The original PC version of Spore was pretty much an unmitigated success - people all over the world got hooked on being God in what many regard as one of the most ambitious games of recent years. The franchise's Wii offering, Spore Hero, certainly has a high billing to live up to. What's refreshing is that rather than hacking off half the features and putting in 'waggle' controls, EA have made the rather wise choice to build this game from the ground up, specifically for the Wii.
Interestingly, the game's developer has opted for a totally different direction with Spore Hero. The clue is pretty much in the name. Speaking to the assistant producer on the title, Mathiau Cote (full interview soon) it became clear that the folks behind this game wanted to make it a story driven adventure with a distinct protagonist, keeping in line with a long tradition of 'hero' games on Nintendo platforms. The result is a game that sticks true to the roots of Spore but goes off in a whole new direction. You play as one creature, you control only this one creature and you play through the whole game in an adventure/fighting/creature creating mishmash. That's not to say this game lacks focus, though, far from it. The whole package seems to be a pleasing mix of traditional platforming, creature customisation and upgrading, and a rather well-realised fighting system that could (almost) be a game in its own right.
EA walked me through a substantial chunk of the game and I had lots of time to run around and mess about in what is seemingly a massive game. Huge environments encourage and reward exploration, with new creature creator parts, upgrades and other odds and sods sprayed across the map. The aim is to find your own path through the game and play it your way. You can fight, help, explore, or simply rush your way through the whole experience. Based on how you play the game, your creature will acquire different characteristics that you can tweak in the creature creator. This is almost a straight lift from the PC version, with all the parts from both the original Spore and its expansion, along with some more chucked in for good measure. This allows you to make some truly strange and wonderful creatures. I spent a good twenty minutes messing around with the creature creator alone and conceived a rather odd looking beast that had far too many limbs. Glorious.
Graphically, the game attempts to retain the cartoony charm of the franchise and it does so really impressively. The colours are vibrant and vivid and the huge environments are clean, crisp and really well put together. What's best, though, is the creature animation itself. If you design something with long legs it will clatter clumsily along taking huge strides, give it little stumps and it will scuttle and fall across the landscape. This attention to detail is key to the whole character and charm of Spore Hero.
The plot is a pretty simple one, but fun nonetheless. Two meteors crash to Earth, a red one and a blue one. No prizes for guessing that one colour is evil and one colour is good. By smashing up blue bits of crystal (which are scattered all over the map) you get 'money' which you use to buy body bits that you collect. The red shards tend to send everything a bit 'strange' and will prove to be a hindrance in your quest. You'll have to destroy them in order to being back a world of niceness and cuddles.
Not that you have to cuddle. In fact, you're more likely to punch fellow beasties in the face with one of your many overly long arms. Yup, fighting is at the very core of what Spore Hero is about. Fighting gives you respect and respect gives you access to nests. And what do nests mean? Nesting! Nests are the only places that you can access creature creator so it is crucial you unlock as many as possible to allow you to upgrade and alter yourself easily. The fighting itself is pretty impressive, with a range of attacks and move available that make decent use of the Wii-mote controls. Various shakes and gestures allow you to perform all sorts of offensive and defensive moves combined with more traditional button pressing action.
Whilst the God-like control of everything might have been removed in favour of a protagonist-lead adventure, you can still alter and influence your surroundings. I got to play through one challenge where I was instructed to reunite a creature called Beauty with her hunky friend called Beast. The problem was Beast had been de-hunked and now looks rather unimpressive. It was my job to enter the creature creator and add lots of spikes, limbs and generally terrifying body parts to make him an impressive and menacing fella again. Doing it well enough causes Beauty to jump around with joy.
This sort of side-quest is key to how the game works; the whole experience is about exploration and creating a vibrant and active world. The storyline guides you through the process, allowing you to either take your time and see everything or simply follow the game through from start to finish.