Nintendo DS Review: Electroplankton

Nintendo has always been the company to push the limits of what a "game" can do -- and the Nintendo DS is a testament to that. Electroplankton would not have seen mass market if it were not for Nintendo, the DS, and Toshio Iwai's vision. And for that, I am thankful.

It is far more likely to see Electroplankton at the annual art gallery shown at SIGGRAPH. It would fit right in there, alongside the other interactive multimedia instillations. I am quite amazed, and pleased, that I can experience Electroplankton outside of the Los Angeles Convention Center. There have been many occasions I have wanted portable versions of those creations.

Where Electroplankton does not fit in is on a game console. It also does not fit into a neat category. That is doubly bad, most usually dooming a product for life.

To criticize it as a game is disrespectful to the artist. But Nintendo had to share this experience somehow, and the DS was the easiest match. As such, Electroplankton has been labeled a "game" the world over. And whose fault is that? Moreover, if we do not consider Electroplankton as a game, then there is no common ground at all. This is a catch twenty-two that I simply do not have an answer for.

As with anything in society that exists outside of the "norm," it is hard to talk about Electroplankton in a positive light without getting chastised in some way. I also cannot see how to review this product on the standard definitions of a video game. Even slapping the genre of "Music" on Electroplankton bothers me. It is so much more than that.

It would be almost pointless to comment on the graphics and sound design of Electroplankton because there really is nothing in which to draw a correlation. And what about the all-important game play element? This is a perfect example of why the industry needs to ditch these pigeonhole categories as the basis for worth.

Although Electroplankton is a new watermark for what a game can be, it does need to be defined and analyzed.

Firstly, before you even turn on your DS, you should open the instruction manual and read. I know this may seem like an arcane concept to many, but there is a lot to digest here. I am not referring to the manual because the game is complicated -- it's not -- I mean to bring your attention to page 57. Here you will find what is essentially an artist's statement, as well as a concise reflection on each of the 10 plankton. Honestly this should be the first thing in the manual, even before the Table of Contents. It is relegated the back of the book, and because of that will be ignored by most.

After reading those few pages you learn the true nature behind Electroplankton. As a child, his microscope, tape recorder, synthesizer, and NES fascinated Toshio Iwai. Because of these captivating memories, millions of people can control this 21st century counterpart.

There are other reasons to read through the manual, including beautifully illustrated explanations to all the game play modes of each plankton.

You may be shocked to be presented with a minimalist menu right when you turn the game on. There is no splash screen, no intro cinematic, not even the red Nintendo logo. You see "ELECTROPLANKTON" on the top screen and three options on the touch screen. You are also greeted with a gentle bubbling sound, as we are dealing with water-based life forms. This audio has the calming effect needed for enjoyment of this title.

Electroplankton is one game that you simply must experience with headphones on. So plug them in and turn on that option from the menu.

If you are unsure where to begin, which is quite common with something so radically different, you may want to start with Audience Mode first. This tosses you into any one of the 10 games at random. Whereas the game is on autopilot at this point, you can interact with everything just as if in Performance Mode. I appreciate Audience Mode as it provides a vast landscape of ideas.

Jumping into Performance Mode displays the 10 plankton you will be controlling. Each has a short description, plus a preview of what they look like. Again, minimal, this is all that is needed.

Each has wildly different game play mechanics. Hanenbow, Marine-Snow and Beatness each have multiple variations.

Hanenbow gives you four different environments to interact within. The object of this game is to turn all green leaves red by rocketing plankton at different angles onto the leaves. As with all the games, you will be creating music along the way. Another standard convention in the game is to use Left and Right on the D-pad to speed up or slow down your actions. If you are looking for goal-oriented game play in Electroplankton, this is it.

Rec-Rec has you recording sounds to be mixed together. Beatness is similar, but already has everything pre-recorded for you. It includes 12 or so base sound effects from the massive library of Nintendo games such as Super Mario Bros., you control variations off these sounds and record your own mix.

The Volvoice plankton records your voice. You then change its shape to change the recorded voice into something different entirely -- everything from reversing the audio to changing the pitch, tone, and tempo.

Every one of these little critters is fun to play around with for extended periods of time. Electroplankton is a very entertaining and a needed change of pace. The bright visuals and always unique music you create is the only thing this game needs.

Saving your creations is not only a technical nightmare given the space available on the DS carts, but also misses the point entirely. Every time you play Electroplankton you experience something new.

Exploratory art makes you think and react, and Electroplankton forces you to do just that.

But who in their right mind would recommend such a "game" as Electroplankton? Au contraire, art comes from the left side of the brain, and is exactly where you should be while enjoying this gem.

(***** out of *****)

Comments (1)

But who in their right mind would recommend such a "game" as Electroplankton? Au contraire, art comes from the left side of the brain, and is exactly where you should be while enjoying this gem.

Heh, clever. Shouldn't be long until we get the euro release of this gem. Can hardly wait :-)

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