If you were expecting a little more action from the PC game Spore, then you're in luck, because Spore Hero Arena is all about arena-based combat instead of primordial evolution. Because of Spore Creatures' success on the Nintendo DS last year, Electronic Arts is hoping that Spore fans will want to take their customized gladiator on the go. You will still continuously upgrade or "evolve" your creature, but the bulk of the game is honing your skills to face galactic champions. The 3D creature creator in Spore Hero looks great, especially when compared to Spore Creatures. We had an opportunity to play through a preview build to get an idea of how the game works and see what the arena action is like.
The story takes place in the same universe as Spore Hero for the Wii, except in this case, you're a creature that was happily flying its spaceship until a blue meteor knocked you off course. Luckily, you land on a planet where a cranky grasshopper-like creature with huge feet named Yeedo is eager to help you fix your ship. But before you collect all the necessary parts and go off on your merry way, he tells you about the tainted medals that he had once created, which were made from the shards of a red meteor and given to the winners of a galactic championship. Unfortunately, the medals possess some kind of evil power, which makes the wearer do bad things. Because you are immune to the effects of the red meteor and seem to increase in power when you come across blue meteor bits, Yeedo wants you to take on the brainwashed champions and win back the medals.
This sets you up for some challenges ahead. Yeedo gets your ship up and running, but you need to keep looking for ship parts to continue to explore new planets. You'll have just enough power to move to the next planet over, but then you need to collect more batteries and blue meteor shards before moving on to the next. On your ship, you can customize your creature with the parts that you've found by collecting medals and taking on the challenges given by the natives. Two of the minigames we came across were a creepy-crawly version of whack-a-mole and a game where you herd bugs into a pen. These were obviously thrown in to break up the gameplay a bit, because your primary goal is to win the arena matches that are at the end of each area. The planets themselves aren't very big, but there is some exploration involved if you're looking to collect all the parts in the game.
As you work your way to the champion of each planet, the locals will give you a chance to take on fighting challenges so that you can evolve your character. Usually they involve beating your opponent(s) within a limited time, sometimes with conditions like no charged attacks or no use of bio-powers. You can assign different bio-powers to yourself through the creature creator, which lets you unleash an elemental attack on your opponents when your purple gauge is full during combat. There are several different combat modes, renamed to fit into the Spore universe: Battle Royale, Capture the Egg, King of the Planet, Team Battle, and Epic Creature Survival. You can duke it out with up to four friends locally or even go online to play against a new opponent. A sporepedia is included for those who like keeping track of all the strange creatures that they've come across, and you can trade with friends to collect them all.
The creature creator may be in 3D, but the rest of the game is played from an isometric viewpoint. This works out well so that you don't have to fiddle with a camera. Colored arrows on the arena map indicate where your competitors are, anywhere from two to four. Because your galactic battles are fought in an arena that's surrounded by a bottomless pit, the best strategy is to push your opponents off the edge, without tumbling in after them. Otherwise, you have to keep punching and slapping them until their health falls, but because there are healing items around the arena, it can take a while to get a knockout. The default controls use the stylus to move around, which we didn't like as much as the D pad option, but at least there's a choice. The face buttons are used to block, spit, bite, and slash, and holding the button down longer charges for a stronger attack. The downside is that while you're charging, you can't move, so enemies can easily move in and bump you off the platform.
Spore Hero Arena is another opportunity to explore the Spore universe, but with a focus on action multiplayer functionality. There are more than 150 parts to find, and you can create and share arena champions and beat on your friends. Look for Spore Hero Arena when it's released on October 6.