Spare a moment for the team working on Spore Hero. Not only do they have the responsibility of using one of the most successful PC licences in recent years, but they've got to somehow make the core Spore experience work on the Wii. We already know how tricky it can be to make a decent Sims game work on a console, so how on Earth could it be possible to translate something that aims to simulate the evolution of intelligent life?
Spore Hero sensibly avoids trying to directly copy the sprawling, multi-stage gameplay of its smash-hit predecessor. What we have instead is a third-person action adventure that draws most of its inspiration from Spore's Creature Stage. If you played the original, you'll remember this as the bit where you wandered around the planet eating things, dancing and screwing - much like the VideoGamer.com crew at the weekend. Only with added screwing.
The real coup in design terms is that Maxis has somehow managed to squeeze the entire creature editor onto the Wii's limited hardware. As a result, you'll be able to build your own alien hero using 170 body parts - including all the bonus suckers, claws and squirty things that popped up in the Cute n' Creepy expansion pack. The anatomy editor has undergone a few alterations due to the nature of Wii control: you now select your body from a range of torso shapes, rather than directly manipulating your beasty's spine, and you're now forced to have at least one leg; this a platform-based game after all, so slug-like wriggling won't quite cut it.
Aside from these changes, the full Spore procedural animation magic is present and correct. You'll actually change your appearance frequently throughout the adventure: the game's plot casts you as the descendant of a strange blue meteor that crash lands on a colourful planet. The blue rock's energy gives you the power to evolve as you see fit - which is just as well, as a large red rock landed on the same planet as you, producing a dastardly nemesis who's scurrying about and ruining everyone's day. Your task is to explore the planet, completing quests and retrieving bits of blue meteor - a sort of currency for the evolutionary process. As you defeat creatures and tick off quests you'll also unlock new body parts; when you fancy a change or when you need a new ability, you'll head back to your nest and undergo a quick metamorphosis - think Gok Wan meets David Attenborough.
As you may have guessed, the emphasis on jumping platforms and collecting stuff is supposed to give the game a strong Nintendo-like feel - there's even a loose nod to Zelda and Metroid, in that you'll need to develop new skills and powers in order to reach new parts of the game world. From what's been shown so far it seems as if quests will have a rather gentle tone, avoiding the darker socio-political elements that Spore featured in its later stages. That means widespread genocide is out, and helping little creatures to get along is in. Still, it looks as though Spore Hero will retain its predecessor's tendency towards lovable oddness. There were plenty of strange-looking creatures roaming about the level shown off at EA's expo event last month (hell, there were quite a few roaming the expo itself), and hopefully the quests will be carried off with the series' typical humour. One mission I was shown involved a little procompsognathid-thing (you know, the little green dinosaurs from The Lost World) eating so many apples that he got stuck in a burrow. Aww. If I wasn't such a heartless, cynical hack, I might even describe it as cute.
It certainly all looks very bright and friendly, with a welcoming style that should go down well with the game's (presumably) young target audience. Maxis admits that it has sacrificed a hefty degree of Spore's random nature for the sake of storytelling, but while I'm not thoroughly convinced by the importance of a decent plot in a project like this, the detailed creature-building looks like it should be as much fun as usual. The combat system looks a bit strange: when you confront another creature the game temporarily turns into a simplified one-on-one fighter, a sort of Mortal Kombat for muppets. It seems like an unusual choice, but if this and the standard platforming elements work well then there's every chance that Spore Hero will deserve its place in the gaming gene pool.
Spore Hero will be released on Wii later this year