First of all, I wish to dedicate this review to Abe Vigoda. Not the venerable actor from the hit sitcom "Barney Miller," but my first Norn. May she rest in peace. I promised myself I wouldn’t dwell on her untimely demise… so
Let me premise this with how inadequate I am at nurturing the concept of "artificial life." As a child I used to bang out the BASIC code to create the game of "Life" on my TRS-80. No matter how long I would try to get those little cell colonies to multiply, I was always left with a blank screen (and usually a lot of runtime errors). I graduated up to the concept of SimCity many years later, but often found myself laughing maniacally as disaster after disaster doomed my sim-citizens. Any game that required me to tend to the outcome of others left me downtrodden (and with many deaths in my wake). That is, until Kentucky Fried Chicken saved me.
A little over a year ago KFC started selling the Tiger Electronic’s GigaPets with a purchase of a bucket of chicken. These are not unlike the Tamagotchi from Bandai. Wow! I thought. I finally found something that I could nurture… and it only had three buttons. This little hand-held wonder thrived under my constant tutelage. I could do it! I finally was the artificial father I always wanted to be! I was ready to take on higher forms of life…
I was ready for Creatures 2.
Creatures 2 is the highly anticipated sequel to the oft-underrated Creatures by Cyberlife. Creatures introduced many to the world of the "Virtual Pet" and it did so quite admirably. I even tried the original Creatures when it first came out… but it didn’t hold my interest. I was recovering from an ill-fated evening with my GigaPet…
Trust me when I say that they are not supposed to get wet.
Creatures 2 is a very impressive foray into the realm of artificial life. Little furry… um… creatures are hatched from eggs and require your constant care in order for them to prosper, learn, and eventually reproduce. These little bundles of fun are termed "Norns." Each Norn’s behavior is based on Cyberlife’s implementation of "Digital DNA." Every Norn has all the important body parts (internal organs), an immune system, a brain, and a general desire to live. All of these can be monitored and maintained with a variety of "helper" applets included with the product. So intense is Cyberlife’s passion, Creatures 2 becomes less of a game and more of a biology experiment. One that I found hard to get a passing grade on.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Since I didn’t find this to be truly a "game," it’s hard for me to comment on "Gameplay." You hatch a Norn, try to keep it alive, and it dies anyway. Such is life. Controls consist of the mouse and the keyboard. Had they implemented some wrist-breaking lap-slapping force-feedback into the game, I might have had a little more to say. But alas, such is life.
The interface is actually quite nice, if not a little unresponsive in areas. It looks like a normal Windows application that makes use of toolbars, pull-down menus and status bars. Notice I say normal Windows application and not "game." There is a trend here.
In the middle of all of the app-like controls is Albia, the side-scrolling world in which the Norns live their entire life. A simple "hand" represents you, the devoted parent. With this hand, you can tickle the cute button nose of the Norns or slap them silly on the behind. You can also pick up various objects, save your Norns from drowning, and speak to them. This exhibits quite the versatility from such a simple hand.
Once your Norn is hatched, it basically relies on you to teach it to come to grips with life in Albia. The first task, and my hardest, is to teach your Norn its name. I called mine "Slappy." Alas, this did not last.
I spent the next 30 minutes getting Slappy to learn that I was "Daddy" and that she should follow me to learn how to eat. A couple of "Learning Computers" are scattered around the world. Norns can use these to learn simple tasks and definitions. If this fails you can always beat them into submission to "learn them good." I never once raised a hand to Slappy, except to tickle her nose to reward her for acknowledging my superiority over her.
I eventually guided her to a fishing pole and caught her an Albian fish to eat. Everything had been going well up to this point, but she could not get through her thick skull that she was supposed to eat the fish. I spent 10 minutes waving the fish in front of her… yelling "Fish! Fish! Fish!" She took it upon herself to surmise this to mean that her name was now "Fish." Things started going downhill from here.
"Fish" thought it would be funny to dive into the water. Heck, she thinks she is one…why not. I quickly learned that Norns cannot swim and actually sink pretty fast. I plopped her back up to dry land and scolded her by slapping her little bum. "Bad Fish!" the hand cried. Fish then started repeating my incessantly "fish… fish… hungry… bad… fish…" I couldn’t take much more.
Thinking quickly, I spent the next 10 minutes calling her "Abe Vigoda." It was quite humorous to see the transformation from Fish to Vigoda as she tried to vocalize the oft-mispronounced name. Once she had it in her mind that her name was now Abe, I set out to create her a brother.
