Get In! Get Out!
I cannot think of another major console which lent itself so naturally to first-person shooters as the Nintendo Wii. In spite of whatever technical shortcomings the hardware may have faced, you can’t take away how intuitive the Wiimote worked as an analog for a firearm. Unfortunately, the Wii is not remembered as much for forwarding my favorite genre as it is for enabling so much shovelware: For every gem like Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles, there were two TV game show adaptations, three licensed kart racers, and a half dozen mini game compilations there to “balance things out.” Of course, as a purveyor of bad games, these shovelware games had their own appeal to me as well.
On occasion though, these two worlds would collide into one another, and leave fascinating bits of digital debris in their wake: Shovelware FPS titles. I was a connoisseur of the “Chicken Trilogy” (Chicken Blaster, Chicken Riot, and Chicken Shoot), prospector of the Mad Dog McCree Gunslinger Pack, and an unfortunate victim of Target: Terror. But there was one holy grail that had eluded me in the time before I ultimately bricked my original console — a game I had heard legends about, but was unable to track down and try for myself.
I’ve heard several folk put forward the claim that 2007’s Spy Games: Elevator Mission might possibly the worst game released for the Wii. That’s quite the claim, considering some of the competition for that dubious distinction. My assignment: To determine whether or not Elevator Mission is a contender for that title, and to try and figure out where the game went wrong.
We Wish You Luck!
Fittingly for a game supposedly centered around spies and espionage, there is a bit of a mystery surrounding the very origins of this game. For starters, little seems to be known about developer Dreams Co. Ltd., whose handful of development credits includes only three other critically-loathed games: 2008’s Balloon Pop for the Wii, and a pair of Bubble Bobble titles for the DS including the infamous Bubble Bobble Revolution — which shipped with a major bug that prevented the game from being played past the thirtieth level.** Most databases dedicated to covering game production credits seem to disregard Dreams completely, and/or fail to cite them as the developer for Elevator Mission.
Publisher UFO Interactive, on the other hand, has a prolific history in shovelware publishing. Across the Wii and DS alone, they’ve published nearly a dozen entries in the Smart Boy’s / Girl’s series of party games, a range of Chuck E. Cheese-licensed minigame compilations, and the straight-to-discount-rack classic Heavenly Guardian, which I swear I have seen at least two copies of in literally every game store I have ever visited since 2007. Needless to say, they are not a name typically associated with “quality.” Publishing a budget title along the lines of Elevator Mission is very much in their wheelhouse, though.
The most curious detail though comes from Nintendo’s own website, which contains this choice snippet:
“The classic gameplay of Elevator Mission is back with a new twist! Utilizing the unique control functions of the Nintendo Wii™, along with 3D graphics, this beloved title has been reborn for the next-generation consoles!”
So, here’s the thing: Neither UFO’s publishing history or Dreams’ catalogue of developed games contain any previous games going by the “Elevator Mission” moniker. In fact, I can’t seem to find any game going by that title prior to this Wii release. The only conclusion I can draw is that these allusions are to the classic Elevator Action franchise, rather than some obscure predecessor. Further adding to this hypothesis is the fact that on an archived product page off their website, they slip up when listing their “Elevator Action Key Features.” Of course, if this whole theory of mine is true, it would indicate an awful bit of disingenuous business practice on UFO Interactive’s part, seeing as they have absolutely no connection to or affiliation with the Taito series. On the off-chance I’m wrong, and there is some pre-existing Elevator Mission game somewhere out there, I’ll still take the claim that it’s a “beloved title” to contention.
CORRECTION (12-30-17): As promptly pointed out to me by readers @codeman38, @LanceBoyle94, and @SarahSSowertty: Dreams Co., Ltd. was founded by ex-Taito designer [and father of Space Invaders] Tomohiro Nishikado in 1997. Largely responsible for contract work / supplemental game design rather than heading their own projects, they actually have plenty of credits to their name, despite rarely being credited as lead developers. With that in mind, this game may very well have been intended as a genuine Elevator Action successor to be published by Taito, but plans would’ve fallen apart as Square Enix acquired Taito and the associated license. If I had to guess, this shift probably occurred in the middle of the development process, and without the Elevator Action name the budget was likely slashed / less effort was put into the game than perhaps initially envisioned. Of course, there’s always the chance that Dreams simply couldn’t stand on their own as solo developers, and that this game may have well been doomed from the start.
