Did anybody ever play E.V.O.: Search for Eden on the old SNES back in the ‘90s? You start out as a little critter in the ocean and evolve your way towards becoming a sentient biped. It wasn’t the most amazing game ever, but there was nothing else like it, and it was pretty interesting for its time.

Now its spiritual successor is about to be released. It’s a game called Spore. You may have heard some of the hype about Spore: it was years in the making, it promises to be a ground-breaking new gaming experience, the brainchild of Maxis’ resident creative genius Will Wright (creator of both SimCity and The Sims). There was even a National Geographic special on the development of the game.

Spore allows a player to control the evolution of a species from its very beginning. If you’re familiar with games like Civilization, you’ve probably heard slogans like “from the Stone Age to the Space Age.” Well, Spore goes beyond this; it’s not just a single game, it’s five: Cell Stage, Creature Stage, Tribal Stage, Civilization Stage, and Space Stage. You begin by creating a single-celled organism and work your way up all the way to forming interstellar empires. In fact, you can create just about everything – cells, creatures, buildings, vehicles and spaceships.

Still a little bit iffy on all of this? Watch this trailer:

Now that you get the big picture, it’s only fitting that I should describe each of the five stages in a little more detail, since they each play like completely different games.

Cell Stage

With a massive explosion, a comet smashes into a distant world. Ordinarily, this would be just another run-of-the-mill astronomical phenomenon, but this time it’s different, for this particular comet is carrying tiny microbes (designed by you) which become the first life-forms on the planet.

This first stage plays kind of like old-school Pac-Man. Floating around the primordial ooze, you do your best to eat everything smaller than you while not getting eaten by anything bigger than you. As you consume other microbes, you earn “DNA points” (or something like that) which allow you to evolve your creature, making it bigger and stronger. Once you’ve evolved sufficiently, your little critter is able to evolve some legs and head out onto dry land.

Creature Stage

If Cell Stage played like Pac-Man, Creature Stage is like Diablo: first person hack-and-slash action. This time your creature’s not just trying to swallow other creatures, he’s trying to kill them first and then eat them.

And now that your creature is a land animal, you are able to evolve it a variety of new ways. You could create a carnivorous dinosaur, or a gibbering insect. You choose how the creature evolves. How about some big, powerful jaws? Sure thing. You want it to fly? Give it some wings. Poison venom? No problem.

As it devours myriad lesser animals, your creature grows more and more powerful until eventually it’s time to move on again. Your creatures discover how to use tools and fire, and you progress to Tribal Stage.

Tribal Stage

This time, you’re done evolving. Your creatures are now sentient beings that have banded together to form a tribe. Instead of evolving new weapons like claws or fangs, now you make them.

It plays sort of like Age of Empires, or any other real-time strategy game. Your little prehistoric tribe will arm themselves with spears or axes, and set out to harvest their primary resource: food. As you explore, your tribe soon learns of the existence of other tribes on the planet, and you can react in one of two ways. You can befriend them, or you kill them and take their stuff for yourself. After all, those stone axes can kill more than just food.

Either way, as your tribe gains victories through conquest or alliance, you are able to build more huts in your village and improve your ceremonial totem pole. Once this totem pole reaches a certain height, it’s time to progress again.

Civilization Stage

Your tribe of creatures is now advanced enough to form its own civilization, cultivating cities and building great monuments. This stage plays like a cross between SimCity and Civilization (as indeed, several key designers from both franchises were involved in the project).

You can build three different kinds of cities, each orientated towards a key function: religion, the economy and the military. Religious cities produce propaganda to convert other civilizations to your cause. Economic cities boost your production. Finally, military cities let you produce powerful units to go and crush your enemies.

This stage is even more customizable: you design all your buildings and vehicles yourself. As you continue to conquer or ally with other civilizations, you develop better, more advanced technologies, which ultimately allow you to take over your entire planet. Once you’ve accomplished this, it’s time to move on yet again.

Space Stage

Having dominated your own planet, it’s now time to move on to settle other worlds. In Space Stage, you design your own starships, which carry you to an infinite number of worlds spread out throughout your galaxy.

This stage is sort of like Birth of the Federation, or Master of Orion. It’s by far the longest stage in the game, and for a very good reason: it’s ludicrously open-ended.

As your galactic explorers travel from world to world, any number of things can happen. You can terraform other planets so that they are capable of supporting life; you can conquer (or abduct and enslave) lesser species; you can establish colonies across the galaxy, or you can even start the whole process all over again from any stage of development. There are even rumors of a secret ending.

So in summation, Spore essentially lets you play God as you create and then guide a life-form from its humble beginnings in the primordial ooze, through different stages of development, and finally branching out infinitely to a future in outer space. The gameplay is both vivid and varied, and the options for re-playability and customization are numberless. Better still, it’s coming out in North America on September 7th, so you won’t have to wait very long to see for yourself.