Name: Spore Creatures
Platform: Nintendo DS
The Spore franchise, if we can officially begin calling it such, is based on the idea of evolution. When a Nintendo DS and Wii version were announced it was made clear that they were going to be developed separately from the PC edition. In the full version you’re able to take a single-celled organism and bring it through life, from the process of gaining a brain to intergalactic travel. Along the way there are different hurdles to jump, and the genre of “strategy” is aptly applied to the experience. Spore Creatures tries a similar stunt, but remains in the Creature Phase of Spore, which is a strategy that I can support in terms of game development. The full experience is far too large to scale down to a portable system effectively, and focusing on recreating one aspect of the game strongly is a fine path to take. As it begins, the title’s plot are revealed and you take control of your own creature, preparing for an epic, universe-changing series of events. A strange, alien race is kidnapping and destroying different creatures around the universe involving your friend, and your mission throughout the title’s ten hours involve trying to rescue him.
Spore Creatures takes the idea of evolution and customization and runs with it a little too far with it. Instead of a natural progression that is supposed to take millions of years the game will occasionally give you a new object and demand you equip it immediately to complete an objective. I was shocked when I was told I needed to capture a certain creature to progress, and given a new pair of legs to capture it with. It’s not a terrible gameplay mechanic, but with the name Spore (and, in turn, Will Wright) you would expect there to be some subtlety involved.
Visually, the creature creator is obviously dumbed down from the PC version, but the issues exist with the limited options, not the actual graphics themselves. On the whole, Spore Creatures' graphical style is visually appealing, using a cut-paper aesthetic that fits perfectly with the overall feel of the game. During gameplay it looks fine, but in the creature creator screen it is often hard to figure out what any given body part is actually supposed to represent. I found myself often needing to re-edit a creature because what I thought was a mouth was actually a snout, or something was turned a strange way because of its orientation in the default image. Combat consists of little more than slashing across enemy creatures with the touch screen and occasionally activating different powers. Allying enemies involves playing through a mini-game, and much of the game can be completed by either method. There are times where it will force you in one direction or another, but the fact that it even poses the question is admirable.
Spore Creatures isn’t the shovelware I originally expected, but it isn’t much more than a cash-in on the PC version’s anticipated success. It isn't a bad game, it isn't a good game, it's just sort of there. Nothing about it screams "play me!" and nothing about it sucks so bad you need to stop, but you'll have to find excuses to spend time on it. Some of the aspects of the game work well, some of them fall flat, but the game is thoroughly playable throughout. There are plenty of awards and achievements to earn, for completionists, but I have a feeling that people will somehow be even less impressed with your Spore Creatures awards than they are with your Xbox Live Gamerscore. Some online options and the huge amount of customization make it worth a try, but I can’t recommend purchasing this title, even as a replacement for Spore on the PC.