Spy Games: Elevator Mission puts you in the shoes of the world’s least threatening secret agent; sporting a blonde bowl cut and a face like he’s constantly reacting to a fart. You learn nothing about this character over the course of the game — there’s honestly no reason for the intro cutscene to even show you his face in the first place. Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Infiltrate a criminal organization’s headquarters, and retrieve five data disks which purportedly hold the power to cripple the evil enterprise. The fact that you’ll have to kill countless hundreds of their goons along the way probably won’t be good for their bottom line, either.
But of course, they’re not just gonna hand those discs over to you. If you want ‘em, you’re gonna have to earn ‘em. The building consists of fifty floors, with players beginning from the top and working their way down to ground level. On every tenth floor, there is a “Gate” that can only be opened if you’ve picked up the designated data disk for that section of the building, effectively dividing the building into five distinct segments. Track down a tracking device, take down the designated enemy carrying the data disk, and pass through the gate leading to the next segment of the tower. So far straightforward, right?
Here’s where things get interesting — and by “interesting,” I mean “tedious”: The progression from floor to floor is not always linear. Because this building was designed by video game villains,*** there’s no central elevator system that can take you from the top to the bottom or drop you off on whatever floor you may please, with most elevators only spanning two or three possible floors of range. And no, you can’t just take the stairs instead, unfortunately. Sometimes you will be required to go back up some number of floors using a specific one of several elevators on a floor, in order to access previously inaccessible parts of a previously-explored floor. From there, you’ll probably / hopefully find yet another elevator with a different range of floors, and once again be able to continue making your way down.
Another consideration to be made: The layouts of every individual floor are supposedly “randomly generated” at the beginning of your playthrough, meaning no two buildings / playthroughs should be the same. I am… skeptical as to the full validity of this claim, but we’ll address that in due time. As it stands though, you’re gonna want to search thoroughly for the extremely helpful map items, which detail the floorplans of each ten-floor block and tell you which elevators will be able to take you to which floors. These become near-essential as you progress further in the game, especially when the game inevitably asks you to perform massive backtracks.
Yes, in order to make the constantly ticking clock a more pressing danger, there are times where data disks won’t appear in the range of floors you might expect, and may actually appear in a previously-explored segment of the tower. And so it may come to pass that you have to count on your recall of floors you slogged through some hours ago and hoped to never have to navigate again, and then back the same way you took to get there in order to get back to the segment that you left from initially. If my wording here is in any way convoluted or confusing, I apologize, but it’s only because this is really bad game design and should’ve never been implemented in the first place.
Adding to the repetitive nature of the navigation are the small handful of repeating textures and props that decorate the tower interior. Every ten-floor segment adheres to a different theme, ranging from ornate hotel-esque hallways to sinister-seeming research labs. While I at least appreciate the fact that the game makes some effort at breaking up the visual monotony, it’s nowhere near enough: Identical hallways, repeated rooms, and a complete lack of landmarks work together to make navigation an absolute chore, and will most certainly lead to scenarios where you find yourself walking in circles if you don’t have a map on hand. As such, you’ll discover yourself getting sick of each new set of scenery almost immediately, upon realizing they are all equally grating on the eyes.
I suppose this would all be “acceptable” if the floorplans themselves were simple and straightforward. But of course, because we’re dealing with nefarious villains here, most floors present you with something like a maze-like layout. Add the vertical element to the mix, and you soon come to the realization that the entire tower is something like an interconnected fifty-floor labyrinth — theoretically getting progressively more twisted and tougher the further you descend. Again, the maps are absolutely vital to being able to wrap your head around which elevators lead to which closed sections of which floors, leading you to be constantly pausing to bring up the blueprints, putting a frustratingly frequent pause to the action.
Hey, I just realized we’re talking about a first-person shooter here, and I haven’t even mentioned a single thing about the shooting! Actually, this shouldn’t take long, as there isn’t much to it at all. The game provides you a total of three different weapons; a standard handgun with infinite ammo, a submachine gun, and a shotgun. They’re all sort of equally underwhelming, though the SMG with its complete lack of recoil can occasionally be decently effective at taking down enemies with more ridiculous amounts of health. But you’ll probably be spending the most time taking advantage of the pistol with its unending magazine, dealing the least amount of damage per bullet and forcing you to duck behind walls between shots.
