Inspector Gadget draws his pistol and guns the midget down in cold blood, leaving him trapped on the high wire unless he has his coat, in which case three, you can inflate your coat to float back down.

He looks like he's wearing an inept foil swan as a tutu, but at least he's safe and sound.
Let's recap what the legs and the coat do, then. They allowed me to pointlessly climb up to the high wire, shoot a midget and then float back down. Just so we're clear.

The gun is an honest-to-goodness no-foolin' gun. You can shoot the enemies with it. This is a game where Inspector Gadget can cap a lion. You can go on a rampage, running through the circus with a gun in your hand, shooting women and seals. I mean, if there were clowns in this circus then it'd be understandable but no, Gadget's carnival of death is only open to seals, lions, women with facial hair and the occasional dwarf. That's hardly in keeping with the original cartoon, is it? Never fear, Gadget doesn't end up with the blood of the innocent smeared across his cybernetic hands for long: once you leave a screen and come back, anyone/thing you've shot will be alive again as though nothing has happened. The animals are still horribly deformed, of course, but at least they're not riddled with bullets.

That just leaves the binoculars and the arms, and that's when you get into the second half of the game. Once you've got those two items, you can start arresting the M.A.D. agents, but first you have to find them. This is done by using the binoculars near an enemy. Yes, I know there was already a "look" command available but these agents are masters of disguise and nope, I'm sorry, I can't really justify this one. Binoculars? Really? Not even a magnifying glass, which Inspector Gadget is shown using many times in the show? You're going with binoculars. Great.
The binoculars, then. Use them on a screen with an enemy present, and if that enemy is a M.A.D. agent, then the binoculars' icon will change to read MAD. Yes, that lion is a M.A.D. agent. It must be true, my magic binoculars told me so. Maybe that's why the lions looks so bizarre: they're really just two of Dr. Claw's goons in a terrible lion costume.

The next step is to use your arms to capture the terrorist / king of the jungle. It's easy, just stand in front of the lion and press fire. It seems that Gadget's arms incorporate some technology borrowed from fellow Eighties pop-culture icons the Ghostbusters, because rather than carrying an angry lion around at arm's length, Gadget compresses it into some kind of handy carrying-case.

Convenient, huh? No reading of rights, no arrest procedures, just a lion crammed into a portable miniature prison - a prison that I couldn't get rid of. The MAD block stuck to me no matter what I did, hovering by my side like the eternal spectres of those I have wronged (the many lions I shot, for starters) and preventing me from using any of my items. All I could do was wander the tiny, endlessly looping map, fruitlessly searching for a way to remove the MAD icon until I eventually ran out of time and got a game over.

I nearly gave up. The game certainly wasn't giving me any hints and even the internet didn't seem to have any answers, but for some reason I ended up trying again. Maybe it was foolish loyalty to a cartoon I loved as a kid. Maybe it was because I was feeling too lazy to find another game to write about. Maybe I'm just an idiot. Whatever the reason, I once again entered the Circus of Fear, recovered my scattered body parts and grabbed a lion.
This time, through the time-honoured method of pressing fire in every conceivable location, I managed to ditch the MAD marker.

One of the rustic cabins has no enemies in it. If you press fire while you're in that particular cabin, the MAD agent disappears from your hand. That's it. That's Gadget's plan for rounding up these criminals - stick them all in a room with a roaring fire and no windows, the rolling green hills of freedom clearly visible through those holes in the walls. Sadly, this is the part of the game that most closely resembles the logic of the cartoon.
All you have to do to finish the game is capture six M.A.D. agents and deposit them in the holiday chalet.

Done and done. That's the ending. I think it's the worst ending I've ever seen. It's almost identical to the "you failed" screen, just with a couple of words changed and a few more colours. At least Melbourne House were consistent when it came to the lack of effort put into this game.
And what a game it was too. A really bad game, a lazy game, a game with all the ephemeral pointlessness of a complimentary pack of airline tissues.

