IGN Review of Spore Hero Arena
Earlier this month I reviewed Spore Hero, a Nintendo Wii extension of Will Wright's highly-anticipated and warmly-received PC game Spore. I made specific mention that, to me, it felt like the designers of Spore Hero looked at what Griptonite did on the Nintendo DS last year in Spore Creatures for their Wii game. But for the second Nintendo DS Spore title, Electronic Arts dropped Griptonite in favor of a new team: Spore Hero Arena has a promising premise but the execution is absolutely awful.
Spore Hero Arena, developed by Full Fat, takes the basic Spore aspect of character creation and personal customization and thrusts it into a game design that features incredibly boring exploration and a terrible fighting engine. The developers of last year's Spore Creatures accepted the DS restrictions and created an engine that enabled the Spore creation in a cartoony Paper Mario-like 2D environment. Full Fat, however, went the "we can do 3D" route and built its creature creator in a similar way as what EA Montreal did in Spore Hero: it's a fully 3D construction engine, and I certainly appreciate what the developer attempted in Spore Hero Arena.
But that doesn't let them off the hook: sure they went full 3D to enable players to create their own fighting beasts, but the developers failed to apply this element into a game that was actually, you know, fun.
The story of Spore Hero Arena is loosely based upon what's been used in the Wii version of Spore Hero: blue and red rocks come crashing down on a Spore-inhabited planet, with the red rocks causing bad things to happen. You, a lone Spore creature, are the chosen one to retrieve the red rocks that have fallen into the wrong hands…and have been scattered across the galaxy.
Now, to grab the lost rocks (which, by the way, have been crafted into charms by an ambitious blacksmith Spore creature), you have to wander the planets and fight. And oh, you'll fight. A lot. Which wouldn't have been a bad thing if the fighting engine was actually any good. It's not. The game uses the touch screen for control and the D-pad (or for the lefties, the A,B,X, and Y) buttons for offensive and defensive, realtime attacks. There are also special moves you can pull up by hitting the shoulder button and tapping an icon that pops up on the touch screen to activate it. You increase your character's abilities by finding stronger body parts and applying them to your form, in the process creating this freak of nature for battle.
This fighting engine is incredibly dull because it's a bad rendition of sumo wrestling. To win a fight you have to shove them off the edge of an arena, not just once but multiple times. It can be a one-on-one fight or against three other opponents, but in any case these fights aren't fun at all. The collision detection is poorly implemented and the techniques utilized in the fight are incredibly shoddy.
Even the character customization option is limited: yes, it's in 3D this time so you have the ability to create some crazy creature designs. But you actually lock yourself to a specific body type first, and only if you want to start from scratch can you change your body's shape. It's a versatile system, sure, but it's also incredibly clunky.
The exploration is silly busywork, as there's nothing to do but wander from point A to B, picking up icons and chatting with people looking for a fight. And I'm surprised to see that the touch screen controls are spotty at best: trying to work your way through some of the menus is actually a frustrating affair as sometimes clicks don't register.
I'll certainly give credit where it's due: thank you Full Fat for at least getting Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection support in there. It's a rarity to see a developer put the online functionality into its games so it's nice to get another game with the support. In my tests it worked pretty seamlessly for simple one-on-one matches against worldwide opponents – I just wish the terrible fighting engine was made better to make the effort worth it. The Sporepedia is only hosted locally, so don't expect to post your creature creations online for others to download and check out, like what Griptonite did in Spore Creatures last year.
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