Spidersaurs (NS) - ReviewEvan Norris , posted on 19 July 2022 / 1,405 Views
It might not include Bill Rizer, extraterrestrial villains, or the Konami Code, but Spidersaurs is a Contra game at heart. Designed by the team responsible for the remarkable Contra 4 on DS, and boasting side-scrolling shoot-'em-up gameplay with deadly power-ups and swarming monsters, it's absolutely a spiritual successor to the gold standard series for run-and-gun action. Does it deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the greats of the franchise, though?
Spidersaurs features a truly wacky premise for a video game. In the not too distant future, solar flares eradicate the Earth’s food supply. Scientists react to the global emergency by bioengineering a new type of lab-grown protein, which splices the DNA of — wait for it — spiders and dinosaurs. Take a moment to let that sink in. Naturally, these alpha predators break containment and run amok. Now it’s up to two interns/taste-testers to save the day.
As you can probably tell, developer WayForward conducts this narrative with tongue firmly in cheek. All the characters act as if genetically-engineered dinosaur-spider hybrids represent a perfectly reasonable solution to world hunger, the two heroes sample radiant dino meat unthinkingly, and the company responsible for it all is InGest, a clear spoof of Jurassic Park's InGen. The story is rarely laugh-out-loud funny and it unfolds in a predictable way, but it's all in good fun.
That sense of fun carries over to the Spidersaurs' gameplay loop which, as mentioned previously, is heavily inspired by Contra, specifically Contra 4. The game's two heroes will run, jump, climb, and shoot their ways through several side-scrolling stages infested by rampaging monsters — part arachnid, part dinosaur. Each level includes a mid-stage mini-boss and a dangerous end boss, plus several firearm power-ups, delivered via aerial pods.
Spidersaurs does the Contra formula justice, more or less. The levels are diverse, both geographically and mechanically. You'll ride a friendly dinosaur in a humid jungle, travel atop a rock slab on a river of lava, and descend vertically into sewers. The controls are reliable, thanks to a flexible eight-way shot, and the monsters are clearly-defined and varied, although some are bullet sponges. Ultimately, the game doesn't do anything to improve substantially on the run-and-gun genre, but it's a fairly good facsimile.
That said, there are two areas where Spidersaurs does make its own imprint — one of them beneficial, the other neither good nor bad. The first area relates to weapon types. Like any good Contra game, Spidersaurs supports two different characters, both playable in solo or local co-op. These characters aren't here only to enable multiplayer, though; each one interacts with weapon power-ups differently, leading to two very different experiences. Punk rocker Victoria might pick up an explosive weapon variety and deploy a lighting attack that chains to nearby enemies, while officer-in-training Adrian might pick up the same variety but deploy a short-range flamethrower. Both characters have the same movement and shooting mechanics, but very different weapons. This adds some much-needed diversity and replay value to the proceedings.
The other area where Spidersaurs diverges from the standard formula involves permanent character upgrades. After defeating each end-stage boss, the heroes will receive a permanent upgrade, for example double jump or the ability to cling to walls and ceilings. It's an interesting conceit, but the level designs don't introduce many interesting wrinkles to take advantage of the ever-expanding moveset.
Permanent upgrades notwithstanding, you can expect to fail a lot. Like its spiritual predecessors, Spidersaurs is an unforgiving game, even on the normal difficulty setting. You have limited lives with three health points per life, and you'll lose any powerful weapon you had upon your untimely death. The good news is that for the most part, this run-and-gun game is tough but fair, thanks in part to mid-level checkpoints. The bad news is all of level four, an unreasonable difficulty spike that's harder than anything that comes before or after — including the final boss encounter.
Trying and failing is part of the package with run-and-gun titles; indeed, restarts make up a significant part of Spidersaurs' running time. Each of the game's six levels clocks in at 10 minutes max, so you could in theory see the end credits after less than one hour. Due to the steep level of difficulty and the need to memorize certain sections, you should prepare to double or maybe triple that number. That play time is extended by several features unavailable in the game's original 2019 Apple Arcade release, including a brand new epilogue stage and boss, three difficulty settings, and two unlockable modes (Arcade and Speedrun). These modes don't add that much of consequence; essentially they allow you to replay the campaign sans cut-scenes.
With or without cut-scenes, Spidersaurs enjoys a diverting Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic that meshes well with the bonkers storyline. WayForward has a knack for winsome hand-drawn art, and that's certainly the case here. Moreover, the title boasts a kinetic animated intro, brought to life by the visual artists at Powerhouse Animation and accompanied by a rocking theme song by Cristina "Vee" Valenzuela, Jason Charles Miller, and Richard "Richaadeb" Bichler.
Speaking of rocking tunes, the majority in Spidersaurs come courtesy of legendary Capcom composer Harumi Fujita (Bionic Commando, Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers). The rock and synth tunes, heavy on electric guitar, are quite exciting.
WayForward no longer has access to the Contra IP, but that didn't stop the studio from continuing its legacy in Spidersaurs. Anyone who adored Contra 4 and appreciates challenging side-scrolling action-platformers will enjoy their time with this shoot-'em-up, despite a late-game difficulty spike and short running time. Spidersaurs doesn't have the staying power of the great run-and-gun games, but it's decent fun while it lasts.
This review is based on a digital copy of Spidersaurs for the NS, provided by the publisher.
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