That Time Will Wright Put You in Charles Darwin’s Shoes

Spore is a grand, ambitious, genre-defying experience and one of gaming’s greatest oddities

That Time Will Wright Put You in Charles Darwin’s Shoes
Source: Press Kit.

The word that best describes Spore’s sprawling design and ambition is “canvas.” Right from a cell to a space-faring species, Spore has you act as god, witness Darwin’s evolutionary process, and live to tell the tale. While its segments can be incredibly simple to grasp and understand, they come together to form a galactic pizza that’s bigger than its slices put together. From cell interaction to intragalactic travel, Maxis Studios has a lot of complex mechanics to deal with. With SimCity under their belt, they sure know how to make complex work.

Even despite the complexities, they curate and weave these impossible stages together with such finesse that your journey is smooth-sailing throughout, free from headache. It’s got something for everyone, from people who don’t play games to veterans of the platform. While things don’t get messy until the final Space stage, the seemingly counterintuitive gesture of simplifying everything has paid off. Stages expand in dimensions unexpected, from a minuscule cell duking it out in the food chain to stepping onto land, ready to evolve. Perhaps that is what Spore does best. It keeps things simple while trying to mash up multiple genres into one offering.

To the point where a child can fashion a spaceship and make their way to the center of the cosmos.

The Cell Stage. Source: WIRED.

Powerhouse of the cell

Spore’s wondrous journey begins in humble fashion.

For a game over a decade old, its visuals are stunning. The game attempts to set the record straight once and for all: life exploded onto your planet with the help of an asteroid. Pick your food type, name your planet and you’re good to go. While the game’s aesthetics are rather dated, its colorful creatures are as endearing as they are unique. Spore’s creature creator is filled to the brim with parts you can find in meteor fragments to augment your own. Each part aids your cell in its odyssey through the primordial soup. As you float about with millions of user-created cells from the game’s Sporepedia, you’ll see what I mean.

The tide pushes and pulls your cell about as you graze at leafy plants as a herbivore or chew up smaller cells as a carnivore. You level up and make your way to the ocean surface as you eat, in true evolutionary fashion. It’s eerily reminiscent of popular online games like and The “eat or be eaten” genre is still alive and kicking in 2020. If you want to bring up the creature creator, you can’t just press a button and go all Frankenstein. You’ll need to perform a mating ritual to get there. As you get bigger, predators become the prey and you’ll soon be able to leave these waters to seek out your destiny.

You can’t stay for long in one place. Cells bigger than you see you as a snack, so you’ll need to keep moving to survive. And once you’re no longer fin-deep in danger, it’s time to conquer the next frontier. The possibilities are endless.

Land, ahoy!

The Creature Creator. Source: GamingNexus.

Fantastic beasts and where to find them

The creature creator in Spore’s creature stage is astonishing in its intricacy. Maxis even distributed the creator as a free standalone application to drum up attention for Spore’s majestic and customized creations. In subsequent playthroughs, you’ll even encounter some of your previous creations chilling at an oasis in an obscure planet or firing lasers at you. But first, get some legs. And a few pairs of hands.

Flagellum-waddling isn’t woke anymore.

Remember that some changes you make from here on will be permanent in nature. You can’t just switch from a vegan to a T-Rex. Once you taste the forbidden fruit, there’s no going back. Unless you’re an omnivore, of course, you indecisive little thing. Once you leave the cell stage, it’s boots on the ground from here, until you get your hands on a pair of wings. You’ll encounter other species and their nests too. Make war or peace with them as you see fit. Making friends is effectively a dancing simulator where you time and perform moves just as your new friend does. Combat isn’t very complex either and boils down to spamming attacks and evading your opponents’ punches. It’s silly fun, as long as you’re cool with murdering helpless children and eggs along with their older counterparts. Slaughtering an entire species lets you rest up at their nest.

At what cost?

The next big thing Spore tosses at you is the concept of migration. Grab a couple of companions and follow the trail to a new spot to roost. You can set up checkpoints in the middle, just in case. Be warned, it’s not just nests you need to worry about. Evolution sometimes hands species growth steroids, leading to epic monsters who can crush you underfoot. Case in point, humanity. Anyway, keep filling your experience bar with points until you can head to the next stage. While it can become a slog at times, the grind keeps you going. Remember, you can’t play dress-up with anatomy from now on.

It’s time to shake a spear.

The Tribal Stage. Source: GamePressure.

Tribes ascend

Now that you’re a sapient being, it’s time to think bigger. The tribe stage doesn’t reinvent the stone wheel. It just rolls with it. War and peace, just bigger. Your wardrobe shifts from body parts to clothing. While that isn’t exactly how Darwin envisioned it, it lets you customize your not-so-little critter even further. Another stage, another bar to fill.

It’s more of the same, but it changes things up enough to be refreshing.

You start off with a single village. You can gather fruits or catch fish to build up your food supply. You can even interact with creatures who are yet to hit the tribal stage, remnants of the past. Expansion comes in two flavors: cozying up to neighbors or straight-up termination. Crafting lets you build instruments to kill or impress neighboring tribes. Don’t let the huts that expand the population, the rudimentary battles, and the diplomacy routes fool you: this is no fleshed-out real-time strategy game.

A wise decision, because accessibility is the name of the game here.

