After reviewing enough games you’ll realize that some games are difficult to define. They don’t meet the requirements to be a perfect gem, and they’re not forgettable either. They fit in a small niche sweet spot which we call cult classics. Assault Spy fits that niche. It’s a game developed by the one man development team, Wazen and published by a publisher who tends to publish niche titles. It’s almost like this game was created in the holy Grail of nicheness.
Assault Spy is an action game similar to the likes of Bayonetta and Devil May Cry. It features a similar grading system that rewards stylistic play over all else. Each stage is separated into a series of rooms which eventually culminates in a boss fight. These rooms each have a set amount of enemies which you must defeat to progress, and these enemies usually come in waves of 2 per room. The enemies in this game are almost all robots, robots with enough diversity to offer a challenge on normal difficulty. As mentioned before the game’s grading system favours style over everything else. You get higher grades for performing more advanced, varied combos, and moves. The highest I got was double S, but I’m sure there’s higher than that.
The game also has two playable characters who each play differently. Asuru, the first of the two, has a play style more inline with what you’d expect from this genre. Its quick, fluid and encourages less direct play. You’ll need to dodge, use decoys and be patient, Striking your opponent when most optimal. Amilia, the other playable character is a bit more direct. Her attacks stun enemies, and some can even grant her temporary immunity to damage. She’s sort of like a bulldozer running through everything in front of her disregarding any opposition. To play as Amilia you’ll need to disregard defense and avoiding adversaries. You’ll need to go head first into battle.
Both Asuru and Amilia use the same fundamental button inputs; however, their unique approaches to combat results in different use of the same inputs. Asuru’s play-style requires more use of the dodge button (square or X), as well as the decoy button. He’s capable of using this to his advantage using a bullet time system for near missed attacks similar to the aforementioned Bayonetta. His decoy also allows him to sneak up behind enemies to land devastating combos or a sweet grapple attack. As for Amelia, she favors use of the attack buttons (Y, B/ triangle, circle).
Asuru also uses these inputs for combo attacks, but unlike him, Amelia’s requires the use of holding them to charge attacks. Amelia also has a literal electrical charge ability which generates from combos or when she takes damage. When used in combination with her charged attacks it allows her to make quick work of any adversary. Both characters also have other special abilities like slowing time or even more powerful attacks. Most of these can be acquired via the game’s unlock system. This takes the form of machines placed near the beginning and end of stages. Using them will allow the player to learn new abilities by spending the points earned throughout the game.
Initially the player only has access to Asaru’s story, with Amelia’s being unlocked after she is first encountered by him. Asaru’s story consists of him and his sidekick/ babysitting job on a spy mission to steal company secrets from a rival company. The two quickly get tied up in a situation much larger than just stealing company secrets when a terrorist takes over the same company they’re infiltrating. Along the way they meet my waifu, “Doctor fitness Yoneda”, and resolve to saving the company while stealing its secrets.
Amelia’s story mirrors Asaru’s story almost identically, except in it she’s a CIA agent, with Asaru’s team as the villains. Her story and his are tied together in an interesting way. During the later section of it you’ll learn why that is. All I’m willing to say is that it includes an interesting twist which I really liked.
Other than the two stories there’s not much in the way of modes. The most we get outside of the stories is boss attack mode and that’s pretty much it.
Bland Yet Stylish…
Visually Assault Spy is what most would consider bland. The environments are mostly black and white with very angular structures. Now though this may be pretty bland indeed, it does fit the spy theme of the game. Empty clean mono coloured environments with few NPCs are what we associate with spies thanks to vintage spy movies. The game’s combat system adds the flair to these environments with particle effects splashing all over the screen. This even happens when you make your character runs, thus canceling the bland look of the environments.
Cut-scenes are a mixture of in game cut-scenes and visual novel styled portraits with text. It’s all heavily anime inspired and might I say beautiful as well. I love the artwork, and wish we got more of it, especially a gallery mode.
Assault Spy is also fully voiced in Japanese with English subs. The voice acting sounds really good, but keep in mind that I know very little Japanese and can’t tell the good from the bad. What I can say is that it sounded good to me, especially when accompanied by the game’s soundtrack.
All in all the game seems very polished, note my use of the word “seems”. You see the game may seem that way at first, but it quickly breaks when applying closer examination. Some button prompts don’t show up when they should, images missing or in the wrong place are common, videos not playing, some moves not working when they should, some voices don’t work sometimes, and then some. The game is filled with these bugs and they popped up quite frequently during Asuru’s story more so than Amelia’s. For her I had two notable moments when bugs affected me. One was a move not working and another was me running off the map, and having to reload the area.
The Saving Grace…
Thankfully there are checkpoints everywhere, and most issues can be fixed by either pressing buttons or reloading the checkpoint. Now I know all of that sounds daunting, but I’m actually impressed. Remember this is a game mainly developed by one guy, and it’s mostly polished to a high quality. The bugs are minor and can be patched out easily enough. The only thing that bothered me about it is that it left early access too early.
When I initially saw Assault Spy in February 2018 at NIS America’s press event I was entranced by it. At the time it was one of only two games we weren’t aware of prior to the event, and of the two it seemed to have the better gameplay experience. After playing both games in question I can confirm it does indeed meet that expectation, but it also falls short of true excellence. Tiny omissions create a suspension in an otherwise great experience.
I wish the story offered more, I wish all the bugs were fixed before leaving early access, most of all I wish there were a gallery mode to watch my waifu some more, but alas this is what we received. It’s nothing bad, but it does leave you wanting more. However, be mindful that this is done by a solo developer with the support of NIS America as the publisher. Taking that into consideration makes the shortcomings of this title much more minor than they are. Assault Spy punches way above its weight, and for that reason I’m fine with recommending it to fans of games in the action adventure.
The Copy of Assault Spy used for this review was provided by it’s publisher, NIS America.