Spy Hunter

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North American arcade cabinet.

Spy Hunter is a spy-themed driving scrolling shooter developed and published by Bally Midway for the arcade in 1983 and later ported to about a dozen platforms. It's the first game in the Spy Hunter series. The game was designed on the theme of a spy trying to escape in a sports car from the goons of a villain. You use common spy weapons like under the hood machine guns, oil slicks, and smoke screens, while the goons try to drive you off the road, slash your tires, shoot you, and even drop bombs on you!


I first saw Spy Hunter in an arcade and watched the attract demo. Occasionally, I would see someone play the game, but I never saw anyone who was any good at the game. My first memory of the NES port was my step-brother showing how you could purposely crash on the far right of the screen and continue driving off road for quite awhile. I played the game enough to get good at it, but never really loved it.

I own the game on the NES. At my peak, I was good enough to play essentially indefinitely. I remember once playing for a very long time, I was well passed the point where all four enemy cars can be on the screen at once (happens around 150,000 points) and I still had three lives in reserve before I eventually got bored and quit. I would consider this game "beat" by exceeding the max score, but I don't have the patience.


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Best Version: Arcade

— This section contains spoilers! —


  • The game uses all the common spy tropes, oil slicks, smoke screens, tire slashers, etc.
  • Using the Peter Gunn Theme was a good way to add to the spy atmosphere. Too bad they didn't get the rights to the James Bond theme.
  • The arcade cabinet uses a cool steering wheel, gas pedal, and shifter to be more car-like.
  • Beginning each game with a stretch of time where the player can't get a game over was a great way of ensuring even novices would get their money's worth.
  • The game has a decent variety of environment changes. The backgrounds change palette, there is a river section, and even a snowy roads section. The NES port adds new graphics to each section and even a beach area.
  • The designers of the arcade game used an interesting trick of halving the background resolution to speed up animation. This wasn't used in home ports which were stuck using low resolution for the whole game.
  • The game cleverly increases its difficulty by slowly adding more enemy vehicles onto the screen at once.


  • There isn't much to do in the game. There are four weapons, and six enemies. That's it.
  • There is only a single tune which plays throughout the whole game.
  • There is no ending to the game, you just drive until you lose all your lives, and the only goal is to amass points.
  • The arcade game's background graphics are pretty bad. The trees are mirrored and new sections are nothing but a palette swap, and it's very obvious when it happens. At least the NES port swaps the palettes when the player is over a bridge so it isn't noticeable.
  • Most of the ports lack an obvious pause feature.
  • The smoke screen is a difficult weapon to safely use in the NES port because, when it hits civilian drivers, and when they crash it prevents you from gaining points (unlike in the arcade version).


  • The NES port botched the river section making it much harder than the driving sections. Luckily, you're not forced to enter it like you are in the arcade original, so you can just avoid it entirely.


Box Art





Review - NES Works.
Game Play - Apple II.
Game Play - Arcade.
Game Play - Atari 2600.
Game Play - Atari 8-bit.
Game Play - BBC Micro.
Game Play - ColecoVision.
Game Play - Commodore 64.
Game Play - NES.
Game Play - PC Booter.
Game Play - ZX Spectrum.



At the title screen, hold right + A + B + select and press start to begin the game with all three weapons. And, if you can make it through the timer without dying you'll get 9 free lives. You can easily do this by accelerating briefly and then breaking and waiting for the time to run out on the side of the road.

Due to the way the game handles road side collisions, you can safely drive off the road as long as you don't turn after exiting a weapons trailer. You won't get points, but it may help you avoid more difficult areas.


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