Spore Creatures for the DS isn't the far-reaching trek through evolution you may have expected--but don't take that as a reason to totally dismiss this charming title. It's still a cute adventure across multiple planets, and it features a pared-down version of the creature creation tool that helped make the PC release such a success. It has some annoying quirks, and it won't inspire an emotional connection between you and your digital doppelganger, but Spore Creatures is still a pleasant diversion and an appealing, if ordinary, companion to its bigger brother.
Your galactic journey is set in motion when your companion creature, Little Oogie, is abducted by an evil alien for reasons unknown. In response, you accumulate evolutionary improvements and apply them to yourself with a singular goal: rescue the little bugger. You'll visit various planets and continents, acquiring new spaceship parts--in addition to limbs for your own beastly body. You'll alternately befriend and alienate nests of other creatures as you explore the various planetside environs; and while the voyage is linear, it's easygoing and, at 10 hours, reasonably lengthy.
The creature creator you use to develop your avatar is limited, but it still lets you snap together a number of interesting limbs and other bits. Notably, your creature is a two-dimensional collection of parts and pieces rather than a full 3D model, though within these bounds, you can still resize and rotate the various appendages. This can result in a gangly mess of odd-looking eyes and tails tottering across the landscape, but there's still something remarkably charming about such paper-thin oddities. Moving pieces on and off of your beast can get a little annoying, since it's far too easy to grab the wrong piece if your creature is a busy mess of limbs. But all in all, the 2D approach works, and the creation tool offers the right combination of form and function.
Each body part confers particular attributes and bonuses, such as improved attack ratings and special abilities called bio-powers that you can use in combat. You need to be far more conscious of these factors compared to Spore PC because your mission objectives are often incredibly specific, forcing you to use a particular appendage to accomplish your goals. For example, you'll need to cross different types of terrain at certain points, such as desert, ice, or lava; And to do so, you need to attach very specific body parts. Or, you may need to prove your good intentions to another race of creatures by equipping one of their arms. Mission-required adjustments like this devalue the fun of the creation process, since it shoves aside player inventiveness in favor of arbitrary gameplay mechanics.
Many of your missions are fun, though, and there are a number of gameplay elements sprinkled in to keep things interesting. You can pick items up and throw them with a flick of the stylus, so at various points you will need to throw rocks at weather machines to break them, fling food at starving creatures, or water plants by throwing liquid-laden flowers at them. These activities are amusing--though not all missions are created equal. One annoying quest initiates a minigame, asking you to fling rocks at thieving creatures by tapping on them as they appear. The vague instructions and picky, pixel-perfect tapping required turns a fun diversion into a frustrating detour. In fact, simply navigating can be problematic: Stylus controls are a little slippery, and the camera has a habit of zooming in and out in various unhelpful ways, often keeping you from getting a helpful view of your surroundings.
Occasionally, you'll need (or want) to befriend other creatures, a facet that requires you to utilize one of two gameplay elements. To cuddle with other creatures (though we're not sure why anyone would want to cuddle with a scaled purple lizard), you send out a friendly call, which prompts a series of smiley faces above your prospective buddy's head. Then, you drag the smileys downward and rub them around on the creature. Or if a flower petal appears over its head, you drag it down to initiate a rhythm minigame reminiscent of Elite Beat Agents. This minigame works just fine (though the accompanying tunes aren't exactly memorable), and in the last hours of the game it gets surprisingly challenging.
You'll also fight other creatures along the way--sometimes because you have to, other times because you want to. Either way, combat requires little more than slashing the stylus across your target and perhaps tapping on an icon to initiate one of your bio-powers. Your battle prowess is related only to your equipped body parts, rather than any actual skill, though you may find that getting your slashes to register is sometimes a bit of a hassle. These battles are over quickly, though, and they are mildly fun while they last. Good thing, too, because if you decide to go the meat-eating route with your animal, you'll need to fight to get food. But this creates one of the game's real issues: You need the meat to heal, but to get it, you need to fight. If you're close to death, the best way to handle things is to let yourself die and spawn back at the nest.
Spore Creatures features a colorful, attractive visual design paired with cute sound effects and a laid-back, spacey soundtrack. It also features some of the PC version's online connectivity, albeit in an extremely stripped-down form. In this case, you can download other players' creatures, which then appear within your own game as you explore. This is a neat addition, though its limited scope doesn't give Spore Creatures much additional replay value. But no matter: On its own, Spore Creatures is still a cute--if not particularly memorable--adventure game.