It shouldn’t shock you to hear that none of these guns are particularly fun to fire, or that none of them feel as if they carry any weight to them. One of the big culprits behind this is the sound design, where gunshots are made to play through the dinky little Wiimote speaker with no complementing in-game sound effect. If you’re like me and prefer to mute that awful little speaker, that means you won’t hear anything on firing your weapon, save for the singular sound effect used whenever any enemy in the game keels over and dies. I know we’re dealing with a budget title here, but surely the development budget could’ve allowed for more than one line of voice recording?
Further sabotaging the look and feel of the game is the disconnected on-screen movement of your gun model. Where a good FPS will generally fix your equipped weapon in a corner of the screen and potentially have it change its angle as you move and aim, Elevator Mission connects the position of the gun to your on-screen cursor. In effect, the gun is constantly pointed straight ahead at an unwavering angle – with no idle animation or sway as your character moves – shifting left and right across the screen as if your shoulders are moving independently of your body.
I realize this might all come across as nitpicky, but all this lead to me feeling a significant lack of feedback from any of the shooting I was doing. It’d honestly have been better if there was no weapon on-screen at all, where at least I could fool my primate brain into feeling like the gun was in my hand. But seeing the generic weapon models on-screen only vaguely corresponding to where my hands were positioned gave me a serious disconnect, which went ahead and sapped any potential immersion out of the proceedings.
But with an infinite supply of a small variety of enemies, you can expect to be doing plenty of that unsatisfying shooting. That is, unless you want to try a bit of stealth on for size? I use the word “stealth” in the loosest possible definition of the term — hell, maybe toss another couple of quotation marks around it, as in “””stealth.””” So, you’ll occasionally find pairs of night-vision goggles lying around, which automatically activate when you shoot breaker panels scattered around nearly every floor and temporarily kill the lights. This darkening effect only lasts for less than a minute, and when the power comes back on, your agent apparently tosses the pair of goggles away as if the light somehow breaks them. But while you’re stumbling around in the dark, enemies are completely oblivious to your presence, even as you stand directly in front of them and laugh in their unlit faces.
The downside: The game places a full overlay on top of the screen, impairing your view and only giving you about 50% of your vision. Oh, and of course, it’s all tinted green as night vision goggles are wont to do, and the whole view is generally unpleasant to look at. But, if you’re running low on health and need to avoid getting into combat for a while, or if you’re simply sick of the sub-par shooting, you can always shoot a breaker panel and buy yourself some safe passage.
Now, what I would’ve preferred to see implemented into the game is something more akin to the classic Elevator Action. Y’know, the far superior game this pile is trying to pay homage to? Instead of breaker panels that darken the whole floor, there should’ve been overhead lights that you could shoot and drop on top of enemies heads, knocking them out outright! I think it’d be satisfying to bring chandeliers crashing down on goons heads, or to rain down shards of glass from firing at fluorescent light tubes. This could be especially practical if it could be used to instantly down the tougher enemy types, allowing crafty players to conserve precious ammo by baiting the baddies underneath falling hazards.
Instead, tougher enemies just end up being a bore to deal with; absorbing more shots and wasting more time in order to kill. It’s not as if they force you to change up your strategy in any way: They rarely attack in larger groups, and they don’t demonstrate any advanced tactics or special attacks. Often, they’ll pop out from behind the same doors as the rest of their grunt buddies, stand still to shoot, and stagger after every time they get shot, which only draws out the process of clearing them. At their most annoying, there are heavily-armored SWAT-team-looking enemies that take at least six shots with the pistol to kill, and whose only advantage over their comrades is carrying slightly more powerful weapons to fire at you while they’re not playing their pain animations.
The original Elevator Action didn’t have any enemy variety at all either. But to be fair to that game, it’s nearly thirty-five years old at this point, so I think we can go ahead and give it a pass. On the other hand, the fact that enemies in Elevator Mission all effectively behave the same / generally tend to stand next to identical copies of themselves is less forgivable in a 2007 release. Was it too much for some of the tougher enemies to maybe toss grenades at you, or for there to be enemies more capable of evading your shots? I don’t know, give me something here to break up the combat monotony — to make me have to use my brain a bit during gameplay rather than just zoning out while my gun hand runs on autopilot.
