The dancing is a rhythm-action game with flowers located around the screen and icons flooding towards them, which you have to tap when they get there. Good timing makes your prospective friend happier. Even during the first hour it's challenging, although you can always have another go if you fail the first time. By meeting, dancing and hugging, you can also get to know local creature groups, who will let you borrow their nest to gain access to the creature creator screen. You can also tap a burrow icon to return to the nest if you want to try out new body parts.
Other creatures you encounter on your travels are there to offer quests. A group of chicken-like Meepers need you to gather their scattered friends, which involves fighting off a few local bullies and giving chase to particularly frightened animals. Elsewhere, a Bushley wants you to demonstrate your throwing skills by picking up rocks and tossing them at trees to dislodge fruit. This you do by tapping a rock, then a hand icon, and then dragging a line from the rock to your target.
There's a lot to do once the game moves out of its tutorial phase, and there are various slots to save your favourite creature designs, with parts resized and recoloured to your specifications. There's also an Achievement-style system of badges, which provide points you can then invest to unlock cheats and more powerful body parts. You also get to mate with other creatures after a spell on your own (you don't get to specify that particular body part, though, obviously).
If you have Wi-Fi Connection, you can even let your creatures loose to roam other copies of the game elsewhere in the world - a nod to the PC version's "massively single-player" ethos. In the absence of other Spore Creatures players, we weren't able to test this out, but our islands were still happily populated by a range of developer-made alternatives.
Spin-off wasn't the right term, then, to return to where we came in, and a few hours in Spore Creatures' company reveals that it's not quite a companion either; it's a discrete adventure with its own ideas and the spine of a decent game firmly at its core.
Whether it evolves to rival some of the DS' best in the genre will depend on things like the breadth and variety of its quests and whether the customisation tools are able to thrive and diversify within the limitations of the handheld's small screens and wristwatch graphics chip. One problem is definition - it's already hard to get a clear handle on individual parts when they're mashed together on a big creature - but hopefully a bit more time with the interface will overcome the quirks.
It may not be as exotic and epic as its daddy, then, but Spore Creatures looks like an interesting prospect. Look out for our full reviews of Spore and Spore Creatures closer to their shared release date.
Spore Creatures is due out for DS on 5th September.