James Bond-inspired cartoon characters have been around as long as the man himself, even inspiring such gaming icons as, um, James Pond. So here comes along another - Agent Squeak, in his own game SPY Mouse, developed by Australian team Firemint, the guys behind the considerably successful Flight Control which has perfected the art of 'just one more go' on several mobile platforms as well as at home. SPY Mouse is currently just on iPhone and iPod Touch, and was reviewed on an iPhone 4, but is it as addictive as its predecessor?
The actual control mechanics of SPY Mouse are quite similar to Flight Control. You have a top-down view of each level (generally a house or building Squeak has infiltrated), and you control Agent Squeak by dragging your finger along the touchscreen, creating a path for him to follow. While this is very responsive, occasionally your finger can block the action as you sketch out a path, but this is problem endemic to the size of the iPhone, and hopefully won't be present if (or when) an iPad version arises. You can change this path at any time and you can make them any length, but the goal is to lead Squeak around the screen to collect blocks of cheese and return them to a mouse hole on the map. Of course, this would all be too easy if the game was that simple, so there are Squeak's deadly enemies placed all around each level - the cats.
Cats come in several varieties, including regular sentries who'll just pace around their own pre-set paths, black cats who move faster, somewhat bafflingly blind cats and ninja cats who throw ninja stars at Squeak. The variety of enemies that are constantly introduced keeps the game feeling challenging, as just one sight of the mouse will send the cats chasing after him. You can use this to your advantage to distract the cats and reach the cheese, and also sometimes send them pouncing straight into a wall. It's all a bit Metal Gear Solid, especially in some of the boss stages that involve staying out of the visual cone of the evil white cat. In addition, thanks to the well-designed levels there's generally several ways around a problem, giving the game a lot of replay value, especially with three 'ribbons' awarded in each stage for achieving a certain requirements (eg. not alerting any guards).
There are also lots of power-ups and secrets to find that keep things fresh and interesting. Occasionally you'll find cracks in the walls that lead to secret areas filled with cheese, but more frequently you'll come across a wealth of items you can use to your advantage. There are red hot chillies to make Squeak run faster, balloons to prevent Squeak from slowing down while he carries cheese, TVs that can hypnotise cats and even robotic mice that can be used to spring mouse traps. All of these add interesting and fun spins to the levels, and figuring out how to combine them when given the opportunity is part of the game's fun. SPY Mouse feels like a puzzle game at heart, which suits the iPhone perfectly.
SPY Mouse has a very clean and colourful presentation that looks wonderful on iPhone 4's retina display. It feels like a cross between Tom & Jerry and Danger Mouse, and the 007-esque music is also well-orchestrated and completely in line with the game's vibe and theme. We do wish that there had been a little more overt integration of the 'spy' theme or James Bond parody, as outside the menu, Agent Squeak doesn't really seem like a member of the mouse secret service, and most of the time his feline arch-nemesis espouses the same mildly-threatening line again and again.
You can add friends who are close by and own the game via a 'Squeak Friends' system, and then tackle challenges with them. Unfortunately, the game doesn't use the more widely accepted Apple Game Center for tracking your achievements and progress, and instead uses EA's propriety Origin system, which works well enough but only serves to fragment your gaming profile. There is also a message that appears a little too often inviting you to buy an update for the game that adds a double-agent cat who can make levels easier once a day, a bit like the Mighty Eagle in Angry Birds. It's fine to have that option available, but the frequent prompts can get a little tiresome.
SPY Mouse is certainly a well-designed portable puzzle game that has plenty of personality and charm. If you're a fan of Flight Control then you'll feel right at home with the control mechanics in this game, and certainly anybody looking for an app with the same level of addictiveness as Angry Birds will find much to enjoy as well. It's a great game to play on the go, and if you own an iDevice it's well worth checking out.