Strangely, the game provides you the abilities to jump and crouch, but I found absolutely no use for these functions. They won’t help you avoid bullets, there are no jumping puzzles or narrow passages to navigate. Perhaps there were grander ambitions in mind at a point in time? Maybe you would’ve been able to ride on the tops of elevators or pass underneath them, rather than only being able to enter them as a way for the game to disguise loads and completely disconnect floors from one another. They could have possibly implemented more bits of scenery to take cover behind, giving use to the crouching and allowing players more choice in combat than peeking from behind corners.
Failing to do any of that, the game could have at least provided some other side objectives / opportunities to score bonus points, for whatever that may be worth to the small handful of players who still care about high scores and such. But nope, there’s none of that to be found. There’s no sneaking inside red doors to retrieve secret documents or take temporary cover from gunfire. There are no security cameras to disable or barrels to roll à la Elevator Action Returns. All the game sees fit to provide you with are a small handful of scattered prop objects like plants and statues, which sometimes provide items if you blow them away. That’s usually a “no,” though.
And so the routine is quickly established and seemingly infinitely repeated: Start at the top of a new segment of the tower. Wander around more-or-less aimlessly until you chance upon a map, and continue to stumble about until you find a lead on the data disk. Consult the map every minute or so as you navigate the indistinguishable corridors that compose the labyrinth, hopping between elevators until you get where you need to go and shooting every identical indistinguishable goon along the way. Pray you don’t accidentally let yourself die so you don’t have to start this whole process over again [from the beginning of the segment], grab the disk, head for the gate, and find yourself at the beginning of the next segment instead. It’s a short loop with little along the lines of punctuation, and yet it finds a way to drag on and stretch time to the point where minutes feel like hours.
I didn’t have to finish Spy Games: Elevator Mission: By the time I had made it to the 30th floor, I had already experienced all there was to experience in terms of floor plan over-complexity and what little variety there is to the gameplay. But I found myself compelled by a very particular motivation. No, I certainly wasn’t enjoying myself, and there wasn’t any story that had me on the edge of my seat.**** Hell, it wasn’t even for the sake of thoroughness, or because I particularly care about seeing games through to completion before I see fit to evaluate them. There was one simple reason I needed to finish Elevator Mission, and one reason only: I’m honestly not sure anybody else has?
Shockingly for a game that’s been covered by a multitude of gaming channels on YouTube, I failed to find any recorded gameplay footage or screenshots of the ending of the game. For some reason, this lack of visual reference really irked me. I needed to know if the game would just immediately begin another loop from the top of a new tower, or if there was maybe some half-assed cinematic tacked on at the end. I figured I might also go ahead and comb through the credits for any interesting tidbits or insights. That’s what kept me going as I made my way down (back up and back down again) fifty floors of no fun.
I guess I should be proud to say that I did it: I collected all five disks, made my way into the final elevator, and successfully completed my mission. And then I went ahead and recorded the ensuing ending and credits roll, in the hopes that no one else would ever have to subject themselves to this hell in the name of documenting games knowledge. I don’t know what I was expecting from the ending cinematic. I guess I should’ve figured that it would end in typical Elevator Action fashion, with our bowl-cut hero hopping into a car and driving off into the night. Cut to staff credits containing less than a dozen names, before cutting right back to the title screen as if anyone would want to jump right back in for another round.
It took me two and a half hours to complete a game of Spy Games: Elevator Mission. I know it’s cliché to say, but it honestly felt twice that long. I died roughly a half-dozen times, only once due to the timer running out. I did reset once in that time at some point in the middle of one of the floors between 30 and 40, in order to see if starting a new game would have any meaningful effect on the randomization of the floor layouts. It didn’t really seem to. Maybe the deeper you go, the more noticeable the rearrangements become, but I honestly could not be bothered to start yet another new game in order to find out.
