Over the past 30 years, WayForward, makers of the Shantae series, has made a name for itself by crafting retro-flavoured gems that combine the best of modern gaming with an unashamedly old-school aesthetic and game feel. Whether it's baked into their own projects (such as the Mighty series or the aforementioned Shantae games) or for one of the developer/publisher's many excellent licensed property projects (DuckTales Remastered, Contra 4, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, The Mummy Demastered, River City Girls, to name just a small handful of highlights), the studio's always got one eye on gaming's illustrious past as it forges ahead into its fourth decade.
For its latest project, Spidersaurs, WayForward is looking not only to a titan of the run-and-gun genre for inspiration, but also to the energy and aesthetic of '90s Saturday morning cartoons. Formerly an Apple Arcade exclusive, the game is coming to Switch and other consoles on 14th July.
We recently caught up with director Tomm Hulett (formerly of Konami and Atlus) via email to discuss the design inspiration behind this run 'n' gunner, what has changed for the upcoming console release, and what he's been playing recently...
Nintendo Life: What sparked the initial idea for Spidersaurs?
Tomm Hulett: Matt Bozon (WayForward's creative director) wanted to create a new IP that combined retro arcade action with the feel of a toy-tie-in cartoon. He and I definitely share a somewhat encyclopedic knowledge of those things. While our knowledge base overlaps in the ‘80s era of cartoons, he's a bit older so he has the late ‘70s as well, and my experience reaches the mid-’90s. We both agreed the target for Spidersaurs was "the type with a theme song where a deep-voiced narrator explained the storyline."
The '90s Saturday morning cartoons vibes are off the charts and give the game a brilliant energy. What shows specifically did you look to for inspiration when developing the game?
Some of Matt's favorites are Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors and Orbots, while I have fond memories of MASK, C.O.P.S., and of course Inhumanoids. Our shared touchstone was Bionic Six, a show that only Matt and I remember. But it was real. They were a family.
Writing the game's story, I probably channeled a million different cartoons from who knows where. I remember watching Dungeons & Dragons and Donkey Kong, was there when Alvin and the Chipmunks brought down the Berlin Wall, and stayed a Saturday AM devotee until that time slot ruined Gargoyles (you have to draw the line somewhere). Did I namedrop enough things? The Tick! Sky Commanders!
The designs of Victoria and Adrian are striking and we especially enjoy how Victoria uses her guitar as a weapon. Can you talk a little about how those designs evolved and if there were other ideas or characters left on the cutting room floor?
One goal of Spidersaurs was to be a game that folks my age could play in two-player mode with our kids, and the character designs are just the right fusion of modern characters with those ‘80s origins. Matt explained what he wanted our heroes to be and then passed art duties along to our secret weapon Shaun Healey to develop them.
Victoria started off a little more of a punk rocker with longer hair, before we added in more hearts and Jem energy. Adrian was a little more serious action man originally, but ended up with a very toyetic sports gun. Just imagine how many Adrians you'd buy if you could! Football Rocket Adrian, Cricket Hero Adrian, Jai Alai Adrian with karate chop action…
Our heroic combat interns do get special abilities that feel more Capcom-y than you might find in the Contra canon, but there's no hiding the run-’n’- gun RNA in our veins
How long did development take from the initial concept to the finished Apple Arcade product?
We generally don't give out exact development times but I've devoted at least a year of my life to these crazy 'saurs.
With the team having worked on Contra 4, do you feel Spidersaurs belongs in the ‘spiritual successor’ bracket?
I think that's a fair assessment. Our heroic combat interns do get special abilities that feel more Capcom-y than you might find in the Contra canon, but there's no hiding the run-’n’- gun RNA in our veins.
But even that is mainly the core gameplay. Our stage and boss designs aren't attempting to emulate any sort of alien invasion so there are plenty of unique ideas, and a few concepts inspired by other games in the genre.
Can you elaborate a little on the additions and tweaks made to the console version of the game?
When you're busy finalizing a game for submission and release, of course there are additional ideas that come up, or just little tweaks to improve areas you notice after hundreds and hundreds of playthroughs. So heading into the console port we had a wishlist of things that just weren't possible initially. A lot of little things just to improve the gameplay experience.
The boss of stage 1 had actually moved near the endgame for reasons (he's shy) and the update places him back home for a more dramatic stage 1 climax. We added easy and hard modes, and rebalanced all three difficulties a bit. The biggest change is the Epilogue stage with its own true final boss…and then once you're done with the story but just want to master each level, we added Arcade and Speed Run modes.
Speaking of Saturday morning cartoons, as an ex-Konami employee and someone with experience developing a Turtles game, how have you been enjoying this recent blast of old-school TMNT love? Did you enjoy Tribute Games’ take with Shredder’s Revenge?
Loving it! There's a large corner of my heart devoted to TMNT. Shredder's Revenge does a really great job of keeping the gameplay accessible, but avoiding the relative shallowness inherent to old quarter-muncher arcade games. They accomplished that lofty goal of creating a game that feels the way you REMEMBER, vs. how an old game can sometimes disappoint you when you attempt to relive your childhood. Looking forward to The Cowabunga Collection next — finally going to try out Radical Rescue!
We have great memories of the Trauma Center games you worked on and it feels like the perfect time for Derek Stiles to make a return after 12 long years. Do you have any strong memories from your time working on those games?
I miss Trauma Center! I was one of its champions when the DS was still getting figured out, before we had proof everyone would love lawyer and puppy games. I even got to fly to Japan to help discuss the Wii controls for Second Opinion.
But the most important question is what referential names would new characters get in a sequel? Sadly the series skipped a generation so we never got to meet Derek Stiles III, but maybe there could be a mysterious doctor with new arcane powers? She's a rumor, whispered about in the halls of every medical center in the country… the mysterious Surgeon Witch? S. Witch for short? (I'd settle for eShop rereleases, as sadly my copy of Trauma Team is still factory sealed! Come on Atlus, we need ports, stat!) [I concur - Ed.]
Alongside its other output, for many years WayForward has really carved a niche for itself delivering quality neo-retro experiences that tap into nostalgia for the old-school way of doing things. Is there any series or genre you and the team haven’t worked with that you’d like to tackle in the future?
I've also spent the past few years working on Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, specifically on the stretch goal and DLC content. Which includes Classic Mode and the just-announced Classic Mode 2. So my teams have been on the Konami-inspired track for a while now. Which is obviously super comfortable, but I wouldn't mind a Mega Man. You know, if anyone is asking. Is there interest in a super gritty Ice Climbers reboot? Or, since I'm here, might as well fit in another Rocket Knight. Call me, publishers! You've got my number.
Finally, what games have you been enjoying recently, on Switch or elsewhere?
After a four-month quest to conquer Elden Ring, and quick dips into Stanley Parable and TMNT… I'm not sure what to play next. Maybe I can finally get around to finishing Deltarune? There's also this Holo Night game folks keep talking about?
Many thanks to Tomm for speaking with us. You can follow him on Twitter @Hypnocrite. Spidersaurs launches on Switch on 14th July.