Review: Spy Mouse (Xbox Live)
Now this is more like it! A gaming title which feels at home on a mobile device, that takes into account the nature of modern gameplay, with smart looking graphics and an easy to use (and understand) control system. There's even enough tactics to make the game more than a 'follow the level designer's obvious route' to victory. Yes, I rather like Spy Mouse. How much? Let's find out.
Version Reviewed: 188.8.131.52
Shall we start with an awkward area (for some), and the availability of Spy Mouse. It's a Nokia exclusive title, so although you might be able to see it in the Windows Store, don't try to download it for your HTC or Samsung Windows Phone, its not going to happen.
As it stands just now, the same is true of Windows Phone 8 devices, as Spy Mouse is one of the applications that is having issues with WP7 and WP8 compatibility. Now we've mentioned them, let's put them aside and move on to Spy Mouse itself.
This is a game that stands out on its own, although there is a certain heritage on show. Developed by Firemint, there are echoes of one of their previous successful titles. Yes, Flight Control's line-drawing based movement is the main control interface here in Spy Mouse.
Backing up, your goal is to steer the titular rodent around a house, picking up cheese, and escaping back to your main mouse hole before the cast of cats catch up with you. Also dotted around the house are toy mice (which can help you defuse mousetraps and grab the tempting cheese after setting off the traps), smaller mouse holes to help you move around the houses without feline trouble, cracks in the walls leading to secret areas, cheese crumbs for bonus points, and classified documents telling you what sort of enemy cats you can encounter in later levels.
This is where the 'spy' part of Spy Mouse comes in. By creating an espionage character, the Firemint team can do a lot more work with the presentation of the game. The opening splash video feels a bit like the Bond credits, there's a spotlight shrinking and zooming as you start (and restart) each level, and like Bond, while you can be injured, you don't actually die and have to restart the game, you can keep attempting each level until you solve it.
This step is vitally important, especially if you need to have 100% completion in your gaming life. Each level of Spy Mouse has four goals. The first is the simplest, which is to grab all the cheese, drag it to the master mouse hold, and finish the level. That allows you to advance through the game. The additional goals might be 'finish the level without being spotted by the patrolling cats', 'finish the level in under ten seconds', or the challenging 'finish the level by drawing just one line.'
These goals are per level, and are independent of the Xbox Live achievements, which are of a more global nature, but just as challenging.
To move your mouse you simply draw a path with your finger from the mouse to where you want it to go. If you're up to the challenge, you can thread this through the house, over the cheese, the pick-ups, and to the master mouse hole in one swish of your finger. Other levels will demand you draw a line to a mid-point to wait for the right moment to move, or to head into a smaller mouse hole to wait and emerge somewhere else when the time is right.
Given everyone has played Flight Control (I assume), this is a control system that's both familiar and well suited to the game. There are a few occasions on the smaller screened Lumia 800 where you need to be very careful if you are running up to a wall edge to be on the right side of the wall, otherwise I've no complaints about the fine control on offer - the times where the route was not perfect tended to be when I was trying to draw a route very quickly. Keeping a cool head is vital to get all the cheese on offer.
I love that Spy Mouse forces you to vary the tactics you use. Sometimes stealth and hiding just out of sight are the order of the day, where other levels demand you run as fast and as direct a route as you can right under the whiskers of the opposition. Exhilarating stuff.
The only point I would raise as feeling a little bit out of kilter is the 'end of section' bad guy. This Blofeld-like figure sees you stopping the hunt for cheese and attempting to take out mechanised monsters, in specialist evil lairs you have to infiltrate. It's a bit of a mental change of gears, and frankly not as much fun as the regular levels. Frankly I'm enduring these boss levels to carry on playing the regular levels.
I also find it intriguing that the demo ends just as you are set to play the first Boss level, with no indication that the gameplay is about to change for one level. On going to the purchased version, you are suddenly playing a different game to the one you thought you had purchased.
Spy Mouse is a great game and I like that the developers have really pushed the envelope as much as they have. Maybe it was pushed a little too far with the inclusion of a Boss level, but they are inventive additions and if you are playing in a long gaming session then it's a nice change of pace. I do think that most people are going to play this in short burst, perhaps one level at a time, but attempting it five or six times to get all the level achievements. It's not surprising that Firemint have got a mobile game suited to mobile game play, but it's really nice to have it all working in a single package. It's a deft mix of puzzle, tactics, and arcade action, with great graphics and easy controls. Definitely recommended.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at