Electroplankton (Nintendo DS) - Review by Andrew
Whenever you wander around a Nintendo press event there are always titles you are drawn to. Last years offering included demo levels of Phoenix Wright and Under the Knife. There were four player link-ups of Mario Kart and the wonderful Zelda on the GameCube which, I have to say, got an unbalanced amount of game-time from myself and many other journalists at the event. Tucked away in one corner though was this, Electroplankton, and after seemingly hours of head scratching I finally figured out what it was all about. Created by famed media artist, Toshio Iwai, this latest DS offering is neither a game nor utility but rather a creative tool. Think Pocket Music with a touch screen interface and you'll be getting close. The question is, what are all those strange little creatures doing there?
It's difficult to review Electroplankton as a game. For starters there's no gaming structure, no real objectives and absolutely no end of level bosses. Instead you are presented with ten very different sections, which are available to explore and it's this notion of discovery and experimentation that is at the heart of the whole package. Scrolling through each of these will not only give you their name but also a brief description of what you need to do in order to start experimenting / composing. As we've mentioned the whole thing is really a journey of discovery so rather than give a rundown of each; we've simply selected some of our favorites. Luminaria, for example, consists of four very different plankton whose role in life to follow orders. These are set onto a background grid of arrows, which can be changed by you, the user, which is essential as each plankton starts out on a rather small and simple pattern. These can then be manipulated as much as you want but we did often find that keeping things simple is the best option. Lumiloop is your opportunity to create that ambient orchestral sound dominated by a string section and it's incredible how easy it is to make a pleasing sound. Unlike the last section this consists of five circular plankton who can't be moved but spinning the various creatures creates the sound. Hanenbow is slightly more complicated than the first two but if you can image musical raindrops hitting leaves then you are getting close. Here, of course, it's plankton taking the place of the raindrops and the angles of the leaves can be manipulated to increase or decrease the tempo. The rest is up to you and with endless possibilities who knows what masterpiece you'll come up with.
While most of the control is given over to the touch screen the developers still utilized some aspects of the more traditional layout clearly not wanting to clutter the design. As a result there are two things here which aid your compositions: firstly there's the 'switch' function which when activated changes the direction the music is currently being played in and so alters the melodies. The next is the cancel button, which is essential for all those times when you are drained of inspiration.
Visually the game is unique and while some may argue that the graphics are dated and in no way push the hardware, the organic creatures do fit the theme of the game perfectly. The overall presentation can best be described as minimalist but given that this is a creative tool, wouldn't you rather begin with a blank canvas? Outside of the game, there's the weighty manual and while we don't generally mention the documentation it's not only fully illustrated but also contains a considerable amount of information on each and every one of the musical creatures.
Given that the audio is at the heart of this title you'd expect this to be nothing short of excellent and it is. The developer has pulled out all the stops to create what has to be the best sounding DS title yet. Obviously there are no pre-composed tracks here, which would take up valuable space, but it's still all very impressive stuff.
It's difficult to see how Electroplankton could exist comfortably on a traditional console and thanks to the DS's unique functionality the composing is simple. Most of this is down to the stylus, which allows you to select various creatures or even manipulate their direction. The microphone is also used in some of the sections and while it's nice to see developers focusing on this underused input device it's not nearly as satisfying as the stylus.
Like a handful of other superior products that have recently appeared on the DS, Electroplankton is not for everyone and it's certainly not going to be housed in your DS indefinitely. What it does provide though is a unique audio/visual experience and in a world of sequels, this alone makes for a refreshing change. While I mentioned Pocket Music earlier on, and there are some similarities, Electroplankton is much easier to compose a pleasing sound or even tune even if you know nothing about music. The lack of game structure or save feature means that you are unlikely to spend days with this title but for a quick fix to show someone what a truly unique title is all about it certainly does the trick.
Pro: Amazing Audio, Unique Visuals.
Con: Not For Everyone, No 'Game' Structure, No Save Feature.
Final score: 7.7