Spore Hero Arena Review «

I’m tempted to say, on the basis of Spore Hero Arena, that some ideas are just too big for a handheld. But I don’t quite believe it — there must be a good way to make a Nintendo DS game that, at least in its own ways, captures all the fundamental qualities of Will Wright’s original vision for Spore. But this… this is not it.
Spore Hero Arena ditches all of the PC game’s original simulation aspects, but this also isn’t a close handheld version of Spore Hero for the Wii, which already reduced Spore to a generic and flawed third-person platformer. The process of reduction goes even further here, where we’re left with a game made of only two elements: battling creatures, and walking around boring environments looking for creatures to battle.

Click the image above to check out all Spore Hero Arena screens.
The game is played from a top-down perspective, using the stylus to move your creature and using the D-pad (if you’re right-handed) to attack and defend. You advance across different “planets,” all of which have a number of inhabitants that you interact with to initiate challenges. The point is to accumulate four blue crystal fragments on each planet and then fight that planet’s boss, and nearly every challenge involves arena battles. And what the game calls “battles,” I would describe more accurately as “running into creatures and mashing Left on the D-pad until you knock them off the arena.” It’s about as fun as it sounds.

To be sure, the game feigns to contain at least basic strategy in its combat. You can bite with your creature’s mouth, strike with its claws, spit from a distance, and block. But when every battle immediately devolves to your opponents initiating mindless kamikaze attacks, any notion of strategically choosing the proper type of attack or the right time to block flies out the window: You either respond by pressing against them and mashing the “strike” button until they’re pushed off the stage, or you wait for them to run off the stage in their own in their wild attempts to destroy you.

Click the image above to check out all Spore Hero Arena screens.
There are also special “Bio-Attack” powers, but there are two problems with these: For one, you initiate them by holding down the L or R buttons and tapping on the power you want in a touch screen menu, which takes about as long to do as it took you to read that explanation, meaning you’re likely to get knocked off the stage midway through the process. And second, since the “strike-mash” strategy works so well, you’ll barely be compelled to use Bio powers anyway.

And the worst part of all is that’s basically the entire game: land on a planet, engage in multiple strike-mash battles to earn fragments, and fight the boss. Occasionally, creatures will add special conditions, like beating three enemies with only one life or surviving for a period of time without being able to attack (the only challenges you win by not having to strike-mash), but these don’t liven things up much.

There are also side challenges to earn extra creature parts, but while there’s a decent variety of creation options, the small character models and lack of visible detail on the DS screen makes the joy of creature creation negligible. It’s hard to want to endure extra strike-mashing for arms, eyes, and hands that are barely indistinguishable from each other in-game. I don’t know what it would take to make a game of Spore’s scope on the DS, but I know it requires an entirely different approach than the lamentably simplistic Spore Hero Arena.


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