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Spore: In the beginning there was dancing

Set missiles to "dance"

Spore is a game that’s deep and close to my heart.  If I absolutely had to tell you why, it would probably be because I was one of the unlucky few to stumble across the game obscenely early in its development, during a speech by creator and developer Will Wright at a game convention.  It was everything a nerd like me needs in a game.  Endless possibilities.  Creation paths and choices.  The ability to lead a species from its days as a single-celled organism until it eventually has a civilization spanning galaxies, defending the weak while destroying the jerkfaces of all known space.

The end product is definitely a marvel to behold, even though it does fall rather short of my expectations.  But then again, after three years of being hyped for a game, whose expectations wouldn’t be a little out of whack?

Still…  when I picture what things must have been like before creatures started banding together to form civilizations, I never thought there’d be that much dancing.

Okay, so it’s time to come clean.  I know Spore isn’t really a new game or anything like that, but I feel like it’s been a bit underlooked since its release.  My only other option for an article today was to review the new remake of The Karate Kid, with that one kid Will Smith fathered and Jackie Chan, who once totally hit a man in the face with a salmon in a kung fu battle.  I think that movie is subconsciously the reason why I decided to run with Spore, since Jackie Chan is obviously the height of evolution for the human race.

Anyway, enough of that nonsense.  There might be Karate Kid reviews in the future, but NOT TODAY, BROSEPH.  Today, I’m going to take you through the entire history of a simple, single-celled organism as it dances and eats its way to glory.

D'awww, I'd hug them if they wouldn't stab and elecroctute me

So Spore.  It starts out basic enough.  You’re given a stock, single-celled organism and a planet, which you get to name, before the game jumps right in.  Your planet is orbiting around an unassuming star, devoid of life and anything to make it interesting.  That is until a meteor crashes into the ocean, spraying genetic material and depositing your single-celled life form into a battle for survival without much fanfare.

This starts the cell stage, which mostly revolves around eating other one-celled organisms or plant life, and trying not to get munched yourself.  You can play the role of a herbivore or a carnivore (or an omnivore, but if you want to end up with that path you’re going to need to keep a careful eye on your diet to keep it as equal parts meat and veggies), and as you fight off other cells you gain new, useful parts to attach on to your cell.  There’s a neat pod that dispenses poisonous juices, which comes in handy if you’re fleeing a relentless spiny jerkface, a bright lightning bug-esque sac that can electrocute nearby foes, spines, what for ramming, and a few others.  There’s honestly not a whole lot to see in the cell stage, and it has a tendency to wear its welcome out quickly.

Do you know what that big creature's name is? It's name is BULLSHIT.

Progress at this point is measured in brain size!  Well, sort of.  You’re not doing much to actively make your new friend smarter.  You just gotta eat, eat, and eat until the game tells you that you’ve had enough.  This is about the time when the game says to you “oh hey, why don’t you add some legs for a change?” and up you go onto dry land.

This starts creature phase, which is actually a bit similar to cell phase.  Your creature’s diet is determined by what you ate as a cell, so you can’t pull a total 180 and do something different, but for the most part all the other parts are interchangeable.  You get to shape your creature as you like, by adding a metric eff ton of parts to him, and mate, your way to victory.

You’re not alone at this stage of the game either.  Other creatures, mostly pulled off of the EA Games accounts of other Spore players, are there too.  This gives the Spore team a chance to really show off what its award-winning creature editor can do, and gives you a choice to make!  Will you befriend these wayward creations, journey with them and venture out into this brave new world?  Or will you spit acid at them, ram them and eat them to grow stronger?

DERP

Knowing you, it’s probably the latter.  Because you’re a big meany.

Though, that can be the better path to take, really.  Befriending the other nests of creatures involves you to play a bit of a Simon Says mini game, where you sing, pose, flex, and dance your way into their hearts.  There…  there is so much dancing.  It’s like if instead of being about fast cars and slutty women, the movie Grease was about bizarre pre-tribal creatures throwing down a funky beat.

I’ll go more into the development paths here in a bit, but for now lets just move on.  After a healthy bit of exploration with your creature (including stumbling upon a wrecked spaceship and watching aliens chase down and abduct a different species) the game once again decides you’ve had enough and says “okay, sweet, time for you to get pointy sticks now.”

TRIBAL STAGE HAS BEGUN.

It's didgeridoo time!

This time around you have different buildings!  But don’t get too excited, the actual gameplay mechanics are still about the same.  While now you have to go and send out tribesmen to hunt or gather food for your budding civilization, depending on your creatures’ food preference, you once again have to deal with rival groups of critters, who have also formed tribes.  You can do this one of two ways.  That’s right, you can either arm your men for battle, or you can arm them with flutes and didgeridoo and send them out to have some kind of horn based musical orgy in your rival’s base.

You can also, you know, give your rivals a gift of food, or sneak over there and help yourselves to their stock, but if you want to progress, war or horn orgies are your only options.  The game starts to function as a very, very basic real-time strategy game at this point, where you step away from controlling one particular creature and control a whole group of them.

Tribal stage is actually probably the weakest of the stages.  There’s not a whole lot to do, not too much customizing to be done, and you feel a bit cut off being away from the creature editor.  The houses you get are stock huts, your creatures can get some generic pieces of gear that don’t have much variety, and once you’ve mastered the didgeridoo, making friends is actually pretty simple.  It’s best to just plow on ahead until the next stage of the game, which is simultaneously more confusing and chaotic.

