All of which wouldn't matter so much if the game's downsized version of the Creature Creator allowed you to create some lovably unique personalised creations, giving you some personal investment in the mundane action. Sadly, while there's an admirable range of body parts to drag and drop, the finer details are rather opaque, often only giving you vital info about what powers a part will bestow after you've equipped it. If you just want to sling pieces together to make something that looks silly, it's fine. If you want to actually create a creature designed to survive in the game, it's less helpful. If you can't remember which mouth type gave you the fire-breathing ability, you'll just have to go through each one to find it again.
Even so, you can create plenty of-fun looking monsters - only to find them transformed into rather ugly jumbles of jangling pieces when they burrow back into the game-world. The graphics use 2D sprites, sort of like loose-jointed puppets made of paper shapes, in a 3D polygon environment and the effect just doesn't work. It's hard to tell where body parts end and begin, and unless you stick to clear, simple designs any quirky details get swallowed up in an overlapping mess of legs, arms and mouths.
It doesn't help that the strictly linear progression of the adventure means that your design choices are constantly being overruled by the needs of the game anyway. While it's theoretically possible to come up with all manner of wild creations, there's a fairly specific series of body part combinations that will actually allow you to make progress. The most common way the game has of funnelling you down particular design paths is via the environment. Some terrain is deadly, so you have no choice but to locate and use the appropriate body parts to get past it. Quite apart from the illogical aspect of having a tiny patch of ground that will kill your creature simply because it's been designated as "desert", reducing the player's creative choices for the sake of a lame obstacle just seems to go against everything Spore was meant to do.
Back in March, producer Jason Haber told us that you could play as a carrot if you wanted to, and he wasn't lying. You can create any creature you want, but you only unlock most of the body parts by playing the adventure, leaving your initial options severely limited. Even if you keep things simple, your beloved carrot creature would be unable to leave the first island, and would die the moment it met an unfriendly adversary, so it's not a remotely realistic gameplay option. You can trade your wilder creations via local or Wi-Fi connection, but all downloaded creatures do is pop up in the game and wander about as an NPC. What could have been the focal point of an imaginative and sociable sandbox game feels like an afterthought, stuck in an uninspiring cycle of fetch-quests and grinding.
That's really the central problem with Spore Creatures. The wonky camera and repetition is annoying, but it still just about works as an average exploration game. What it doesn't offer is any sort of Free Play option where you can do your own thing. You can indulge your creative desires or you can play the game. You can't really do both at the same time in any satisfying way, which suggests that "linear action adventure" simply wasn't the right direction to take the Spore concept for its handheld outing.
5 / 10