Barney was born without much complication and took to his name immediately. I then set forth to lead Barney over to his sister for a little introduction. 20 minutes later (and a few butt slaps) he was following the hand over to where Slappy… er, I mean, Abe was supposed to be. She was gone! I used the pull-down menu to switch to Abe, and I found her once again at the bottom of the Albian sea.
Oh my gosh!
How long was she down?
I never taught her to hold her breath… I never took her to the circus…
She never was able to invite me to the Father-Creature Tea…
Stars circling her head signaled that all was not well with Abe. I set her down gently on the shore so I could figure out how to help. Quickly starting up the Health Kit, I searched for the Albian cure for drowning.
The kit looked cool and all… but nothing apparent would fix her. I searched frantically through its contents. Where is it? Where is David Hasselhoff when you need him? Barney crawled beside Abe and fell asleep. A soft purr came out of Barney as he cuddled next to his sister. Could he be keeping her warm? Could this be the cure? A tear welled up in my eye.
Aha! I thought. All is not lost. This has to be a common ailment, one that has to be documented. Looking into the online help, I searched frantically for the cure.
At least nothing that I could find quick enough to matter. Then I heard it… that ethereal music that could only mean one thing. I quickly scrolled to the edge of the screen. Abe Vigoda was dead! She started to be pulled towards the heavens. "No!" I cried… the hand grasping at her… trying to pull her back to her father and her baby brother. She was so young… so beautiful… so dead…
It was over…
I was drained…
Barney could frickin’ starve to death for all I cared.
If you think that 3D acceleration might have saved my Slappy… well, you’re wrong… just plain wrong. The graphics for Creatures 2 are quite beautiful, though. Slight improvements over the original Creatures give Albia and its resident Norns a very rich environment in which to live. Although two-dimensional, the graphics give the application a lot of depth. Weather systems float on by, bugs and other "creatures" scurry past, and vegetation grows, germinates, and dies. This serves to distract your Norn from learning basic skills (like water=bad) as they chase a butterfly off a cliff.
The high quality of the graphics does serve to slow performance at high resolutions. While playing at 1280x1024, scrolling around the world was almost unbearable. Knocking this down to 800x600 smoothed out the experience. Mileage may vary with your graphics adapter and processor speed.
Each "helper applet" is also beautifully designed. Although they weren’t much help to an ailing Norn, they did catch my eye as a graphically appealing waste of time.
Again, Creatures 2 scores high with its use of audio. Music plays softly in the background as you strive to keep your Norn alive. The Norns respond in a strangely appealing baby-esque babble as they communicate with you. The sounds of the Norn's surroundings are also quite nice. Nothing was too harsh to distract you from your Norn and they fit quite well within the boundaries of good taste.
However (there always is a however), when my GigaPet was "hurting" he/she would beep incessantly until I tended to his/her need. When Abe was face down in the Albian Atlantic, I had no clue. Maybe something queued me to look, but I didn’t hear it over the sounds of me getting slap-happy with Barney. Then it had the nerve to play the funeral dirge as Abe was taken to her creator.
Regardless of the situation (or my inadequacy) the sound is downright excellent.
Windows 95/98 or Windows NT 4.0, Pentium 166 or better, 4X CD-ROM drive, 16-bit sound, 2 MB video, 16 MB RAM (32 MB recommended)
I recommend having: A big heart and the time to spend on a constant suicide watch.
At first I thought that the 30-odd-page manual was not up to par with the scope of this title. This had the whole "Gotta sell those strategy guides" conspiracy theory written all over it. However, the online help system is quite adequate and the game does lend itself to self-discovery. Oops… I said game. I’ll take that back.
Even if you find the documentation somewhat lacking, there is quite the network of Creature-lovin’ folk out there on the Web. In researching the cure for drowning, I found quite the assembly of Creatures freaks… er, I mean, fanatics that have entire web sites devoted to keeping the buggers alive. If only I had known this before Abe… before she…
Trust me when I say not to get them wet.
I cannot bring myself to give this game… er, I mean application… a high mark. I see Creatures 2’ s potential and fully appreciate the science behind it. Maybe sometime down the road I may even try to raise a new family and tell them the tales of how their ancestor Slappy Vigoda ruled the beaches of Albia! And how she was taken from us… much too early… But I digress.
The fact remains that this is not really a game… heck, it’s almost a cruel lesson.
I also recognize that if you are a fan of the original you need to run, not walk, but run to the store and buy this at once. I can honestly say that the only thing that could outdo Creatures in achieving the same level of "artificial stimulation" is Creatures 2. I didn’t have much fun…but that may be due to the fact that I’m mourning a virtual loss right now.
The "Graveyard Kit" enabled me to give Slappy Vigoda a proper burial…