Spore has been a topic of conversation for so long that it's hard to think of a time when people weren't talking about it. The PC version was released in the fall of 2008, and though it was praised for being a great game, it was ultimately too simple for many PC players. According to Will Wright, Spore was designed with a more "casual" audience in mind. Now that a new game, Spore Hero, is heading to the Wii, it might find the audience it was intended for. At an Electronic Arts press event last month in San Francisco, Lucy Bradshaw from Maxis gave us a first glimpse and walk-through of Spore Hero, an open adventure game built from the ground up that puts you in the shoes--or webbed feet--of an ever-evolving creature.
The opening scene of the game was shown at the event and vividly described how your character ends up on a new planet. Blazing through the sky on a blue meteor after your own planet explodes, you eventually crash-land on a strange world--intact, amazingly enough, considering that you start off in an egg that hasn't even hatched yet. A red meteor is also heading in the same direction, a hint that you're not the only one who has found a new home and that there's probably going to be trouble. A giant yellow eyeball is one of the first things you'll encounter as you shake the remote and try to break out of your shell. Luckily, the eye belongs to a friendly creature, who helps you get accustomed to your new surroundings.
Your nest is where you'll access the creature creator, in which you can evolve your two-legged hatchling with new parts that you'll find. The creator is more streamlined on the Wii, making it easy to point to and select which upgrades you want to make to your creature. You start off as a plain-looking nub with legs and two eyes, but as you explore your new environment, make friends, and defeat foes, you'll collect an assortment of body parts that will give you new abilities. The tutorial system will prompt you if you're not sure what you're supposed to be doing, but if you're familiar with the PC game, you should be able to easily navigate the screen.
How you decide to go through the game is up to you. Creatures with an exclamation mark over their head can be interacted with, so you can socialize or sing with them, fight them, or just ignore them. In our demo, we saw early on that you can slap on a vicious mouth and practice biting with your new friend. Once you initiate a fight, you're taken to a separate screen in which you can maneuver freely and exchange blows. Your character is like a puppet, so every time you add a new part, you'll gain a new ability and eventually be able to do combos. The battle can be stopped whenever you want, especially if you're low on health, so that's when you tap out to go find some delicious fruit that builds up the health meter. If your creature does meet an untimely end, you'll respawn at the last nest you found.
We watched as our bulbous friend explored his surroundings, helping the locals with a bully problem and assisting in a makeover so that a beast could attract a beauty. These quests can be completed in any order, so as you wander around, you can decide whether or not you want to be a good Samaritan. In the beauty-and-the-beast scenario, a sad-looking dinosaur-like creature wanted to be more visually appealing to his lady love, so to accomplish that, our hero had to talk to the beauty and find out what she likes. After doing some research, our Maxis rep used the editor to remove the spikes on the beast's back and replaced them with pretty flowers and a pair of wings. Changing the beast's pallid complexion to bright purple seemed to seal the deal, because that was enough for the beauty to change her mind.
After matchmaking, our hero wandered to another area, and we watched him race uphill in a brief minigame. Using the analog stick to run, we made our little guy vault over logs and other obstacles to reach the big hulking monster waiting at the end. We were told that there will be other similar minigames in Spore Hero to break up the gameplay, but since that was the end of the demo, we'll have to wait until next time to see more.
The build we saw was pre-alpha, so there's still some work that needs to be done to spruce up the visuals. The procedural animations have been migrated over, so your creation and the other species will have their own unique personalities that can be conveyed through their actions. Spore Hero is described as an open adventure and feels like a simplified role-playing game, mostly because you're running around completing quests with an overall goal of saving the world and finding ways to continuously upgrade and evolve yourself. The game does retain the charming personalities of all the diverse creatures, and we'll keep a close eye on the development as time goes on. Spore Hero is set to be released in the fall.