There are plenty of serviceable RTS games out there and Spore’s mission encompasses far more than a mere iteration of an existing concept. Keep bringing tribes to their knees and you’ll soon find yourself outgrowing your tribal roots. It’s time for the industrial revolution. But remember, the way you played through the tribal stage determines how you’ll progress through the next age.

Cars, ships, and planes await. Religion too.

The Civilization Stage. Source: GamePressure.

Civilization, not that one

Spore’s civilization stage is still very much a watered-down RTS, but with some city-building bones tossed in there for good measure. You now have three paths to glory: military, economic, and religious routes. Based on how you handled the tribe stage, the game makes this decision for you. Your buildings and vehicles can only be composed of bits and pieces that represent the deeds you intend to perform. Sporebucks, Spore’s currency, are earned from mining spice (cough, Dune) from geysers scattered across the planet. You’ll need the funds to conquer the rest of your fellow beings, regardless of the means you intend to use.

Vehicles perform different functions based on the type of cities you possess. Military fleets are outfitted with sharp objects that detonate on impact, while economic vehicles let you establish trade routes, a stepping stone to buying out other cities. While you can negotiate, a failed transaction could mean waiting for the opportunity to present itself again. Religious ones are by far the most interesting, letting you convert cities with your propaganda-blaring chariots. You’ll need to keep your citizens happy if you don’t want infidels descending upon your city with a similar plan. Speaking of happiness, factories that boost your income come at a cost. It’s a simple balancing act, one that’s different enough for each city to keep things from becoming repetitive.

Now, it’s time to create your own anthem.

Yep, Spore’s surprisingly complex music editor lets you bust some tunes and call it an anthem. And now that you call your planet your own, it’s time to look beyond. To go where no “insert species” has gone before. A giant leap for your kind.

Until you find out you’re far from alone in the galaxy.

The Space Stage. Source: ModDB.

In a galaxy not so far away

Ah, space. Unfathomable depths. Encounters beyond alien. The hunt for Sporebucks.

Thank goodness Maxis Studios understands that a unified currency is the way to go. But first, design your space wanderer. And then run a couple of laps with it. You’ll be piloting this thing for an absurd amount of time. Maxis’ vision was to ensure that everyone made it to the space stage. The experience bar at the bottom remains, but it merely adds spaceships to your fleet. The endgame is farther than you think. From here on, the going gets tough. But perfecting an upgradeable spaceship is definitely worth it.

Your intragalactic vehicle of trade/peace/annihilation offers a variety of tools to tinker with. As you travel across planets with an interstellar drive, you can scan all kinds of flora and fauna to add them to your database. Upgrades boost your health and energy meters, crucial if you wish to survive in hostile planets. And that doesn’t necessarily mean aliens. The planet itself might be a ball of lava or encased in shards of frost. Terraforming instruments let you change the very nature of a planet, to the point where life can begin anew. Keep animals in stock to populate planets like a utopian Noah. You can even enhance planets to build more settlements or to boost spice output. There are different kinds of spice whose worth is determined by the absence or excess of it in a colony’s shelves. Play your cards right and you’ll be minting Sporebucks like it’s nothing. Eventually, you’ll be able to zip across black holes with ease, opening up new swathes of the impossibly massive galaxy for you to explore.

I even found some of my own creations hanging out on a couple of planets. The shark-faced gentlemen were remarkably gentle in their demeanor, while others merely aimed their turrets towards me. The galaxy is peppered with user-generated creations, which injects the game with an incredible amount of charm and a lack of polish that sets it apart from the meticulously crafted campaigns of other open-world games. It feels real, despite the game’s inherent limitations. And if you thought the previous stages were a slog, this stage is bigger than all of them put together.

Good thing it’s fleshed out.

Spore’s Galaxy. Source: TheDasCryptBlog.

Across the sea of space, the stars are other suns

You can tell that Spore’s space stage means business when I need two segments to outline everything you’ll be doing in that tiny spaceship. Speaking of which, keep an eye on your health and energy levels. The latter lets you travel and use tools like your trusty laser for purposes beyond research. You can refill them for free at your homeworld, at little cost at your colonies, and for absurd amounts at the bases of other civilizations. Expanding your base of operations is critical if you want to complete the game’s main goal: reaching the center of the galaxy.

Diplomacy and the lack of it are at the very core of the space stage experience. Trade forms the backbone of Spore’s upgrade system, which means you’ll have to actively seek out new civilizations if you want a shinier ship or more Sporebucks. You’ll be able to run missions for neutral civilizations you meet, letting you gain their trust while earning a tidy profit. These quests range from exploring ruins for artifacts to examining or abducting species for (probably) research purposes. Some of these ruins are often ambushes set by space pirates, so keep your lasers charged and your eyes peeled. Speaking of diplomacy, not every space-faring species will play nice with your vision. Some may whittle your colonies down with missiles at the first chance they get, forcing you to bring out the big guns.

Again, the approach you took in the previous stages determines whether you’ll destroy every city on a planet to call it your own, buy out entire solar systems, or both. While the main goal is to get to the center of the galaxy, you don’t have to. It’s like Geralt in the Witcher 3 stopping for a game of Gwent while his adopted daughter is chased by the hounds of death. Hunting for an artifact or coughing up the Sporebucks needed for a brand-new upgrade can take hours in itself. Truth be told, the only knock I have against the game is its Disney aesthetic while was deliberately chosen for its wide appeal. I can’t really sum up what Spore is about. Or what it aimed to achieve.

But what I can tell you is that they succeeded.


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