The newest Spore game is a bit of a platformer and a bit of a Spore game. But it has just enough Tekken to it that it could hint at something else: Could the world use a Spore fighting game?
The game that actually exists isn't exactly a Spore fighting game. It's Spore Hero, which is more of a 3D adventure-platformer. Released for the Wii last week, it puts players in control of a malleable beast who can walk, dance and fight through a heavily modified version of the second, creature stage of Will Wright's 2008 Spore.
The fighting part of the action caught my attention when one of the game's producers was demonstrating it in New York last week. It is also the part I delved into with the most curiosity in my own copy of the game this weekend.
I was told not to expect Soulcalibur. The developers had no illusions that they were making an advanced fighter. Spore Hero is no fully-featured fighting game. It may have a lot of one-on-one arena combat. But it is simpler and streamlined, because, among other reasons, it is targeted to a young audience.
While exploring the game's lush and loopy outdoors, a player can have their creature kick one of the other creatures in the game world, warping the two into a circular fighting zone that resembles the arena of a 3D fighting game.
Once in the arena, basic button presses and shakes of the Wii remote and nunchuk produce jumps, bites, charge attacks, blocks and a few other moves.
The producer who showed me Spore Hero said that the development team put enough effort into the system to at least make it likely that a skilled player can beat a button masher. Then he beat me.
The potential for a full-fledged Spore fighter is teased by the customisability in the game. Your Spore Hero creature's fighting move-set is determined by the parts you have applied to your creature's body. By adding a newly discovered mouth part, you might be able to have your beast execute a stronger bite. Discover a special tusk, and you might be able to do a stronger charge move.
That concept of attribute-adding alone might not evolve Spore Hero's take on customisable combat beyond the training-based, move-learning system in Pokemon games. But there is a more interesting set of parameters you can edit on your creature: Its dimensions. Spore Hero includes a simplified version of Spore's celebrated creature editor. It allows limbs to be stuck to torsos, facial features to be pushed onto faces, body parts to be resized and hides to be painted. All of this is then convincingly animated in real-time to bring your controllable creature alive. The Spore Hero editor allows for less manipulation of torso shape but its virtual putty is malleable enough to allow creatures to be tall or short, rangy and multi-limbed or skinny as a twig. Imagine if that all mattered in combat.
This is where I saw the potential. I asked the Spore Hero producer if the size of my creature affected his ability to get hit in a fight. Maybe a smaller creature would have a smaller hit box and a larger one would be an easier target.
Not really, I was told.
A genuine Spore fighting game, if EA were to ever make one, would do that, I think. It would advance the work of EA's Fight Night team, which added a system in this year's Fight Night Round 4 to accommodate the reach and arm movements of taller and shorter fighters. Muhammad Ali can beat Mike Tyson to the punch in that game, for example, because the former has a greater reach (and speed) than the latter. A true Spore fighting game would show us what a three-armed Tyson could do in response or reveal the physical advantages and disadvantages of boxing on six giraffe-tall legs.
Whether there is a market for a Spore fighting game or a system that can run it is another matter. Even Spore itself did not aggressively explore the consequences of varied body types. Its Cell stage showed the benefits of having a moth in the direction you swim. Its Creature stage showed why short-armed beasts incapable of climbing trees or reaching for high-hanging fruit might become carnivores. But that was about it.
The consequences of physiology have been under-explored.
So the reality might not be coming, but Spore Hero, at least, suggest what the birth of a Spore fighting game could produce.