The Best Part of Spore
In 2008, Electronic Arts published “Spore,” a game designed by Will Wright, creator of “The Sims.” “Spore” is a 5-part game in which players guide the evolution of a creature from the cellular stage all the way to pan-galactic civilization. While I found the first two stages of “Spore” to be interesting, the fact that the last three stages – over half the game – are RTS knock-offs, combined with the fact that the game is hampered by terrible DRM prevented me from ever buying it or playing it in its entirety. But I have enjoyed a number of evolution-based games, from “EVO: The Search for Eden” on the SNES to “Seventh Cross” on the Dreamcast; so when I learned that EA was spinning-off the creature evolution stage of “Spore” (stage two) into “Spore Hero” for the Wii, my interest was piqued. Sure, a spinoff game for the Wii by EA has a high probability of being shovelware, but the fact that “Spore Hero” quickly dropped in price to $15 made it worth the money to at least take a look.
“Spore Hero” looks pretty decent. It actually looks a lot like a slightly-lower-resolution version of the original “Spore.” There are surprisingly few jaggies and everything looks clean and colorful. The only major problem with the graphics that I noticed was that character animations are incredibly choppy and jerky if the character in question is more than about 20 feet away from the player’s creature. This is likely the result of the game pre-loading only the necessary assets into the Wii’s limited memory and scrambling to keep up when a new character approaches.
The creature editor is also a bit more limited than the one in “Spore.” Instead of dynamically morphing the creature’s body by adding and removing joints, the player must instead choose from a stable of about 16 static body types. While it is possible to modify creature limbs by moving and resizing the joints, it’s impossible to add or remove joints beyond what a given limb starts with. The creature color pallet is also limited to a number of presets, which don’t actually appear on the creature in the editor, forcing the player to enter and exit the editor repeatedly in order to see just how hideous a given color scheme is. But for all its limitations, the creature editor in “Spore Hero” is pretty good, and allowed me to sculpt a creature that looked almost exactly how I wanted.
The sound in “Spore Hero” is uninspiring stuff. The soundtrack is subdued to the point of being an afterthought, while the gibberish ‘voiceacting’ spouted by non-player characters becomes grating after a while. There is also, unfortunately, to way to change the player-creature’s voice selection, meaning that every player’s creature will sound the same, regardless or shape, size, or deformity.
In a massive black hole in the center of the universe, a supernova sends two meteors – red and blue – rocketing through space. These two rocks crash onto a primitive planet, radiating mutagenic energy and affecting nearby lifeforms. Each meteor splits open, the red revealing a small, ape-like creature, and the blue revealing an unhatched egg, which is spirited away to a nest by a native creature.
Shortly, the blue egg hatches, and out pops our hero, a round Sporeling with two eyes, two legs, and nothing else. The Sporeling must learn to survive on this alien planet by observing its adopted species, befriending other species, exerting dominance when required, and mutating its own body with the help of blue meteor shards.
The red Sporeling, however, seems to have a grudge against the blue Sporeling, and is bent on enslaving the planet’s inhabitants through the hypnotic powers of the red meteor shards. As these two alien castaways clash, the fate of the planet lies in the balance.
“Spore Hero’s” story is pretty simplistic and doesn’t really explain anything in the way of back story and/or motive. Why are the red and blue Sporelings enemies? What’s up with the red and blue meteors? Is Superman involved somehow? It just feels like a cobbled-together hack-job that provides the bare minimum of motivation to move the player through the game world without having to think too hard about the religious and moral themes that evolution-based stories usually bring up.
“Spore Hero” is a basic Action/Adventure game. The blue Sporeling must explore its new alien home, searching for fragments of its blue meteor and destroying fragments of the red one. Along the way, the Sporeling can interact with all of the planet’s inhabitants either by talking to them or kicking them. Kicking creatures sometimes results in a reward, but usually results in a fight.
The central mechanic of evolution in “Spore Hero” revolves around collecting blue shards and creature parts. Blue shards add DNA to the Sporeling’s gauge, allowing it to equip more and better body parts, while the parts themselves grant specific abilities that can be used in battle or for exploration. The battle parts/abilities include a mouth for biting, hands for slapping, horns for ramming, uhhh… glands? for squirting green fluid, armor for increased health, and hair-like fronds for health regeneration. The exploration parts/abilities include a mouth for eating fruit, feet for jumping (and double-jumping), fins for swimming, and wings for gliding. These parts are awarded from creatures either by defeating them in a fight or a social encounter, or found in bone piles scattered around the game environments.
Creature construction itself is entirely stat-based, with each part granting capability in one of the previously-mentioned areas on a scale of one to four stars. The way the creature is put together doesn’t matter aside from player preference. Placing a part on the Sporeling requires an amount of blue shards specified by the part (which are refunded if the part is removed) and consumes a set amount of DNA from the Sporeling’s gauge, which mysteriously caps-out based on creature complexity (e.g., number of different parts) long before the player would run out of blue shards. When placing an instance of a part, it’s possible to fork the part into two identical parts that can be placed symmetrically on the Sporeling for no additional cost.
Battles in “Spore Hero” are fairly unique in that they play a lot like a 3D Fighting game, like “SoulCalibur,” only without the depth. Upon provoking a creature, the Sporeling and that creature are warped into a circular one-on-one arena where they fight until one is exhausted. There is no actual way to die in “Spore Hero,” as defeat in battle just sends the Sporeling back to the last nest it used (to save) with no penalty. “Spore Hero” uses only the Wiimote+Nunchuck control configuration. In battle, the A button is for jumping and dodging (when combined with a direction on the analog stick), the B button is for biting, waggling the Wiimote is for slapping, waggling the nunchuck is for ramming (or divebombing when combined with a jump), the Z button is for guarding, and the C button is for regenerating. Holding the B button instead of tapping it causes the Sporeling to charge-up energy, which can be released either in an unblockable slap (via Wiimote waggle) or a long-range deluge of up to three squirts of fluid (via nunchuck waggle). It’s a fun battle system, limited largely by its dependence on inaccurate motion controls and the finicky range of attacks. Bites and slaps require the two combatants to be incredibly close, while the ranged squirting attack can be avoided easily by moving to the side. I found the ramming attack to be the most useful, despite the fact that it can be dodged, which results in overextension and a brief period where the Sporeling loses its balance and can’t do anything. However, most opposing creatures can be stunlocked by a series of consecutive ram attacks and none of the creatures are particularly challenging – not even the final boss.
Aside from standard battles, “Spore Hero” also features three other types of social ‘battle’ that play out as annoying motion-controlled mini-games: Singing, Dancing, and Posing. Singing battles require the player to hold the Wiimote at a specified angle and hold the A button to make the Sporeling warble along with its opponent. Dancing battles require the player to waggle the Wiimote and/or nunchuck to a beat. Posing battles require the player to hold the Wiimote and nunchuck steady as the Sporeling strikes a variety of balance-based yoga positions. All of these social battles have the end goal of earning 100 points of respect from the opponent in a set amount of time, at which point the opponent is considered to be defeated. About the only part of these battles I enjoyed was the absurdity of my Sporeling trying to do yoga in high heels.
“Spore Hero” successfully excises the best part of the original “Spore” – the creature stage – and presents it at a stand-alone game. Despite the limitations in the creature editor and the simplistic story, I enjoyed this game for the ~15 hours or so that it took me to clear the story and find 100% of the shards and parts. While the game could have benefitted from a grander scale and a more meaningful story, as a bargain bin spinoff title, it’s good for what it is.
Overall (not an average): 3.5/5