A while ago I compiled a list of many of the games I grew up with. I planned to do a quick re-play of some of them and briefly consider my experience with them today – a comparison to how I felt when I played them back in the day. I already re-played some of them over the years, and sadly, they usually didn’t hold up.
However, I’m optimistic! I finally got around to starting this little project of mine. So today I’m taking a quick look at one of the most unnerving, most fascinating and generally oddest game I ever played: Creatures.
I bought this game as a “Deluxe” Edition in German when I was a kid, a kind of special edition of the original game from 1996. I always had a weird fascination with “breeding” in games that, to this day, hasn’t abated. For example, one of my favorite pastimes in any The Sims game will always be making my Sims procreate as often as possible, and seeing what hair colour is inherited more frequently. (Did you know that in Sims 3, eating watermelons while pregnant increases the chance of having a girl?) In Crusader Kings 2, I made it my mission to bring all characters with the “Genius” or “Quick” traits together in my courts and producing an army of super babies. (Not that it worked out that way…) Yes, I love playing around with genetics in any game that vaguely offers it.
Naturally, when I spotted Creatures, I was thrilled: Here was a game that revolved around breeding! It had to be exactly my thing, right? Well, back when I first started playing it, it sure was. I bred entire generations of Norn (that’s what the little dudes are called) and made elaborate family trees and genetic profiles of their appearances (purple body with white hair, pink body with brown legs and brown hair etc.). But already I was annoyed with the handling of the game. It was just so hard to deal with these little idiots.
The game provides a couple of useful-looking tools, like a genetic thingy and a science thingy… but really, they’re just for show. Trying to understand them infuriated me to no end in the past so I’m not gonna try now. All I know is that when the Norn get sick, you pump them full of cough medicine and they’ll get better.
The biggest problem I’ve always had in Creatures is keeping the Norn alive. They just flat out refuse to eat and sleep on their own. In the beginning I worried about teaching them with the language computer… well, after a while all I cared about was feeding them! But even when I piled cheese, honey and carrots around them, they refused to eat. Are they on strike? Or just suicidal? I don’t know. The food available in the world also tends to run out at some point. I had to constantly re-fill the honey pots for the Norn that did eat, and the way to the only carrot machine involves several teleporters, and that’s more than the Norn’s brains can handle.
In this respect, the game reminds me a little of Black & White. In the first installment, many gamers were incredibly frustrated with their pet, since it was a lot of work just getting it to eat, which left less time to teaching it other tricks. It’s the same in Creatures, only much, much, worse.
But that’s not all: the environment they live in is a nightmare. There are poisonous plants everywhere, and there’s really no way of preventing the Norn from eating them. Back in the days, I actually lost a baby Norn to some poisonous mushrooms. What the hell, programmers? Why would you put that in your world? It’s not like I can do anything about it! Fun fact: The Norn love the bamboo elevators that are scattered around the landscape. Guess what? One of them leads DIRECTLY to the mushrooms. It was built to KILL THEM.
Then there’s the Grendel – an ugly little monster that roams the world. It spreads disease and attacks your Norn. I spent so much time in this game trying to get rid of this thing. There’s a spray that temporarily transports it away, and a cage that’s really hard to operate. What purpose does it serve? The Norn (as far as I can tell) cannot learn how to fight it off, and for all the hassle it brings nothing new or enjoyable to the game. It’s so tedious. At some point I just stopped trying. Just as I stopped trying to get my Norn out of trouble in general.
I ended up having much more fun this way. Creatures, as it turns out, is great when you’re just running in the background while doing something else. How I learned to stop worrying and love the game, so to speak. Some Norn just have a dying wish, fair enough. Others keep surprising me with their resilience. I’m not sure whether this is coincidence or whether some Norn are just stronger than others, but whatever, it’s kinda fun to occasionally watch them.
There are all sorts of really disturbing aspects of the game, too. For example, there are these potions I can insert into the world, and the Norn really dig them. They constantly slurp away these weird drugs and it rapidly raises their health. Steroids, much? Also, whenever Norn hang out together, there are these weird kissing noises, even when they’re babies. Most of the time, though, they just keep slapping each other. And some of the time… they seem to like it. And yes, that’s not something I just figured out… I weep for the loss of many a child’s innocence to this game. I checked: Creatures is officially labelled “for 6-year-olds and up”. I remind you, this game contains tomatoes that are pointed out to you as aphrodisiacs. By the way, making actually readable family trees in this game is nearly impossible – too much incest. See what I mean?
At some point, the game just gave me a headache. The insufferable squeaking noises of the Norn “language”, the repetitive noises the toys make, the slaps and the kisses…. everything just becomes this blurry white noise that grates on my nerves like a thousand chainsaws. That’s why it’s best to run the game in the background, or to turn off your speakers.
All things considered, how does the game hold up? Well, honestly, I don’t find it better or worse than I did in the past. It has its moments and it’s a fun little experiment. However, I wouldn’t recommend playing it to anyone but crazy geneticists like me.
Food for thought: There is just so much I do not understand or know about this game, and in an era where games try to be as easy and non-frustrating as possible, that is actually kind of cool. The mystery might be a sham or just bad programming, but it’s still a mystery. I think I might keep it running in the background for a while, just to see whether they eventually all die of starvation.
So long, thanks for reading & stay tuned for the next Flashback!