These guys are shrewd businessmen, but they kinda have their heads up their asses.

Civilization stage.  This one begins when your critters decide that the only thing better than sticking people with sticks is to just blow them up from the safety of an armored vehicle.  A town is formed, a vehicle editor is opened, and for the first time in the game you begin to realize that you’re actually a pretty shitty architect.  The game opens up a bit too, and lets you design buildings for your new town.  There are three types of buildings:  factories, entertainment parlors (gambling, maybe?  Mini golf?  Whores?) and residential homes.  Residential homes act as multipliers to increase the effectiveness of entertainment buildings, which keep people happy, and factories, which maintain spice input.

That’s right, spice.  It has a very Dune feel to it, doesn’t it?  Anyway, you might have come across some mysterious red geysers when wandering around as a creature.  These are spice geysers.  They will act as your currency for the rest of the game.  Each spice node, during civilization stage, will be hotly contested by rival cities.

But how do you go about conquering these upstarts?  Well, that depends on your choices.  If you were particularly aggressive, you’ll have the ability to make military vehicles to blow people up pretty good.  If you were neutral, you’ll get the lame trading vehicles to purchase cities at reasonable prices.  If you were nicer, you’ll be able to build religious vehicles to send to other towns, which actually function suspiciously like military vehicles, even if you’re using giant, gibberish shouting holograms of your people than cannons.  Not…  Not sure if that’s the most effective way to spread religions.

This planet's probably going to need some work

After the last city falls, Spore really begins to shine.  Another editor is entered, this time giving you the ability to craft your own space ship.  There’s no pressure here…  there’s absolutely no way you can screw it up.  Once, just for a test, I created just a metallic stock orb with two windmill looking things on either side of it, just to see how it would fare in space.  It looked dopey as all hell, but I was still able to shoot cannons and lasers out of it just like my old ship.

Space stage opens everything up.  There are countless challenges, each one needed to unlock a new spaceship part or ability needed to colonize new planets.  Bored with befriending or exploding your neighbors?  Set up colonies on new planets.  Want to increase productivity?  Terraform the planets and place more colonies.  Need someone new to blow up?  Place a 2001 Space Odyssey style obelisk on a planet and wait a while.

SPACE: THE FINAL SOMETHING SOMETHING

Your main source of income at this stage involves flying around to the planets you own collecting spices of different colors, and selling them at ridiculously inflated prices to friendly aliens who will thank you for ripping them off.  With the money you gain, you can buy better and better spaceship weaponry and handy kits for terraforming.

Which can get pretty complicated.  Arriving on a planet is an undertaking.  After scanning the planet to see if there’s anything you can steal or recover, you can set down some one-use items to get the planet’s temperature to a reasonable level.  The temperature will quickly fall back down out of acceptable bounds, so you’d better have some plan or animal life handy to help stabilize it.   Terraformed planets produce spice faster, which, you know, is a good thing.

I could spend all day talking about the Space Stage.  You’d be better off experiencing it for yourself, as Spore is definitely one of the better PC games I’ve played in recent years.  However, I have to say, for as much as I played this game I was a bit disappointed.

For as many options as there are in the creature developer, I actually felt like the game itself was rushed.  Cell stage is awfully short with little to no progression paths.  Just, at random, you go from being this single-celled thing to a monster with legs, leaving out the entire stage when you should probably be a fish or something ridiculous.  I didn’t want a cut scene to tell me I was now a land creature!  I wanted to work my creature toward developing legs, maybe spending a phase as a lungfish or something, before physically moving myself onto dry land.  IS THAT SO MUCH TO ASK??

Also, while I did enjoy that your dietary path affects the mouths you can get as a creature, the rest of the game has no real progression.  You find new parts on other creatures, dead bones lying around, or what have you, but A) if you want any chance of progressing through creature stage you need to use the best parts available, and B) any evolutionary path can be immediately reversed if you don’t like it.  I was kind of hoping to have goals:  I want my creature to be able to fly, so as I develop I need to slowly increase wing size while phasing out legs entirely.

Jackie Chan: the pinnacle of human evolution? CHRIS TUCKER AGREES.

At the end of creature stage, you’ll be using a lot of familiar parts.  Last time I made a creature, I paused right before making the jump to tribal phase, removed all the excess junk off of him, and turned him into Mr. Saturn from Earthbound.  (I tried to make a Jackie Chan creature, because Kung Fu is the shit, but it…  well, it didn’t end well.  I don’t want to talk about it.)  Once you reach tribal phase, it doesn’t matter how effective those parts are anymore…  so why limit people during creature phase?

Anyway, I digress.  Spore’s definitely worth playing, just don’t go assuming it’s the end-all, dawn of life to galactic conquest evolution game that it claims.  The cut scenes, while are full of humor and sci-fi throwbacks, also serve as a big disconnect away from your beloved sprite.

Speaking of evolution, when this game was released there was a huge religious debate that sprung up.  Some people argued that the game had a pro evolution agenda, what with all the evolving taking place, while others argued that the game promoted intelligent design since said evolutions were being made at the whim of the gamer.  This comic sums up that debate pretty well. (and check out Team Spore’s response using their creature editor too)  As for me, I think you’ve gotta be having a serious crisis of faith if you’re turning to video games for answers to the mysteries of the universe.  Just play the damn game and have fun.

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One Response

  1. My husband played some of this game. He liked it okay and said it would be a good game to introduce a person to video games. I don’t think I’d like it, just because of the weird creatures evolving factor. But who knows? I’m a weird person.

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