|Black & White: Creature Isle|
February 25, 2003 | Kit Pierce
A little over one year ago, I had the opportunity to review Lionhead Software's Black & White. What stood out as an engaging and original sim one year ago, still stands out today as an incredibly unique title. Arguably the most interesting part of the popular god-game is the creature. Gaining miracles, overcoming trials, and expanding one's godly influence was only part of the fun. Training your miraculous creature to do your bidding in whatever manner suits you was certainly a high point in the game.
Creature Isle draws on the popularity of B&W's creature feature and focuses its entire plot on said creature. The sailing expedition from the first level of the original game has found land by the time you catch up with them. It is a land without a god. For you, that means no competition. This land has become a haven for wayward creatures without gods who have formed a society called the Brotherhood. The challenges on this land are primarily for your creature to pass. If he does well, he will be invited to join the elite Brotherhood. If you play your cards right, you may even score a mate for your creature while you're at it.
Before you get to that, however, the training and mettle of your creature will be put to the test. He will get the opportunity to nurture and train a creature of his own. Your creature's pet's name? Tyke, of course. The effectiveness of your creature's training will be put to the test as he passes his knowledge and style on to his ward.
GameplayThe trials and challenges are primarily focused on directing your creature to perform one feat or another. This is a significant departure from B&W which had gameplay centered around the generally open-ended way of solving puzzles. The way you solved a puzzle effected the way the rest of the game went as well. Not so with Creature Isle. There are very specific ways to solve puzzles, mainly by getting your creature to outperform or outfight another animal. The types of challenges are interesting and creative -- Bowling, Soccer, Shepherding, and raising a pet to name a few -- but the execution lacks the charm present in the original B&W. The challenges quickly ceased to be fun, as they quickly turned repetitive and tedious.
Without any godly challenges for you to pass specifically, Creature Isle adds a level of abstraction to its gameplay formula not present in Black & White. True, while the gesture-based interface remains the same for both games, the fact that you have to get your creature to do most of the labor for you adds difficulty and frustration to the game. Your omnipotence becomes irrelevant as you are less of a god in this situation and more of a babysitter for a difficult four-year-old.
Resource managament in Creature Isle also becomes a non-issue. This is another mixed blessing. The designers realized that you would be spending on the order of 20 hours with your creature on this island, and your ravenous villagers would quickly deplete the landscape if left to their own devices. In Creature Isle, you don't have to concern yourself with cultivating forests and such for your villagers. Your villagers can munch all they want; the land will let them come back for more. While this is a big relief on some level, it takes away any sense of urgency you may have while dealing with your villagers. Losing that dimension of the game makes the gameplay lopsided.
Since you're the only god on the island there is no competition for resources or the faith of the villagers. Like the issue of losing the resource management dimension, the fact that you can take your time to impress and expand your powers is a mixed blessing. The fact that you don't use many of your godly powers to play the Creature Isle expansion level makes the point of expansion somewhat academic.
The designers try to make up this imbalance by focusing on your creature and his abilities. They even give your creature a creature of its own to nurture and raise. Luckily this little apprentice learns quickly -- even faster than the smartest player creature, the ape.
If you have a well-trained creature from B&W proper, use him. I can't stress this enough. Unfortunately, this is an option only if you didn't delete your old files. OS X users probably won't have this problem. You can easily double your play time by not using a well-trained creature, and I don't mean this in a good way.
Overall, the same gameplay techniques of B&W that are applied to Creature Isle fall short. The charm of your creature raising a creature became old long before I was finished with Creature Isle. In the end, it didn't really matter what my godly alignment was, if you didn't meet the challenges in the prescribed way, you wouldn't pass them.