I'm not sure where to start when it comes to the problems that beset Inspector Gadget and the Circus of Fear, but let's begin with a basic one - moving Gadget around the screen. Left and right on the joystick move him left and right, that's fine, all is well with the universe. What do you think up and down do? Move him up and down? Wrong answer. Instead, pressing up moves Gadget diagonally up and to the right, and down takes you down-left. Bizarre. I think it's supposed to be an attempt to simulate perspective, but all it does is make it extremely awkward to do something as simple as walk up the bloody screen. If you want to walk straight up, your best option is to rapidly alternate between moving up-right and left in a jerky, twitching mess of poor animation and flailing pixel legs.

Do I even have to mention that the collision detection is atrocious? Of course it is, with some enemies letting you overlap them as you walk past but the bearded ladies zapping you back to the start if any of your pixels so much as brush against their hirsute forms. The enemy placement is a nightmare too - this is a flip-screen game, and the enemies are frequently located right at the very edge of the next screen, giving you no way to see where they are and no chance to avoid them when you move on to the next area.

Even worse than the technical issues are the design decisions. Where the hell is Gadget's hat? Why bother providing the other items if you only need the binoculars and the arms? The only challenge in the game comes from figuring out what the hell you're supposed to be doing, because there's sure as hell no help from the game itself, and once you have figured out the game's arcane secrets and completed it once there is literally no reason to ever play it again. There isn't even a score. I don't mean that there's no high-score table for you to try to beat, I mean there's no score at all. I don't recall ever seeing a Commodore 64 game before that didn't have some kind of points tally. This game really is quite remarkable.
The lameness of this game is further compounded when you learn that Melbourne House were working on a completely different Inspector Gadget game, an on-foot racing game / obstacle course with some actual gameplay.

It was apparently completed, but then they scrapped it and released Circus of Fear instead. I haven't played this lost Inspector Gadget game, but I feel confident about saying that it's better than this one.
Even after all this disappointment, there remains one reason to at least load this game up in the first place - the title screen music. Yes, much like Bat Cat there's a piece of audio that shines out from the gloom, and it's a C64 rendition of the famous Inspector Gadget theme tune.

Notice I said "load the game up," not "play it," because this music is only present on the title screen and not in game. Simply get to that point, sing "go, Gadget, go!" at the appropriate times and never, ever press the space bar to start. Trust me, it's not worth it.



"Do you expect me to play an action-adventure arcade game?"
"No, Mr. Bond unnamed secret agent, I expect you to play four of them!"
And that, in a nutshell is S.P.Y. Special Project Y.

Released in 1989 by Konami, S.P.Y. Special Project Y is the tale of two men who have developed a gun that fires jalapeƱo chilis instead of bullets. That certainly sounds like a special project, alright.

Not really - as this shot from the attract mode makes clear, it's a Bond rip-off / homage (depending on how generous you're feeling) that's been run through the prism of Japan's arcade sensibilities. There's not much in the way of story, or even any indication that these guys are spies and not just bloodthirsty mercs: there's certainly no espionage or intelligence-gathering here. I guess they just reached their twenty-fifth special project, saw that the acronym was "spy" and set out for adventure. Lucky for us we didn't start at Special Project A, that was just a series of massages, pedicures and hot rock treatments.

Your orders come in via high-tech wristwatch that can apparently receive telegrams. If you were trying to save money by abbreviating your message, you could have probably left out the "threat to peace" bit. Armed nuclear warheads rarely promote togetherness and unity.
So, your mission is to infiltrate the enemy base and stop the nuclear bomb. Like all good international criminal organisations, your opponent's base is located on a heavily-guarded island. How do you get to the island? You Space Harrier your way over there, of course!

Subtlety levels are low with this one, folks. The villains obviously either knew this secret agent was on his way, or he just happened to arrive as the troops were in the middle of jetpack practise. Eitehr way, it shows a lack of forward planning that doesn't bode well for the rest of the game.

