There are many important life lessons to be learned from Spore Hero. To get anywhere in this world, you need to grow a mouth - and you better learn how to use it. Kicking random strangers will make them want to fight you, but fighting is in turn the best way to make them respect you. Blue things are generally good, but red things are generally bad. Has this game been designed by the Chelsea Headhunters, or am I just missing a trick?
In actual fact, Spore Hero has been designed by a gang of massive Nintendo fans. You can tell this because at least one of the guys at EA Montreal has a tattoo of Luigi on his arm, but it's also fairly evident just from looking at the game itself. This is a bright and cheerful third-person action-platformer, with a Metroid-like structure that allows you to access new areas and perform new feats as you develop. The key difference here is that you don't just gain new equipment - you are the new equipment.
As I observed the last time I saw this game, the cool thing about Spore Hero is that EA has managed to port almost the entirety of Maxis' superlative creature creation system - along with the procedural animation that determines how things move. Naturally the transition has demanded a few minor adjustments: you now select your animal's body from a list of pre-set shapes rather than bending its spine, and slug-like beasties are no longer an option. On the whole, however, the game seems to do a pretty grand job of offering all the creative freedom of its PC-based predecessor. Given that monster-making was arguably the highlight of Spore's multi-tiered gameplay, Wii owners should be happy indeed.
EA also seems to be well aware of this strength. While nothing has radically changed since the last time I saw the game, the development team has introduced one important difference: you still control a benevolent blue alien on a mission to stop your evil red counterpart, but now you start the game as little more than a blob. Last time around the player began life as a more fully-formed character, but early product tests showed that people were reluctant to alter their hero through the in-game menus. Since you now begin life as something of a blank canvas, gamers should be far more relaxed about messing around with their avatar.
Naturally, to make the best creature you'll need the best ingredients. Every time you do anything vaguely significant in Spore Hero, from winning a fight to completing a quest, you'll be rewarded with a new body part. There are over 170 anatomical goodies to unlock, with parts being given out in a way that roughly mirrors your style of play. If you make progress by exploring the world for collectibles, you'll be rewarded with parts that help you to fly or break down barriers; if you play as ET-meets-Begbie-from-Trainspotting, roughing up everyone you meet, you'll be given combat-focused parts like spikes and spitting jaws. In theory this structure should allow people to play the game the way they choose while they work towards their ultimate goals of defeating the red meanie. In addition to collecting body parts, you'll also have to gather shards of the blue meteor that brought you to the planet in the first place; these act as currency to be used at your nest, the in-game mod shop for your alien hero.
Since messing around with the editors is one of the key pleasures, certain quests will require you to mess around with the appearance of other creatures in the gameworld. One such task, entitled Beauty and the Beast, requires you to help out an unlikely pairing of loved-up monsters - an enormous male yak-like thing, and his tiny girlfriend. It turns out that your red nemesis has used his powers to distort Mr Beast, and as a result his lady no longer thinks he looks scary. Since this is the one quality that gets her juices flowing, your job is to return him to scary status. During last week's presentation the demonstrator turned him into a flying spider-like thing with massive horns, but you might choose to design him differently. Later in the game you'll still be able to see Mr Beast stomping about in his new form, so your choices will leave a lasting mark on the gameworld.
Dancing and fighting played a large role in the Creature Stage of the original Spore, and it seems as if these pursuits will also figure heavily here. I've not had a chance to shake my funky stuff, but from what I've seen it's relatively straightforward: you watch the way that your partner dances, and then you mimic them by carrying out timed gestures with the Remote and Nunchuck. Fighting, on the other hand, seems a little more involved. After initiating combat by smacking your rival, the action jumps to an arena-like environment. Both participants then whack the daylights out of each other until one of them falls over. Movement is handled on the Nunchuk stick, while gestures govern your many chomps and slashes.
There are actually quite a few different attacks to try, from running dashes to flying tackles, and at first the array of options can be a little confusing. After a match or two you'll most likely settle on your preferred mode of assault, and in any case most heroes will be focused around one or two core skill areas. In a wise move, EA has chucked in a separate two-player battle mode that allows you use creatures from the central story mode, as well as those you've just made in your spare time. Unfortunately there's no way to share your creations with other gamers; apparently Nintendo was worried about the sexually-explicit horrors of the original PC fanbase.
Aside from this notable absence, Spore Hero seems to be doing a good job of keeping Maxis' creative torch burning. Will this game appeal to fans of the original release? Perhaps, although I'm sure that plenty of owners will mourn the fact that they're getting a far simpler game. Still, a direct port would never have been possible, and on the basis of what's been shown so far it seems that EA Montreal has done good work with the approach it's chosen to take. The final game will be out in October, so check back here in a month or so to hear our final verdict.
Spore Hero will be released on Wii on October 9.