Black & White: Creature Isle Review

Black & White was one of the more interesting games of 2001.  Some of the most amazing AI ever to appear in a game was coupled with a flawed strategy component, and the game inspired both praise and disdain from gamers.  Now there's Creature Isle, an expansion for Black & White that focuses on the game's creatures while downplaying the strategy elements of the game.

Creature Isle transports your creature to a new island inhabited by creatures without gods.  They have banded together to form a brotherhood and have invited your creature to join.  In order to gain membership, though, your creature must first pass a series trials created by the various creatures on the island.  One of these trials includes the hatching and raising of a new creature, Tyke.  Like your creature, Tyke will need to be trained to cast miracles, feed himself, and to help run villages.  However, this time it is not you doing the training, but your creature.  Your creature will train Tyke in the same manner as you trained him.  Evil creatures will teach Tyke to be destructive, while good creatures will teach him kindness.  Once your creature passes all of the trials, he will gain membership in the brotherhood and catch the eye of the island's only female creature, Eve.

The trials in Creature Isle are a series of mini-games which include bowling, soccer, a foot race, target shooting, and the like.  Each is run by a different creature, and completing the trial makes the creature's type available for play.  This is a very nice feature of Creature Isle, as players can swap their creature type at will after completing a trial.  Not only will players enjoy trying out all the various creature types and watching their highly animated antics, but they can also use this to their advantage in the trials.  Facing a trail that requires strength?  Switch to a tiger or bear.  Speed of the essence?  Try a horse or zebra.   The trials themselves are an uneven mix of games that range from amusing to frustrating, and one literally makes you watch grass grow.  Most of the trials begin, end, and are even interspersed with cutscenes that make some of them drag out to a very slow pace.  For example, one of the early trials is a bowling match with a cow.  You need to bowl five frames and each shot by your creature and the cow is followed by a comment or insult.  These cutscenes can not be bypassed, so by the third or fourth time you are told that you've made a bad shot you are ready to grill some hamburgers and forget the whole brotherhood thing.  The slow pace also diminishes the replay value of most of the trials - you'll be happy to complete them, but will probably not want to go through the whole thing again.

Some of the trials provide opportunities to cheat a little and take shortcuts - literally in the case of the footrace trial.  However, there does not seem to be any negative penalty for cheating during a trial.  This is strange since the original game emphasized the making of moral choices when completing quests, and the choices made affected you, your creature, and even the world around you.  The whole moral component of the game is not just absent from the trials, but pretty much from the whole expansion itself.  It does not really matter if you follow the good or evil path, either way you'll still make it into the brotherhood.

Another big change in Creature Isle is the absence of other gods.  You will not need to fight for territory or protect your holdings from rivals.  You are free to take a much leisurely pace in Creature Isle, leaving you with far more time for exploring or training your creature.  Not only are there no other gods, but the whole strategy aspect of the game has been toned down.  Villagers are nowhere near as demanding as they were in Black & White, and they seem to always have plenty of food and raw materials.  Villagers in Black & White were voracious, and could quickly strip an island of resources.  Not so in Creature Isle - the forest surrounding the villages remain as pristine as ever as you play the game.  This is a welcome change as it frees the player to concentrate on the more enjoyable aspects of the game.  Instead of constantly watering fields and hauling lumber, the player is free to concentrate on his/her creature and the trials.  This change apparently was not applied to the worshippers at the temple, though.  They still are in constant need of food lest they die of starvation during their rituals.  While it is understandable that the game's designers needed a way to prevent players from emptying their villages to provide miracle power, it's still an annoying distraction to have to constantly go back to the temple to feed the worshippers.