So yeah, this is a lot like Space Harrier except not particularly good. The joystick moves our hero aroud the screen, and you can fire at the enemies with the (wait for it) fire button. When I say "at" the enemies, I mean "in their general direction" - the main problem with this stage is that it's overly difficult to get your bullets to go where they need to be. They seem to travel roughly towards the centre of the screen no matter how you manipulate the joystick, which isn't very helpful when the enemies like to congregate right at the bottom of the screen to take potshots at you.
The odds are evened a little by collecting the extra weapons that the orange-clad enemies drop. There's a rapid-fire machine gun and a shotgun that fires in a horizontal spread, as well as a "Fire Ball" that comes in a floating attache case and destroys everything on-screen when activated.
To recap - this secret agent is approaching his mission objective by flying in on a jetpack, shooting hundreds of men and setting off small nuclear explosions. Let's just hope the troops on the ground don't have radar or binoculars or ears.

Before you can land, there's a boss to dispose of. It's a helicopter that has severly diminished its own attacking power by refusing to point directly at out hero, instead choosing to drift through the clouds side-on. Maybe it's shy or something.
Konami seem to have decided that "restraint" is a quality reserved for the weak, and so the helicopter disgorges an endless stream of flying minions while simultaneously firing enough rockets at you to dislodge the very Earth itself from orbit. Hopefully you've collected a better gun, because your default weapon has the stopping power of a light spring shower and you'll be overwhelmed quicker than you can say "maybe I shouldn't have flown directly toward the enemy base like a vengeful, coked-up albatross". Still, you can continue as often as you like, so eventually you'll wear down the boss and clear stage one.

Quickly, but with caution, huh? Nope, sorry, this guy only has one setting and it's bloody rampage.
Stage one's sub-Space Harrier antics were a little underwhelming, but fear not because stage two is a completely different game altogether!

Now Special Project Y is a beat-em-up, and I gotta say it's a change for the better. It might just be my fondness for the genre talking, but this stage feels a lot more... polished? Sensible? It's definitely not as much of a spray-and-pray kaledioscope of semi-useless gunplay as the opening area, at any rate.
You can punch and kick, and sometimes throw enemies that walk into you although I couldn't get this to trigger with any degree of reliability. One solid kick to the undercarriage is all it takes to dispose of most goons, so "I can kick like a mule" must have been near the top of out hero's CV (just above "some jetpack training" and "light clerical duties").

You get your first proper look at your character, too. He's got something of a Lupin III vibe to him - it's the red jacket that does it - and his white leather boots are a nice touch. Overall, a seven out of ten on the Eighties-Outfit-O-Meter, eight if you assume that's a skinny tie he's wearing.
His lack of preparedness comes back to haunt him, as he's entered the enemy stronghold without a gun. He had one earlier, but I suppose you could argue that one was part of the jetpack apparatus and so his reluctance to smuggle a pistol in down his acid-washed white jeans smacks of raw stupidity. He's in purely on-site procurement mode here, but at east there are plenty of weapons to steal from the orange enemies. As well as basic pistol and machine gun, you can also collect some very handy grenades, although the grenades do promote a strategy of running past as many enemies as possible until there's a mob following you, then hurling your explosives at the assembled throng. I wasn't kidding when I said this guy's switch is permanently flipped to slaughter mode.

For a moment I was worried that the boss was going to be another helicopter, but it turned out to merely be transportation for the actual boss. It's Duke Nukem in a trenchcoat! Duke here must have his mouselook sensitivity turned way down, because the best way to deal with him is to run up behind him, kick him directly in the arse and then jog around to the other side. The boss turns so slowly that you'll have little trouble repeating this over and over like some brutal Benny Hill skit without him being able to draw a bead on you. Think of it as a metaphor for the Duke Nukem franchise as a whole: your character represents quality, and poor old Duke just can't keep up, impotently firing into nothingness.

There's no time to relax, and you're immediately thrown into yet another new genre with a stage directly inspired by Konami's own Devastators. It's similar to the first stage, but now you have to push up on the stick to move forwards and you're locked to the bottom of the screen. It works a little better than the flying stage, mostly because your bullets are easier to aim now that they're restricted to one plane, but it's still not much cop - the scrolling effects are nowhere near as smooth as in Sega's similar titles, and the lack of any cover or evasive manoeuvres means this stage rapidly devolves into a button-mashing contest with a very limited chance of survival. The screen tends to get busy. How busy?

