Mindscape's original Creatures product made its debut around the time that Tamagotchis were replacing human breeding and pet-buying instincts with computer-generated life models. And people came running. Not only did they buy it, they built web sites, friendship circles, pen-pal partnerships, web rings, and support groups around the phenomenon. Now Creatures 2 is available, and fans of the original (those already deeply embedded in the Norn world) will most likely be ardently moved and satisfied. But if you're not already a patron, it might be a little late to become one now.
This is not to say anything generally negative about the Creatures 2 adventure. It's actually quite charming, as before, and the training, raising, and relationships you experience are, well, quite real. The concept is the same: You raise Norns, little creatures that are cute, but more in a TV's Olsen twins sense - meaning surrounded by an inexplicable eerie quality that borders on disturbing and nightmarish. These Norns come to you in the form of gender-classed eggs in a hatchery. You pick your eggs and move them to an incubator. No pain here; they hatch instantly, then the real labor of love begins.
Aside from making sure your Norns have food and proper entertainment, such as tossing a ball around or harassing a puppy, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the entire experience is teaching the creatures to speak. The language development model is pretty smart, exhibiting exponential growth, as the Norns' lives are only about ten hours long at best. A computer assists you in the language teaching area. You bark language commands by typing in words, or short strings of words, to communicate with and build the vocabularies of your Norns. The Creatures enterprise will undoubtedly reach its pinnacle when voice recognition becomes a mainstay in PC games, as chasing a Norn typing "Stop, What, Look, Stop, Come, Eat" and so on does lose its charm fairly quickly. Other parental duties, such as feeding and discipline, are more intuitive - spank your Norn by tapping him on the butt with the cursor (that's right, good ol' spanking; no contemporary new-age child rearing here), get his attention by tapping him on the nose, and feed him by bringing him food, initially, then by teaching him to find it on his own.
What you ultimately want to do with your Norns is pretty much what you did the first time around. You must successfully raise and breed them while exploring Albia, the world they live in, now searching for machines, which will assist them (and you) in the journey. One machine lets you genetically conjoin your creatures of any type so that they can breed instantly and artificially - great for players who have a tough time getting Norns to "do it" on their own. Of course, the beauty of technology is carried one step further, as in the first Creatures, by the simple fact that if you're a total reproductive failure, you can adopt baby Norns or grown-ups (six-hour-olds) online at any one of the many web sites dedicated to this cause.
The environment your Norns live in is a large and detailed humanized burrowing habitat with everything from plants (medicinal and otherwise) and animals to electronic devices and toys to interact with, and the interface in which you use these items is relatively intuitive. You can maintain detailed records of all of your Norns, tracking health, reproductive interests (you'll have a choice of aphrodisiacs for your frigid set), intelligence, boredom, and more. Finding your strays within the habitat is also fairly easy, as a button on the upper left of your game screen allows you to go from room to room, Norn to Norn, quickly, for routine checks.
Yet with all of this going on, Creatures 2 is kind of dull. Breeding your first pair, then watching them reproduce, is pretty rewarding at first. But that initial milestone may not be enough to make most gamers push for more. And playing Creatures 2 requires a lot of patience and persistence. If you've ever given a pet away because it was too much work, this is not for you. What Creatures 2 delivers is more of what the original Creatures introduced: a membership to a culture dedicated to the concept of artificial life and the intricacies of making it work in its controlled chaos environment. It's the sort of thing that if actually real, it would be a whole heck of a lot more fun, but since it's not, the best advice is just to know the limits of your attention span before you jump in.