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Game Review

WARNING! Spores have now mutated and are capable of escaping PCs everywhere! They are, at this very moment, invading family rooms via Wii game consoles.

Well, it’s not so bad as all that, of course. And families are likely having fun with these little guys, not running away from them. That’s because the gang at Electronic Arts has taken a first stab at evolving the very popular  Spore title for console play. The result is perfect for lots of remote waggling and protoplasm constructing. But you should expect a few changes with this particular one-eyed purple people eater:

If you know anything about the groundbreaking original, you know it’s something of a hybrid that combines several sim, RTS and RPG games in one creatively blended package. Players are called upon to evolve amoebas into a complex civilization of space travelers. This time around, though, Spore Hero simplifies things and keeps you focused on one particular critter that you can build into a world-saving champion.

Red Rocks, Blue Rocks, Is Your Rock a Rude Rock?
Play starts out with two glowing rocks—one serenely blue and one fiery red—that crash land on a planet of already developing Spore tribes. The red rock cracks open to reveal a gnarly little troll who’s determined to conquer the planet’s peaceful populace and poison their world with evil crimson rocks. The blue rock splits open to reveal … you. (You look like a blob with eyeballs.)

The objective is simple: Learn how to maneuver your little guy and figure out how to transform him into the heroic strongman he’ll need to be to vanquish the baddy and his red rock shards. Your victory will bring peace and love back to the world’s inhabitants.

Platforming-style exploration and battling is the gameplay of choice here. As your little blobby guy runs over hills and jumps up on ledges, he finds DNA bits in discarded bone piles and absorbs little scattered blue chips from his exploded space rock. When combined, these two elements offer up new body parts—mouths, eyes, arms, legs, tails, etc.—that will give him greater mobility and a better means of defense. You also develop some improved abilities that help you run, dig or double-jump your way around obstacles.

One Fight, Two Fights, Battle Mode Is Quite a Sight
When building up your hero, though, there’s more than simply jumping and flying to consider. A big part of the play is made up of fighting your way past a variety of opposing monsters. One grumbling enemy demands that you vanquish him 15 times before he’ll give you all you need and let you move on. So not only do you have to think about what genetically shaped weapons might be at your disposal, you also must practice your attacking, blocking and counterattacking skills.

There is no blood during the fights, but kicks and slashes from clawed feet, razored nails or sharp-looking beaks are the norm. And in Battle mode, you build a squawking combatant and take him into arena-style free-for-alls. There you face off with one pecking, leaping, rock-shooting and pincer-waving critter after another.

The cartoonish combat isn’t scary in any significant way, but it’s intense enough to earn an E10+ rating. So age is a factor for blob-loving parents to consider.

Evolve or Die! Should You Even Try?
Besides a few monster burps, the only other questionable bit is a large stone idol that you encounter and must "worship" by filling with stone pieces you’ve collected. Well, not the only other questionable bit: Just as with the PC-based Spore, the idea of cross-species evolution does tag along for the leg- and arm- and spine-growing ride.

Spore Hero is so cute and handles its potential negatives so lightheartedly that it’s actually more kid-friendly than its predecessor—which was already pretty tame. But families not so fond of the whole single-cell-turns-into-much-much-more mutation concept are going to have to ask themselves whether they think Darwin’s been so diluted by all the goofiness that he’s no longer really relevant. Or, for the sake of argument, whether all the cuddly cuteness somehow manages to embed the ideals of evolution as an explanation of origin even more firmly into young gaming minds.

I will note that because you’re building your beastie rather than letting it change all by itself via some sort of digitally passive natural selection, it can be argued that you become the intelligent designer, and isolated evolution isn’t really the thing here at all.

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Bob Hoose Rachel Simpson

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