Spore’s five sub-games are all simple but addictive, each the Diablo of its respective genre. Click to kill, find a steady stream of cool new stuff. Only rather than swords, it’s body parts. We found out how to evolve a new beak by inspecting a skeleton on the beach. Eating a feral blue kangaroo taught us how to electrify our body. Almost every kill, or befriending, gives you a DNA point to put toward mutation.

Mutation is easy and ridiculous fun. It’s the centerpiece of Spore - the sub-games wouldn’t stand well on their own if they were populated by identical creatures. If you’re anything like us, you’ll start by designing the most demented creature you can think of just to see if the game can animate it. It can. It can make it walk, fight, eat, dance and mate, and it’s about then that you’ll start to regret making a platform of beaks with nine-foot legs, electric knees and an eye inside its mouth. It’s appalling.

It gets more interesting when you earn a few DNA points, find a few new limb types and start thinking about how to make your beast more effective. Electric elbows? A poison-spitting mouth with an eye in it? Twelve-foot legs? You’re going to end up creating a lot of species this way - it’s as addictive as starting new characters in WoW. But the game won’t forget about your old ones. Sometimes you’ll encounter them as AI-controlled species.

Spore starts when your germ of a species crashes into the sea inside a meteor, which cracks open. The microbe-level game plays a lot like a more exotic version of flOw: swim at things smaller than you, mouth-first. Until you run into something bigger than you. The water is bristling with big, nasty, spiky things to flee from. Some of them extremely large, all of them extremely horrible. But once you eat enough, your creature swells and the camera has to zoom out to keep track of him. Soon the enormous hunter becomes your tiny, delicious prey.

Throughout the game you’ll occasionally run into these mega-creatures, known as Epics. At the microbe stage, it’s the four-eyed fish that fills the screen. At the tribe stage, it’s a mountain-sized giant stomping your village. But the game doesn’t have pre-designed bosses, it just takes one of the species it knows and makes it much, much bigger. That includes yours. So that race of fanged bunnies you experimented with on your first time through may come back to haunt you in hundred-foot-high form.

Apr 7, 2008