Monday, January 18, 2010

Creature Creators

I don't know about you, but my 6-year-old son loves creatures! He can spend hours drawing, shaping, and creating creatures of every imaginable size, shape, and color. I am amazed (and yes, sometimes startled) by the stuff that comes out of his head, but honestly it is so fantastic to see a little kid's imagination in full-blown create mode. So here is a list of some websites, products, and games that allow the inner creature creator in anyone to shine.

Spore by Electronic Arts - I begin here, because this is really where we as a family began creature creating. At the time we knew that our son loved monsters and weird animals of all kinds, but we had no idea of what exactly he was seeing in his head when he thought "creature". 

In the Creature Creator portion of Spore you can choose a body type then add body parts as you'd like.  Once you have your creature just the way you like him, you can paint him and then "Test Drive" him.  This means you get to use several different animations including dancing and inflicting emotions.  You can give your creature up to three babies, take pictures of them, change backgrounds . . . in short you could waste a whole Sunday afternoon with this program. 

The great thing about this game is that you can download a free trial version of just the create mode so that you can see what the program is like and whether or not it's worth it to your family to buy the full version. It is as much fun to the adults as it is to the kids, but my son could quite literally spend the entire day making creature after creature after creature. Fear not though, these image files take up very little space on your computer hard drive. 

Now, just to be clear, I am talking primarily about the computer game. The game also exists in several console versions including Nintendo DS and Wii. The computer version allows for much greater manipulation of the creature and all aspects of creating the creature are easier to control. If your child enjoys the Creature Creator portion of Spore a lot, consider also buying the "Creepy & Cute" parts pack. This expansion pack provides more parts for your creature that will make him either creepier looking or so cute you'll wish you could keep it for a pet. It also provides additional paint options and extra animations.

BuiLD YouR WiLD SeLF - This is part of the New York Zoos and Aquarium website. The neat thing about this site is that it allows your child to make an illustrated version of themselves and then add different creature parts to that drawing. Each part is from a real animal and is labeled with the animal name. You can also choose a background for your wild self. When you're done it gives you a wild name and tells you all about the animals that make up your creature. You can create over and over again and you can also email your picture to friends, use your picture for a desktop picture, and print out your picture to keep. The site is very kid friendly and even kids who don't know how to read can figure out how to use the site after a few clicks.

Alien: Assembly Required - This is part of the PBS Kids website for the Arthur show. Arthur's friend Buster imagines that his smoke alarm is an alien spaceship and challenges you to decide what aliens will be on the ship. The sound affects can be scary for some kids, so you might want to play with them the first time through. The site is pretty user friendly for little kids and requires minimal reading ability. Most kids will figure it out without any help. When you're through you can print a copy to keep.

Handy Manny's Toy Factory - This is part of the Playhouse Disney website and is not specifically a creature creator, but it's amazing how many weird things my son has created with this game. You choose what kind of toy body to use and then add as many bits and pieces as you'd like. There are tons of things to choose from and it will take your child a long time before they get board with this one. The best part is that when you are done you can click on the "animate" button and your toy comes to life with sound effects and movement! You can also print out a copy of your toy to keep. The site is designed with preschoolers in mind so there is no need to be able to read. Everything is explained the first time through by Handy Manny himself.

Mii Channel - If you've got a Wii you know all about Miis. Believe it or not this is one of my son's favorite ways to create creatures. And unlike trying to play an actual video game, it's something that is very easy and fun for him to do. He can of course create as many "creatures" as he'd like on his own, but for more fun try visiting the website This website gives detailed instructions on "How to Make Famous Miis for Your Wii". My husband likes the Star Wars Miis while my son and I prefer the "Toons" section.

Monsters Magnetic Action Figures by mudpuppy - For creature creating on the go this magnetic set is lots of fun. It comes in a metal box that includes 40 different body part magnets and 4 background scenes. The monsters are reminiscent of old horror movie monsters and some are pretty freaky looking. However, if your kid leans toward the bizarre this set will be a sure hit. A quick check of the mudpuppy website shows lots of other monster-related fun like stickers, a sticker set play scene, and puzzles. There's also a very similar robot version if your kids like robots better than monsters. Or, get them both for some really crazy creations!

Check out some of these really fun creature creators and let your creative side loose.  If you know of some other sites or products that are fun for creature creating, let me know in the comments! 

Update - Nickelodeon's page for The Troop has a new Monster Creator section that is pretty fun.  It was designed as part of a contest to create new monsters for the show.  The contest is now closed, but the monster creating continues.  There are lots of different body types, limbs, features, and colors to choose from.  Once you complete it you can enter all the stats on your monster, then you can print it or email it to your friends.  Go check it out, it's like the poor man's version of Spore.  Although, since you can download a free version of Spore, it's more like the lazy man's version.

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