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Spore is an enjoyable game that pulls off an interesting balancing act. On one hand, it lets you create a creature and guide its maturation from a single cell to a galactic civilisation through an unusual process of evolutionary development. Because the tools used to create and revise this creature are so robust and amusing, and each creation's charms are so irresistible, it's hard not to get attached to your digital alter ego. On the other hand, this intimacy is abandoned in the long, later portions of the game, when you lead your full-grown civilisation in its quest for universal domination. The idea sounds ambitious, though Spore isn't as much a deep game as it is a broad one, culling elements from multiple genres and stripping them down to their simplest forms. By themselves, these elements aren't very remarkable; but within the context of a single, sprawling journey, they complement each other nicely and deliver a myriad of delights.

Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming...

Spore's greatest asset, by far, is its intuitive set of creation tools. If you've played the separate Creature Creator, released earlier this year, you're only seeing a small piece of the puzzle. At various stages, you'll construct, for example, town halls, land vehicles sporting cannons, and aircraft that spout religious propaganda. The creatures are the true stars though, and you can mix and match legs, arms, mouths, wings, and lots of other parts into a beautiful work of art — or a hideous monstrosity. Each part of your creation can be turned, resized and twisted, so whether you wish to re-create a favourite cartoon character or develop an original concept, you'll probably find what you need in here. You don't need to be a budding Pablo Picasso to make an interesting creature, however; just slapping a bunch of random parts together can result in a truly hysterical beast. Yet even if your on-screen buddy is a three-armed ogre with scales running up his belly, you'll be spending some time getting to know him in the first few hours of gameplay, and you'll probably develop some affection for him in spite of his hideousness.

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