The obvious reaction to Spore Creatures is that it can't hope to rival its big brother - daddy, perhaps - for depth and scope, and that EA's decision to launch it alongside the PC version on 5th September suggests it's a spin-off for a different market. So it's a bit of a surprise to discover Spore on the DS is secretly an action-adventure. We like those.
In a manner that will be familiar to oodles of gamers old and new, you start off with a tiny, rubbish little hero with no idea which way to turn, give it a name (unless you like the default "Oogie"), and then stroll off on a mission dictated to you by on-screen prompts. This tutorial phase quickly establishes the basics: you're hunting down an evil spaceship that's kidnapped your friend.
You'll do this by making friends with other animals, duffing up bullies and accumulating body parts to customise your rapidly evolving creature character. Evolution, in this case, comes down to experience points, which upgrade your hit-points and magic (bio-power) energy, and allow you to graft more and more parts onto your body.
The creature customisation tool is obviously more limited than its PC uncle, Spore Creature Creator, but developer Foundation 9 still crams a lot into the interface: you can pick from a range of options for each body part, drag them around with the stylus and use slider bars to adjust size and orientation. The choices you make here also have an impact on things like your creature's metabolism and combat proficiency. Give it a couple of mouths, for instances, and its attack stats will go up.
Out in the world, you're exploring simple, slightly stylised 3D islands with plain textures and geometry, but your little creature, his friends and some of the foliage are 2D sprites that rotate sweetly depending on the position of the third-person camera. Getting around is easy thanks to stylus controls, although if you prefer buttons you can fall back on those for a mixture. A map on the top-screen points out items of interest and mission objectives, while the ever-ready Sporepedia tops up your knowledge and alerts you to incomplete objectives.
It's not long before you start getting into scraps, and combat turns out to be a mixture of basic attacks - performed by making slashing motions with the stylus - and special abilities linked to your choice of body parts. An early example replenishes your health. Once dispatched, enemies often drop extra body parts for you to sew onto your warped but merry-looking charge.
It's not all violence, body harvests and surgery, though - there's also cuddling and dancing when you make friends. Waltz up to a new species and providing it doesn't bite your head off you can hit a "call" icon to issue a friendly greeting, and a little icon with float above its head. If it's a smiley face you can grab it and rub the creature to cuddle, and if it's a flower you can tap it to initiate an actual waltz.