Unless you’ve been living under a reasonably large rock, you’re more than likely aware of the game called Spore.  The purpose of Spore is to simulate everything, from a being’s humble beginnings as a bacteria to when it reaches its slithery tentacles out to explore the universe.

Whatever your opinion of Spore, most people can agree that one of the best parts of the game is the Creature phase.  During this phase, you customize your creature to your liking, designing its body, how many eyes it should have and where, and so on and so forth.  You choose to either socialize with other creatures or attack and eat them.

Spore Creatures is essentially the Creature portion of Spore stretched into a full game.  So, naturally, it should be pretty good, right?  Well, hold on there.  Let’s not make any assumptions yet.

Spore Creatures looks all right for a DS game.  The environments are fully 3-D, but the creatures are put front and center.  To make up for the DS’s deficiencies, they’ve made the creatures in 2-D, like cardboard cutouts.  This means creature customization is easier for the system to handle, and it also gives the creatures a certain lo-fi charm.

Still, you’ll come upon certain creatures and not be sure whether or not you’ve seen them before.  They’ve tried to pack a lot of detail into these creatures, and there just isn’t the space on the screen for it.  You never really develop an attachment to any of the creatures in Spore Creatures because you can’t tell them apart, which is what the original Spore got right.  There’s not enough variety in this animal kingdom to make things look unique.

Most of the sound consists of squeaks and grunts from other creatures, and most of it is fairly forgettable.  For the most part, it doesn’t really detract from the experience.  There is something that really bugged me, however.  Smaller animals will scurry about, and you can eat them if you happen to be a carnivore.  When you eat one, they squeak far too much, and keep squeaking.  It made me uncomfortable.  I know that other animals don’t enjoy being eaten, obviously.  It just seems that for a game aimed mostly at kids, they made it a little too much.  Maybe just one squeak would be fine, but don’t have the animal still squeaking as I’m grinding it in my jaws and swallowing its pulpy remains down my gullet.

As far as the music goes, it’s inoffensive.  Every once in a while, you try and make friends with other creatures, and then an Elite Beat Agents-style minigame starts up.  It’s an interesting concept, but the audio cues that tell you when to tap the screen are unintuitive, and except for a few selections the tunes aren’t very catchy.

Most of the control is handled with the stylus, and movement is fairly precise.  You only need to move the stylus around the screen in order to get your creature to move around.  You only need to tap another creature in order to interact with them and select the action you would like to perform.  They’ve kept the basic controls simple and intuitive, and that’s great.

However, they dropped the ball during combat.  When combat begins, you need to slash your opponent with the stylus.  Sometimes your slashes will register.  Sometimes they won’t.  Sometimes you’ll slash your opponent six times in a row and defeat them handily.  Sometimes your flailing about has virtually no effect on your opponent.  Sometimes you’ll be on the other side of the screen as your opponent, and they’ll still be slashing you.  Sometimes you’ll be close up and they won’t hit you at all.

On top of that, the game doesn’t always tell you how to control it.  For instance, in one part there are little mounds of dirt on the ground.  When you touch the stylus to them, a moving paw appears.  Is your creature doing something with the mound of dirt?  Or is there something else that needs to be done?  Later on, they explain that you need to move the stylus back and forth over the dirt mounds to dig through them, but they explain it only after you’ve passed several of them without mining their glorious treasures.  Of course, those previous dirt mounds are now blocked off to you.  It’s control decisions like these that made me cringe.

The best thing about the Creature phase of Spore is the openness.  It’s very cool to see different nests and different creatures and be able to choose whether or not to befriend them or kill them.  It’s cool to add whatever part you feel like adding.  It’s cool to make a creature uniquely yours.

Spore Creatures does away with all that.  Instead of choosing whether to destroy a nest or be a bespeckled, multi-limbed savior, the game tells you whether you need to befriend or attack a nest.  So instead of making a creature that looks nice to you, you’re trying to equip whatever limbs/legs/eyeballs will accomplish the goal the game sets in front of you.  They’ve turned the glorious simplicity of Spore into just another action RPG.

For instance, let’s say you have to befriend a nest.  If you walk up to the other nest without min/maxing your build, you can end up wasting five minutes trying to get a creature to like you and not getting anywhere.  Instead, you have to go back and get rid of those killer arms and legs that you use to attack, and instead add three sets of eyeballs and a cheap herbivore mouth.  Then you can actually make that creature like you.

Shortly thereafter, the game dictates that a nest of bad guys needs to be exterminated, and that a friendly nest will give you a spaceship part that you need.  Why a spaceship part?  Screw you, that’s why.  So you go out and remove your happy eyeballs, put on your angry eyes, nasty claws and vicious mouth to go take care of business.  It doesn’t even matter where you put the limbs or legs, just as long as you have them.  You go back and get your spaceship part and then move on to the next level, where you keep min/maxing your build to accomplish whatever task you need.

Does that sound like Spore to you?  No, it sounds like Mr. Potato Head, the RPG.  Spore is about exploration and choices.  Could Spore Creatures at least have a choice to go and befriend the angry species and have them help us attack the nest to get the part we need?  Or could we at the very least decide that we don’t want to fight and come up with a different way to get the angry species out of the nest?

On top of that, every level is essentially the same.  You’re progressing through the area, befriending/attacking other nests as the game sees fit, and moving on to the next area.  There’s a plot about you’re friend Oogie who needs help, and then gets sick, but it has no bearing on the repetitive drudgery of repeating the same couple of tasks over and over again.

That’s my whole problem with Spore Creatures:  It takes everything good about Spore and throws it out the window.  You’re progessing joylessly through a series of levels instead of discovering different species and making choices.  You’re juggling stats instead of deciding what looks nice.  You’re picking a body based on how many parts you can have attached to it.  You’re doing what the computer tells you to do instead of doing what you want to do.  You’re repeating the same couple of actions over and over again.

However, on the bright side, you can attach an arm to your character in such a way that it looks like a little prehensile weiner.  So it has that going for it.

I toiled through Spore Creatures for quite a while, and there was still more for me to find.  I didn’t have all the body parts, and I also didn’t see all the other creatures in the game.  It didn’t really matter to me.  Even if I would have seen all the other creatures I wouldn’t have been able to tell them apart anyway.  On top of that, even if I would have found all the body parts, I only would have picked the ones with the best stats.