Kinda like this. I'm all for high-octane thrills, but this is a little ridiculous and, frankly, pretty dull. Sure, you actually have a gun during this stage, but so do all the enemies, plus they have attack dogs and those cars that look like military limos. This is what you get for walking up the front drive, you plank. Bond would have seduced a maid, snuck in via her laundry basket and made a quip about "messing up her sheets." You just got run over.

The boss is a man with a rocket launcher, and there's not really much to say about him other than that his rockets will kill you almost instantly and that this screenshot represents one of the rare moments when he wasn't accompanied by a bloodthirsty chorus-line of disposable grunts.

Oh good, some more beat-em-up fun. I know that sounded sarcastic, but honestly the last stage did nothing to convince me that these brawler sections aren't going to be the most enjoyable parts of the game.
One thing I have enjoyed so far is the flow of the levels and the way they all connect in a logical manner. I flew to the island, made my way through the village surrounding the mansion, walked up the garden path and now here I am in these opulent surroundings, kicking a barefoot karate master in the stomach. It's a minor thing, but it beats the usual "city-factory-woodlands-underground computer maniframe" style of disconnected progression.

There are also fat men who can breathe fire. I'm sure I've brought this up before, but why? Why, in almost every side-scrolling beat-em-up that features it, is the ability to breathe fire tied to a high BMI? Is petrol full of calories? Does being overweight grant access to an otherwise unused flame-producing gland? It's such a consistant portrayal that there must a reason behind it, but I have no idea what that reason could be. So I proceed, as I always do, by kicking the fat man so hard that he can't breathe air, never mind fire.

Oh christ, it's a man with a stick! Run!
Sadly, as much as I'd like to scarper, this guy is the boss and I'm trapped with him and his stick. He's very good with his stick, too, and for the first time in the game I felt threatened by a boss. That's the power of kung fu, folks - far superior to rocket launchers and uzis. So I died a few time, mostly because I was hesitant in running up to the boss and kicking him because his attacks can travel further than mine, but overall it was about as generic a boss battle as you could imagine.

The enemy leader doesn't take kindly to underequipped secret agents breaking into his mansion and beating up his army of skilled martial artists, and in a fit of pique he presses a button to blow the place up. He's even got a Blofeld / Dr. Claw (this game is definitely leaning more towards Inspector Gadget than 007) style pet cat!
Actually, on closer inspection I don't think that's a cat.

That's not a cat.
Our hero escapes the explosion by way of a balcony and his jetpack, but instead of another into-the-screen shooting stage, the next area introduces yet another style of gameplay.

A style of gameplay rather akin to Rolling Thunder, a game I seem to be mentioning a lot recently. S.P.Y. is now a single-plane platformer, and your mission is to reach the top of this cliff by jumping up onto the level above you and beating up all the enemies. You can't just climb up there as fast as you like, oh no - each time you reach a new platform, you have to defeat all the enemies that appear before the game will let you proceed. I suppose it's a good job, because otherwise this stage would take roughly twelve seconds to clear.
The sudden appearance of battle-mechs took me aback, equipped as I was with the twin weapons of "nothing" and "sod all," but it turns out that you can just drop down in front of them and pummel in the pilot into unconciousness before they even get a chance to fire. It was nice to feel tough - well, maybe not tough, let's say competent - for once.

At the top of the cliff lurks the boss, or at least he lurks as much as a jeep with metal plates welded to it can lurk. It's an instantly-forgettable opponent with only one attack - firing the laser cannon on the back - but I still think it's my favourite fight in the whole game purely because of that scientist operating the gun. In a game that has been marked by genericness since the opening screens, that scientist fills my mind with a world of possible scenarios that lead to him being out on the battlefield. My prevailing theory is that after years of research and development had culminated in the creation of a cumbersome and slow-firing laser cannon, Herr Doktor refused to let any of these simple-minded fools touch his greatest creation, demanding that it be attached to the back of a truck so he could operate it himself. Herr Doktor is my favourite character in this game.
Oh, and the truck's a snap to destroy: just steal a machine gun and shoot it.

