WayForward Technologies has made a name for itself as one of the best developers out there when it comes to retro-flavoured projects, from their excellent beat-em-ups like Double Dragon Neon and River City Girls to Metroidvanias like The Mummy Demastered and its signature Shantae series. The studio excels at that throwback style and 2007’s Contra 4 was a particularly fine example, reviving a Konami series which had been stagnating since the original PlayStation era. While Contra 4 was well-received, WayForward never got another shot at a Contra game, so in 2019 the developer decided to go build its own Contra, with dinosaurs, and spiders.
Released originally as a launch title for Apple Arcade, Spidersaurs is a run-and-gun shooter in which you take part as a combat intern at INGEST Corp — a food manufacturer that has created dinosaur and insect hybrids in an attempt to solve world hunger. As with most fictional attempts to bring back dinosaurs like Jurassic Park or Billy and the Cloneasaurus, the titular creatures escape and it’s up to you to stop them (and eat them).
You can pick between two characters: Victoria, a punk rocker who uses her guitar shredding to blast enemies away; and Adrian, a cop in training and elite pizza boy who uses his sports equipment to overcome the Spidersaurs. While these characters move the same, they each have access to different weapons. While the laser pickup arms Victoria with wall-piercing lasers, Adrian gets a flamethrower; the spreader is a standard three-way shot for Victoria but Adrian's fires one big projectile that splits into three on the rebound. This gives you reason to try out both characters for different situations.
When we say WayForward made their own Contra, we mean it. The characters move like Contra; they have the same jump as Bill and Lance, gun powerups fly in from off-screen and are lost on death, and it’s brutally difficult. The game takes place over six stages with each having both a mid-boss and an end boss. These mid-bosses act as a checkpoint allowing you to jump back into the level at --yes — the midpoint. So if you find the first half easier as Victoria, you’re able to complete the rest as Adrian and vice versa. We did find the difficulty a bit inconsistent at times; for example, we found the first and fourth stages incredibly tough but blasted through the second, third, and final like they were nothing.
The completion of each level rewards you with a nice big hunk of Spidersaur meat which your character immediately devours and with it, gains new abilities. Double jumps, wall climbing, and dashes are locked behind progression. It’s a shame that you are unable to attain these until later in the game, because once you have these moves it feels a lot better to play. The game does offer the opportunity to play through its entirety with these moves once you have beaten it. But it would’ve been nice to have some of the more central ones like the double jump a bit earlier.
Perhaps due to it being a mobile title first, Spidersaurs is a bit on the short side, with stages taking a maximum of 10 minutes to beat. Obviously it’s unlikely that you will manage to beat each stage on the first try, but even after a lot of trial and error the experience was over in two hours for us. The game does offer two more modes on completion; however, these are basically both options to replay without cutscenes, both with and without all of the previously unlocked abilities.
Another symptom of its mobile roots is that the menus and options are a bit barebones, with simple on and off switches for audio elements being the only ones available. For a game like this, things like the lack of remappable controls feels like a huge oversight and leads to some button placement we personally found awkward, like dash being mapped to 'A'.
Like a lot of WayForward’s original games, Spidersaurs uses their signature hand-drawn art style. The work on the character and enemy design is strong; each foe is easily visually distinguishable, which for a game that can get as intense as this is very important. It also boasts some great music courtesy of industry legend Harumi Fujita (known for her work on classic Capcom games like Bionic Commando and Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers).
While the game is relatively bug-free, it’s worth noting we did experience one major issue towards the end of our playthrough in which the epilogue level became unplayable after a Game Over (and when attempting to load into it on its own), requiring a replay of the previous level to fix. The team at WayForward is aware of this and told us there's a patch on the way.
Spidersaurs is a fun ride while it lasts, as well as a strong love letter to Contra, all delivered with WayForward's signature style. While it is very short and suffers from some minor issues following its transfer from Apple Arcade to consoles, it’s still a good time and a strong purchase for anyone itching for some classic run-and-gun action.