I am really quite confused by the release of Spy Bros.: Pipi & Bibi’s DX. This is an obscure arcade game that almost no one would remember, from a “series” that never got a sequel. It was one single arcade release, and then it was relegated to MAME history. Sure, you might open it on a whim after seeing it in a giant ROM dump on one of those less-than-legitimate cocktail cabinets, but there was no nostalgia from any particular audience calling for someone to rescue and re-release this thing. Especially without the porn.
Oh, yes. See, that was a key part of the appeal of the original Spy Bros. It was an out-and-out adult game. We’re not just talking about a bit of fan service here. We’re talking very naked ladies in very provocative positions. The porn had absolutely nothing to do with the game – it was the reward mechanism and nothing else – but it was also kinda the whole point of the thing. You remove that, and it’s like taking the multiplayer out of a fighting game or music out of a rhythm game. Technically the game still exists, and it might even still be entertaining in its own way, but it’s largely missing the point of why people were coming to play it.
Now, in fairness, sanitised Spy Bros. is still an entertaining little game in its own right. It came from Toaplan (the same developers behind the classic Bubble Bobble-beating Snow Bros.), and it shows the company’s heritage in crafting entertaining single-screen platforming action. In Spy Bros., you’ve got the goal of navigating through a building and placing bombs at a series of computer terminals, while avoiding the enemies that patrol around (or possibly shooting them with your laser gun to briefly stun them if they’re too close for comfort). Once the last bomb has been placed, you need to get to the exit, quickly, before they all explode and take you down with them.
Levels are a maze of stairways and elevators, and you do need to be somewhat strategic in the order that you place bombs (you want the last bomb to be reasonably close to the exit so the countdown doesn’t beat you). Character movement is nice and slick, and the music that runs in the background is textbook catchy ‘toon noir in tone. It was a well-designed and made arcade game, is the point.
The new DX release features additional unlockable characters (the “Spy Sisters”) and multiplayer, both cooperative and competitive for up to four players (but local only, and you have to unlock the third and fourth characters first). The developers have gone out of their way to make this a complete package, with pixel art options, CRT filters, and a bunch of different bezels to create the ideal look for the way you want to play this vintage game. For a developer whose only previous work has been a cheap multiplayer minigame compilation (Explosive Dinosaurs), it’s impressive that they’ve been able to track down the license and do such a comprehensive effort to restore and bring new features to the game.
So, in the end, the game doesn’t need that adult content, and it’s worth noting that it’s cut from the PC version as well. This isn’t simply a matter of material being removed to pass the console checks, this was a creative decision on the part of the developer. It’s a genuinely good, if simple arcade game. For the people that buy the Arcade Archives from Hamster, Spy Bros. is pitched at you.
And yet it’s also still so very strange that the remake/remaster/rewhatever is lacking the most identifiable quality of the original game. Whether it’s your kind of thing or not, the art of adults-only games from the 80s and 90s has a unique aesthetic and vintage quality to it now, and Pipi & Bibi’s was of particularly high quality. While it didn’t mean much to the gameplay, it meant a lot to the game’s identity, and it is unfortunate that all that art has been summarily erased from the experience. Especially given that the original is simply unavailable through any legitimate means. All that art – and, again, whether it’s for you or not, it’s art – is going to be lost, and the small niche for Spy Bros. that will be created from this new release will not even be aware that it’s missing such a core part of the experience.
Spy Bros. is fun. It’s by no means a classic arcade title, but it’s the kind of thing that you can pick up and have fun with in short bursts of time, particularly in multiplayer. Some will find the “all-ages” revision to be appealing too, precisely because this is the kind of game that everyone in the family can play, and enjoy together. It won’t last you like some other great arcade games, but it’s also priced nicely as an impulse buy and a chance to discover (half) of one of the more obscure titles in Toaplan’s history.