California-based developer WayForward, most known for their recent installments of the excellent Shantae franchise and various surprisingly solid licensed hits like The Mummy Demastered, unleashes a new satirical mix of run and gun with tons of platforming to boot. Speaking of mixing, the game combines the quirky aesthetics and pompous presentation of 80’s/90’s Saturday morning cartoons with a sort of parody of Jurassic Park’s experiments with dinosaurs. This game has been available as an Apple Arcade exclusive for some time, but now that it’s hitting all other platforms, including Xbox Series X where we’re reviewing it, our time has come to look into it. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s Spidersaurs!
The game opens up with a series of hand-drawn action sequences with a dramatic voiceover first and then accompanied by epic music. It’s intentionally made in the style of the aforementioned Saturday morning cartoon shows’ intros, with the influence of series like G.I. Joe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that is beyond obvious. The first major setback for the game comes immediately after. The game allows us to select 3 different difficulty levels and whether we want to play it single player or in local 2-player co-op… then it crashed for me. I start it up again, it crashed again. After a lot of experiments, I eventually realized that a fresh boot after installing allows me to enter the game just fine, but if I exit the game even once, I can no longer load up my save without a crash. The only solution is to… reinstall the game every single time I want to play. Yes, you’ve read that correctly. I don’t know if this happens with every console version or if it’s the result of some oddly specific combination of things on my side, but I can’t recall another game with such a crash rate on top of my head. Off to a pretty bad start.
Fortunately, once I eventually crawled my way towards the tutorial, my impressions of the game improved a bit. While I can’t get past the visual dissonance of the characters’ running animation looking faster than their actual movement, making it seem as if they’re skating on ice, there’s some solid 2D platforming here with jumps, ledge-grabs, and of course the good old 8-directional shooting with several weapons, ranging from classic assault rifles to grenade launchers and electricity-based armaments. All this gels well with the enemies, which are genetically engineered dinosaurs by the way, whose cartoony yet menacing presentation gives these cannon fodders a lot more personality, with their creative visual design often telling how an enemy behaves before we even see them on the move.
As said, the game pits two unlikely protagonists against hordes of dinos, and the reason is simple. A part-time rockstar and a rookie cop are the two sole survivors of a deadly incident at InGest, a clear parody of Jurassic Park’s InGen, a company devoted to researching dinosaur DNA to… make delicious, dino-DNA-based potato chips. Seriously. But as it always happens, these mutated prehistoric beasts escape their lockers, wreaking havoc in the labs, and it’s up to us to stop them from ever reaching the outside world. This happens via a series of linear missions that we can even replay at our leisure, if we so desire. But after the first level or two where I felt like wanting to go back to reexperience the thrills, as the game progressed I quickly lost interest.
You see, the game works best when it just tries to be a laid back run and gun experience. A few dinos to take care at a time, each only take a handful of bullets to kill, with some basic platforming and some fast thinking required to get out of particularly nasty situations. After 2-3 levels, however, the game’s flaws come raining down on us. As more elaborate platforming sections arise, with moving parts and traps everywhere, the game’s not particularly satisfying controls transpire a lot more. But more importantly, the game starts spamming enemies like there’s no tomorrow, with each of them having large health bars, making them effectively bullet sponges – respawning ones, no less! Coupled with an abundance of traps, knockbacks on a lot of hits and multiple other issues, the game becomes a lot more frustrating than challenging rather quickly.
One of the main culprits is hard to notice in gameplay videos, but is actually the camera. As players progress past a certain point, the camera no longer moves backwards, rendering the previously explored area a thing of the past. This is not a big issue in most horizontal parts, albeit enemies don’t seem to necessarily despawn when out of bounds, making attacks appear effectively ouf ot thin air at times. The grave issues arise in vertical platforming segments, where jumping towards the top of the screen often moves the platforms on the bottom impossible to reach. If the player lands out of bounds, they lose a whole life. Combine this with the endless barrage of enemies, traps such as sticky spiderwebs, all kinds of knockback attacks and not particularly great controls, and it’s evident what’s the source of the frustration. Boss battles also tend to be way more bullet spongy than they need to be, with the players needing to perform the same dance up to 8-10 times to get rid of one.
The game’s main strength, aside from the Saturday morning cartoon-style presentation, has to be the DNA mutations the players can achieve by defeating said bosses. Each of them leaves behind a tasty piece of meat, which is consumed in a mini cutscene and that ends up giving the player some extra ability like double jumps, a rope to instantly reach the top of the screen, infinite climbing on walls and so on. This makes the gameplay more and more varied as the levels go on, with even a handful of unique sequences, such as one on the back of a raptor in an ever-moving stage. Creativity is certainly not lacking in Spidersaurs, that has to be said. Humor is generally on point too, with well voiced dialogues and exchanges between characters – too bad that these interactions are, otherwise, rather static, almost always happening at the destroyed conference room that serves as the non-interactive hub for the mission selection.
Unfortunately, everything else is rather disappointing. The frequent crashes I encountered on Xbox Series X, the increasingly bullet sponge nature of enemies, a fairly unsatisfying platforming and with simple level designs relying on cheap tricks such as traps every few steps and endlessly respawning enemies to keep the stakes high. They say that co-op makes every game better, but given the title’s absolutely chaotic battles after a few levels, even the 2-player local cooperative play found in Spidersaurs isn’t enough to save the day. It’s a short game that has some additional content if replayed on higher difficulties, but I wouldn’t recommend pushing through these formulaic levels more than once. There’s a really cool presentation and some really funny ideas in here, but we expect far more from veterans like WayForward.
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
|Available on||iOS, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 4/5, PC|
|Release Date||On iOS since September 9th, 2019 – anywhere else July 14th, 2022|
|Rated||ESRB E 10+, PEGI 12|