Elevator Mission is an incredibly boring budget game. To its credit, it’s not broken or bugged in any noticeable ways, and it functions technically well enough for the simple little game it is. As such, I don’t necessarily know if I can call it the worst game on the Nintendo Wii, as there are games that border on being completely unplayable due to busted control or other design failings. There were definitely moments where my boredom turned to frustration, but for the most part, it was more a sleepwalk than a nightmare. I will be perfectly content to never have to play the game again, but I at least know that I have what it takes to see it through to completion if the fate of my country somehow called for it or something. And even then, I still can’t promise I wouldn’t toss it.
The biggest crime Elevator Mission commits isn’t just its being a boring game, though. By far its worst offense is daring to compare itself to Elevator Action, which is far more fun and dynamic a gaming experience than this generic slog. The original arcade game and all its home console conversions eat this game’s lunch. If you bring the true successor Elevator Action Returns to the table, it absolutely demolishes Elevator Mission like a collapsing apartment complex.
For as simple the mechanics of an installment in the Elevator Action franchise are, they are games that demand quick thinking and reflexes, and which manage to provide challenge without having to rely on convoluted mazes. They also have a very unique style to them (the sequel especially), which helps make them memorable. In every sense, the simplicity of Spy Games: Elevator Mission is without charm or merit, and the experience is only memorable for the feeling that it wastes precious hours of your life.
** It also has some of the most hilariously hideous box art of all time. Bub and Bob have never looked so bloated!
*** You can interpret this to mean either the villains in-game or the developers themselves. I posit both of these as acceptable answers.
**** In fact, I was actually standing the whole time.
Missions Will Never Get Stale
With the sheer glut of shovelware games released for the Wii, I reckon Spy Games: Elevator Mission barely even registered as a blip on most game sites radars in 2007. Only the likes of GameSpot and IGN had the resources and manpower to cover every game coming out for the console, and as such they are seemingly the only two major outlets to post reviews for Elevator Mission. GameSpot’s Shaun McInnis hits the nail on the head, stating “a game this bad should offer at least some unintentional entertainment, but there’s not a drop to be found here.” IGN’s Lucas M. Thomas quips “it’s like somebody ported a 10% complete version of GoldenEye to the Wii,” which I’m not really sure where the connection here is other than the fact both games are first-person shooters? Even if you want to imagine some prototype version of GoldenEye 007, it would almost certainly play completely differently and also probably still be a hundred times better than Elevator Mission.
Where mainstream publications failed to give the game much coverage, a number of YouTube channels have picked up the slack in the time since the game’s release, with many bemoaning it as the “worst game on the Wii” (or at the very least, using that claim as clickbait). That being said, none of these videos have ever seemed to get particularly popular, and no “big-time” gaming YouTubers have taken the time to shine a spotlight on it. Perhaps they’re savvy enough to realize that the game doesn’t really give you much to riff on, and so it’s hard to make interesting or amusing content about it? Of course, that doesn’t stop most wannabe Let’s Players and “angry reviewer”-types from giving a game a go.
Oh, and in case you were wondering: There are no other games published by UFO Interactive bearing the “Spy Games” label. I’m gonna have to assume it was either done as a marketing ploy to insinuate to consumers that the game was part of some long-running series with some pedigree to it, or that it was preemptively slapped on in case the game was somehow a surprise success for them and warranted the development of sequels. We can presume from the lack of follow-up that the latter scenario did not come to occur.
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt as weary walking away from a game as I did after finishing Elevator Mission. As I neared the end of the game, I was telling myself “once you finish this, you’re gonna reward yourself with some Elevator Action Returns and wash the bad taste out of your mouth.” But by the time I was done, all I really wanted to do was take a nice nap. I wouldn’t blame this on the fact I stood up and swung my arms around for two and a half hours straight in order to beat it, since I’ve spent longer lengths of time playing more intensive games and still been pumped to play some more. There’s just something draining about Elevator Mission that sapped the will to play games right out of me.
And so, my recommendation as to who out there might get the most use out of Spy Games: Elevator Mission: If you’re looking for a game to shut your brain off and drain you of your energy, possibly prior to trying to get a good sleep, this might just be the game for you! Count the floors as if you’re counting sheep, and you’ll soon be dozing off before you even know it. And unlike taking sleeping pills, there’s absolutely no risk of addiction or dependency here.