Spore as a gaming brand is close to a legend. Created by Will Wright, and released last year to great critical acclaim, you'd think that popping the genetic engineering life-sim onto a mobile would be a sure-fire hit. Err, no.
The full game of Spore lets you take a single celled organism and evolve it though various stages until you reach out to other planets and galaxies and become a massive presence in the galaxy. An impressive game with a huge amount of reach. Spore Origins, which replicates the first part of that struggle, sees you guide a clump of cells around 18 levels, slowly growing bigger, until you become, well, big.
This style of game can be entertainig, and I'd reference the game of 'Flow' on my Sony PSP as being exactly the same style – drift around and steer yourself in an organic soup of creatures, eating up what you can eat and avoiding everything else nasty. Except there is one importance difference.
Flow is fun.
For all my praising of Java ports in the N-Gage platform, Spore Origins is going to be the title that Steve brings up as a counterpoint in any argument. For an action/arcade game, Spore Origins is woefully slow and unresponsive on my N95 8GB. I found it difficult to get my spore thing to get out of the way of the enemy creatures on higher levels because on the QVGA screen they took up so much space and the effective window into the gaming world was so small.
There's also no analogue control method here. Flow on the PSP has the analogue stick and the ability to move in any direction... the iPhone version of Spore Origins utilises the Cupertino device's accelerometer (an option that realistically should be open to N95 (and other S60 phone) users, as demonstrated in the update to Boing Boing Voyage)...
Yet the N-Gage version has only eight directions open to it. Up, down, left, right and the respective diagonals. It's not only incredibly limiting, but it's frustrating to play and destroys any hope of me actually enjoying the game – instead I feel like I am constantly fighting the developers to make my critter do what I want it to do, and not be limited by the scant directional choices on offer.
This is compounded by the physical controls on the Nseries devices – they're just not suited to an arcade game of this style. There are some games which manage to overcome the poor controls to provide a good gaming experience (such as Car Jack Streets), but Spore Origins doesn't appear to have had the same dedication put into it.
This is a quick and dirty port of the principle behind the early levels of the full Spore game. It does bring on board the evolution aspect of Spore, to make sure you remember that you are playing a Spore game (every third level completed, you get to modify your spore for extra speed, defence or attack, to suit your style of gameplay) but it's not enough to save the gamer from the poor responsiveness of the controls... this aspect drags down the impact of the game, so even though the idea behind the game is inventive; even though the power-ups and modifiers allow you to cultivate different styles of playing (a core feature of Spore); even though the graphics are colourful...
Spore Origins is little more than a horrible mush of primordial goo. Somewhere in the mix is a game, and some of you will find it, but for me it's just a frustrating time. And why N-Gage have labelled this as 'strategy' I have no idea.
-- Ewan Spence, June 2009.