Spore: Creature Creator tells me a few things: creating new species is great fun, creation tools can be simple yet deep, people will always make the rudest things possible, and Spore is going to be a massively popular PC release. Although only a fraction of what will make up the full release of Spore due this September, the Creature Creator still ranks as one of the most impressive PC titles of the year and is a must buy for anyone interested in playing god.
There's no real game to play in Creature Creator. You're presented with a blob, which you can manipulate into a shape, pulling its spinal cord in every direction possible, before adding a head, limbs and various optional extras, as if designing a new car. The basic model might be fine, but the luxury model includes extra armour for added safety. It's all incredibly simple, completely mouse driven and lots of fun.
When creating you're likely to fall into one of two categories: someone who is designing for the proper game or someone who just wants to make the silliest looking creature imaginable. Seeing as the full release of Spore will see other people's creations inhabiting planets in the mass Spore solar system you'd hope the entire world isn't creating beasts based on reproductive organs. As fun as it might be when in a YouTube video (uploading to the video site is seamlessly built into the game), I can only imagine it starting to grate when playing the full game.
You can throw together a collection of limbs and create something in less than a minute, but you won't be able to leave it there. Each limb can be subtly altered at each joint and moved around the body until you're completely happy - minor changes can completely alter the way your creature walks. Once you name something it's essentially a real virtual creature, and it's all too easy to spend upwards of 30 minutes tweaking minor details.
In a sense it's a relief that the painting options are fairly limited, if only to spare you some time. Rather than giving you full freedom over how your creature can be coloured, you're limited to set choices for three layers. If you've got an eye for art then you'll probably be able to work around these restrictions to make something that resembles what you set out to create, but for most people it's far too restrictive. Whereas the main creature creation tool is brilliantly simple, it doesn't feel restrictive. Painting your creature feels like a step back in terms of design freedom.
If I'm being picky there are other problems too. For one, you can't create a creature that isn't symmetrical. Whether it be its eyes, legs, arms or tube-like ears, they have to sit opposite another. You can't create a beast with just one eye on the side of its face for example. Some truly brilliant creatures have been created already, but with even slightly more freedom the breadth of designs would be immeasurably bigger. The limit on body parts is also something that will annoy anyone looking to push the limits of the tool, even if the restriction makes sense from a game balance point of view.
Little problems aside, Spore: Creature Creator is something everyone with a capable PC or Mac should try out. The demo is available for free and is the same as the full retail product but with far fewer body parts to choose from. For £5 though, which also goes towards the final cost of Spore when it's released in September, the full Creature Creator is well worth owning. We had hours of fun with the demo, and hours more once we had the full thing. If this taster is anything to go by then Spore could well live up to the hype when it hits our solar system in September - questionably shaped creatures included.