Without actually being in front of it and taking time to see what you can do, Spore is hard to appreciate and understand. On paper, the idea sounds like a pipe-dream that could never become a game - and that's why it's all the more weird to play.
When you see how much work has gone into the creature creation, from evolution from primal sludge to interplanetary colonist, you see that Maxis have created a game that is plain special. You can choose to go from the very beginning in the Tide Pool, or jump into space instantly, creating a race and heading to the cosmos. Spore is your sandbox, with enough buckets and spades to keep you very, very busy.
In the Tide Pool Phase you start as your first creation, eating things and growing, adding dangerous body parts to your creature as you go. This phase is similar
to Feeding Frenzy, but a lot prettier, with crab-like creatures chasing you down as you eat your way towards evolution across a watery, 2D expanse.
In all honesty, this is somewhat peripheral and feels like a mini-game. Things soon change when you enter the Creature Phase, as you face the true creation editor, with the emphasis on making something that will survive in a 3D world brimming with life.
You're able to make creatures with four pairs of legs, three arms, gigantic snouts, gnashers like a crocodile, and even a big bum with antlers on it.
A series of mathematical equations judges the construction of each creature and how they'll walk, so each has a distinct strut or scuttle. Or, in the case of the monstrosity that was my first creation, a distinct hobble, with its four jaws (including two on its knees) clicking and clacking with each pained moment of life.
Ah, Real Monsters
The good news for my beleaguered 'Farchnad,' was that you're able to edit your life-forms at any time. Once edited, mine confidently strode around the world, in an RPG-esque manner, befriending the occasional creature but mostly seeking to eat and destroy anything in his path.
Progression as a carnivorous (destructive) or herbivorous (friendly) entity depends on the creature's physical characteristics. Enemies have resistances and weaknesses, such as poisons, which various body parts can counter.
Impressing other creatures is also based around this parts system. One puny monster walked up to me and sang a little tune, and Spore's UI insisted I attempt to impress him by singing back. Sadly, I had no mouth, so instead I decided that the only song he was going to hear was the melody of my claws squeezing the life from his fluffy little arse.
If you want, you can be a herbivore, gaining friends and avoiding predators, but everyone makes babies. From this dirtiness comes the chance to evolve, adding body parts to grow towards the point of sentience, where you gain the ability to create things. There's a real feeling of life, with each race you create, and possibly make extinct, feeling utterly new and original.
So far the gameplay is somewhat simplistic, but the sheer scale of the world and the number of creations within its gorgeous vistas make up for this. And once you evolve, there's plenty more to do.
The Tribal Phase, which is a bit like The Settlers, sees you building settlements, making enemies or friends with other tribes and collecting the main source of income (meat) by slaying local wildlife, and (somewhat disgustingly) from other creatures' corpses.
You cease to control a single creature, instead taking control of an entire group to slowly mate and crawl towards a civilisation of, in my case, Bumantlers: crocodile-ducks with antlers coming out of their rear-ends.