Ten years in the making, Will Wright’s Spore finally arrives on PC to fanfares of adulation from those who’ve reviewed it. The hype has well and truly been lived up to, the ambition fully realised. It would be as preposterous as a swan made of jelly to expect the DS version of Spore to match the scope and scale of its PC cousin, so the developers have created a standalone game that takes the core elements of creature creation and evolution and builds a planet-trotting adventure around them.
Curiously, the first time we’ve seen Spore Creatures is here with the final build of the game. We’ve barely seen a screenshot before now, let alone any early versions. We think we know why. While the seed of a good idea has been planted, it’s failed to bloom into a decent game. In fact, too many ideas have been planted here and the result is an overgrown tangle, leaving us confused, unsatisfied and rather disappointed.
The game starts out with you, a little wiggling thing, narrowly escaping abduction by a creature in a spaceship. You’ve got a little friend who guides you through the opening section of the game, introducing the central concepts of evolving to meet the demands of the specific environment you find yourself in and making friends with the other creatures who live there. Too much info, related via text, is thrust at you at the start and caused us an initial confusion that took a fair amount of play time to come to terms with.
Different body parts – mouths, eyes, legs, arms, torsos and so on – are picked up by various means, such as completing tasks or simply by making friends with another species. Every part has a stat specific to the body part’s function, with attack and defence being your main concerns. To tweak your critter you need access to a nest, and this brings up the creature creator. The wealth of body parts and the numerous stat icons are overwhelming – for example, by the time you’re done on the first planet you’ll have around a dozen different leg parts. You’ll also need to keep visiting the nest whether you want to or not. It might be to attach a set of legs that have a specific ability, such as walking on thorns without taking damage, or to swap mouth parts so that you can feed on fruit rather than meat, because your current mouth part makes you a carnivore but there’s no meat to be found. This soon got dull.
The second core element is making friends. As you wander through the different areas on each world you’ll come across new species. You make friends with the chummier species and help them out, usually by fighting the unfriendly species in their area. Making friends comprises speaking to the creature and then rubbing a smiley face over its body or doing a little dance with it, a simple screen-tapping minigame. Rinse and repeat until you’ve filled the friendship bar. We tired of it pretty quickly. You need to make friends anyway, but mainly so they’ll hang around with you. And you need to get them to accompany you because combat is virtually impossible on your own. Battles take place in a closed environment and involve rubbing the stylus over your enemy or using a special ability such as fiery breath while trying to avoid their blows. Leave your mates to do the fighting is our advice. It’s all a bit haphazard.
In fact, haphazard sums up the whole game. Spore offers a lot but the delivery is patchy. Shame.
Sep 10, 2008