Spy Mouse review
Firemint is archetypal indie dev made good. Its twelve-year history contains mostly licenses and mobile ports before 2009, when it released two iOS smash hits – Flight Control and Real Racing. Success like that got bigger fish interested, and Firemint's upwards trajectory culminated in EA taking over the studio in May this year. And so we come to Spy Mouse, Firemint's first new IP since 2009. It's more than worthy of the games that made the studio's name.
A top-down realtime puzzler in which you control Mr Squeak, a rodent James Bond, each screen-sized level requires you to bag a number of cheese chunks before heading to the exit by drawing, Flight Control-style, a path for Mr Squeak to follow.
Cats of various types and abilities prowl on patrols, but you have a number of environmental tools and tricks to counteract them. And the premise is ever-changing. There are levels where Mr Squeak is a ghost; others where he's bait; yet more where you're popping him in and out of holes like Whack-A-Mole.
It's impossibly charming: Mr Squeak's expressions and exertions boast Hanna Barbera finesse and wit, while the soundtrack bows to Monty Norman. Every aspect of this game, from the animation when Mr Squeak is hiding under a teacup to the tinkly sound effects when he picks up crumbs of cheese, has been polished to a sheen – add a challenge mode, and a strange 'Space' mode in which you can float around with friends – the pride and value that Firemint has invested in it shines.
There's just one black mark – distinctly dodgy in-app purchasing. Every so often in-game, a lady cat pops up and asks if you'd like some help. There's no mention of money, but accept and the game will pause before the little iTunes window pops up, bless it, asking you to confirm your purchase. In-app purchases are nothing to be ashamed of, but obscuring their nature from players is. And doubly – triply, quadruply – so in a game that's clearly aimed to appeal to younger audiences.
Spy Mouse is one of the best games on iOS, a testing blend of strategy and crisis management with a sharp tux and a winning smile. And it's only the tiniest bit soiled by the in-app purchase. Is this the EA effect? Perhaps it's unfair to blame the publisher, and there are crasser examples of monetisation out there. But bolting on a sneaky bit of money-grubbing to such a quality product sadly removes some of its lustre.