More on-foot shooting in the next stage, and it's no more fun than it was last time. There is at least the addition of corner into the mix, and sometimes you even get to make a decision! Between left or right. With both directions leading to the same place. Truly, choice is an illusion.
Oh, and if you're wondering whether the flow of enemies is as overwhelming as it was last time...

What have I told you minions about driving cars inside the base? Just wait until our supreme overlord hears about this!

Oh good, I was wondering when a ninja was going to turn up, and it's good to see that he's continuing the tradition of all videogame ninjas by wearing the gaudiest, least-camoflauged outfit he could find.
This "shadow" warrior is the toughest boss in the game, thanks to a remarkably sensible attack pattern. He teleports right up into your face while summoning four clones, whacks you while you're shooting at the wrong target and then teleports away again. It's not so much the ninja's attack themselves that grind you down but the fact that what with all his teleporting he's barely on the screen long enough for you to hit him at all, and the endless cannon-fodder enemies have a long, long time to whittle away at your health. The drawback to the ninja's scheme? Sometimes he appears right in front of you, and if you're playing S.P.Y. correctly then you'll constantly be firing, so eventually he'll pop up right in the path of your bullets enough times to see him off and send you on your way to the final stage.

It's another platform climb, with the addition of some tougher female bodyguards and the rare chance to steal a new electricity gun that makes short work of anything that gets in your way. These sections are at least better than the Devastators-type sections, but they the suffer most from the feeling of blandness that permeates the entire S.P.Y. experience.

There's one last bit of brawling to be done, against Jaws. The Bond villain, not the shark. Fighting a giant shark with your fists would show a level of inspiration that this game sadly doesn't possess. There's not much I can do to describe this fight beyond "you punch the guy." Nothing fancy, no special techniques, it's just a slugfest. He doesn't bite anything, but I feel confident in my claim that this guy is inspired by Jaws. Why else would he be wearing those suspenders?

Oh, thank god for that - I've cornered the mastermind at long last. So, what's his move going to be? Giant battle robot? Cunning death trap from which there is seemingly no escape, but there totally is because I'm a secret agent and "inescapable death trap escape techniques" is day-one kindergarten stuff when it comes to spy training?

Oh, you son of a bitch. There's nothing in my arsenal that can combat a rocket-powered recliner, (mostly because I don't have an arsenal,) and the terrorist leader flies away in style and with excellent lumbar support. Oh well, at least I can disarm the nuke and go home now. Mission complete!

Ha ha, nice try, fucko. Nope, the villain has relocated to a different-yet-completely-identical island, and you've got to hunt him down by playing through the entire game again.

I think the difficulty level is increased - there definitely seems to be more enemies about - but otherwise it's exactly the same as before. I actually did much better on the second playthrough, partly because I knew what was coming but mostly because I didn't so much as throw caution to the wind as I did punt caution into a tornado. Paying no heed to my spy's wellbeing seemed to get the job done much faster, and soon I was once again squaring off with the head honcho.

You should have stayed in your rocket-chair, pal. You're mine now.

With one blow, the boss is incapacitated and the game is finally, really, truly complete. I love it when games do that, when they present you with the real final boss who is incredibly weak and only takes one attack to kill. There's a reason they had to build up a whole army, after all.

I am outta there, and not a moment too soon. Shockingly for a Konami game of this vintage, the island doesn't explode. I know the whole point of my adventure was to prevent an explosion, but it still doesn't feel right.
They say too many cooks spoil the broth, and S.P.Y. Special Project Y just goes to show that too many genres makes the arcade action unpalatable. The four different styles included here range from decent (the beat-em-up areas) to the frustrating and tedious, (the shooting sections) but none of them are good. It's obvious that this lack of focus is what drags S.P.Y. down, and Konami could have had a neat little beat-em-up on their hands if they'd focused exclusively on that, but in the end the experience is bitty and unmemorable.

There are some aspects of the game I can appreciate: the music is very nice, and the graphics, while not exactly fizzing with innovation, are at least colourful and stylish. Plus the boss telling you to "Prepare a coffin for yourselves" was almost worth the slog on its own. If you're hankering for some Konami arcade action, though, you can skip this one and play one of the games they really got their teeth into.

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