Master Spy – Review
Master Spy is an unashamedly old-school platformer with a stealth twist and a cohesive retro-future aesthetic that is effortlessly cool. It manages to throw in a few laughs whilst ramping up gameplay to a tough as nails intensity, especially for masochists planning to attempt the higher difficulty settings. This game is not for the faint of heart or the quick to anger.
I am not good at Master Spy – not even a little bit. There’s something about precision platformers that saps any semblance of coordination I have. I also haven’t played anything as challenging in the genre since Super Meat Boy, which is an apt comparison given that Master Spy manages to hit a lot of the same sweet spots that made SMB such a success. I’ve been throwing myself at the third area of Master Spy for the past few days and have made very slow headway. I’m sure I’ll keep at it for a while longer, at least until there are some video guides posted after release for me to follow. In this time, I’ve found that, much like the Souls series, Master Spy rewards players who pay attention and have a knack for memorisation.
Developer Turbogun clearly have a lot of passion for their work. Master Spy’s graphics are a gorgeous throwback, returning me to the days I spent playing an Amiga in the bedroom of a friends older brother, shuffling through shoeboxes full of ‘backup’ copies. The colour palette is dead on, with a CRT filter option adding to the authenticity. Sound effects are also accurate for the era the developers are emulating, with eerily familiar beeps and boops providing a pseudo-narration to the text-based dialogue. The soundtrack by André Allen Anjos, better known as RAC, stands out in the best possible way. Many times I found the music softened the blow of my numerous deaths, a small comfort in the misery that is my platforming abilities.
There are two main mechanics in Master Spy – jumping and cloaking. Both are used, often in conjunction, to navigate all manner of obstacles from sentries, ninjas, tigers and dogs to traps, buzzsaws and pressure-sensitive mines. The level design varies greatly as the storyline involves Master Spy travelling around the world to track down stolen data. Challenges are slowly introduced along the way, with no tutorials or handholding – instead, players are expected to pay attention to their surroundings. One early example of my failure in this respect was the invisible ninjas that slowly advance on Master Spy when his back is turned. Not being particularly bright, I thought the ninjas were responding to Master Spy’s presence on their floor and subsequently spent that whole level jumping like a maniac while trying to reach the goal. Memorisation plays a massive part in success; if a run works once, it will work again. This means that there can be a constant feeling of progression even on a single screen, which in turn brings out a puzzle-like quality to Master Spy’s levels – each can be conquered using the tools available, but it may require some creative use of cloaking and movement.
While movement can feel twitchy, rest assured that what will conquer levels is the ability to memorise patterns and master the timing on both jumping and cloaking, the latter of which slows movement when activated. This led to some frantic scenarios in which I had to jump and cloak simultaneously then switch between cloaked and uncloaked in order to move quickly enough to avoid obstacles and enemies. By including only one real ability for Master Spy to use, Turbogun have honed their gameplay down to a fine point and offer a title that gives a real sense of accomplishment and skill increase.
Consisting of over 50 stages, Master Spy has plenty to offer anyone interested in precision platforming with some stealth elements thrown in to boot. While playable with a keyboard, it’s probably in your best interests to use an Xbox controller or equivalent for a smoother gameplay experience.
Stephen del Prado