Don't let the Cartoon Network graphics deceive you. Spyborgs, the two-player co-op brawler from Bionic Games, is hard. Bloody hard.
It's odd, actually, having a game look and sound the way Spyborgs does pummel you into oblivion every 20 seconds. It feels a bit like Ben 10 smashing your face in with Pokemon cards.
In reality the game's got more in common with God of War than a Saturday morning cartoon. The cool combo system, with, shock horror, well implemented motion controls, is easy to learn but hard to master. If you're good, and by good we mean Ninja Gaiden good, you'll be able to rack up a ridiculous combo count well into three figures. The pre-release record, from Capcom's combo guru Derek, is 350.
At the beginning of the game, Spyborgs asks you a simple question: choose from four difficulties – Novice, Casual, Core, and Adrenaline. Our egos drowning out rational thought, we picked core, given that the game says that it's “the mode Spyborgs was designed for” and, well, you know, we're well good at games and stuff. Turns out, not so much. What we failed to read was the small print (not actually small print, just underneath). It says: “Blocking and good use of special moves will be required”. It's not wrong.
For each of the three playable cybernetically enhanced characters, sexy ninja Clandestine, the ape-like tank Bouncer and the gun-toting, chisel-jawed leader Stringer, the controls and the move lists are the same. B is your light attack, C is your heavy attack, Z blocks and A jumps. You begin with the ability to do the game's only two combos: light, light, light, heavy, which ends with a giant club that sends the enemy spiralling through the air and, hopefully, off of ledges, and heavy, heavy, light, which ends with a launcher that can be followed by air attacks and, if you're good, a heavy pound into the ground.
As you work your way through the game's many stages, however, battering countless Too Human-style robot enemies and smashing what feels like millions of destructible crates along the way, you collect red sparks which can be spent on upgrades. Spend some on moves, and you unlock more advanced, indispensable techniques, including dash attacks and dodges. Clandestine’s dash attack is by a country mile the best, simply because it can be cancelled into her weak attack string (see, we told you the combo system is cool).
Spyborgs' hook is the co-op combat. We know this because it's all over the back of the box. By filling your power gauge with orange sparks you can trigger combo finishers. To do it you need to hold block, wait for your character to glow orange, then flick the Wii Remote upwards. This launches the enemy into the air. Then Spyborgs goes all Matrix. The background melts away, revealing a hazy blue environment. Motions are gestured for your character to initiate the first hit – flick the Wii Remote and Nunchuck up, for example. Then it's the second character's turn, finishing off the combo with a downward thrust, perhaps. Normally this is a one hit kill, and perfect for quickly dealing with the game's many strong enemies.
When you're actually playing with another human being, your mate needs to do the second motion, or the first, if he or she's triggered the combo finisher. It's quite good, actually. We found ourselves telling each other when we were going to use our full gauges, and telling each other when to save them. There's tactics in Spyborgs and everything.