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Electroplankton Package Art
GENRE
Music
DEVELOPER
Nintendo
PUBLISHER
Nintendo
LOCAL WIRELESS
MULTI-PLAY
No
Wi-Fi/GLOBAL ONLINE
MULTI-PLAY
No
MICROPHONE
Yes
BUY NOW AT

Electroplankton

Electroplankton has been garnering a lot of controversy, stirring up the old debate about whether games are or can be art. The DS release features unusual visuals, player-composed audio, and design by multimedia artist Toshio Iwai, all of which suggest that it at least merits consideration for the lofty title. For a lot of players, though, the question is something different: Is Electroplankton a game?

visuals

The game takes place almost entirely underwater, so blue is a color used liberally throughout the game's environments. The plankton each have different aspects and designs, but it's clear that the same basic style was used creating each of them. Color plays a big part in the game, as one of the plankton will change color or shape occasionally depending on what it does or what sound it emits.

Action takes place primarily on the touch screen, which is clearly necessary for interacting with the creatures. On the DS's top screen, a zoomed-in view of one or more plankton is present. This view can be changed, enlarged or reduced with the buttons.

audio

Obviously, audio is a big part of this title. Depending on which of the ten varieties of plankton is chosen, different sounds and background effects will be heard. While some plankton feature no background music and rely totally upon player input for sound, some others, like BeatNES, have consistent lines pumping throughout the session. Those plankton which represent instrumental sounds do so accurately, and the DS's speakers produce the audio very well. A separate headphone setting allows for a more intimate sound experience.

gameplay

So, is Electroplankton a game? The clear answer is yes. Players can interact with it, and interactivity is the hallmark of what a game is. Also, they can "play" it like an instrument if not by any limited definition of what a video game ostensibly should be.

Each plankton makes sounds in a different way. The Tracy plankton, for instance, follows a line traced by the DS stylus. The direction, curve and speed of the line drawn determine how the plankton sounds. Marine-Snow plankton react directly to touch; each of them represents a different note on the scale. Hanenbow plankton, however, can be influenced only indirectly, as the plankton are constantly launching out of the water. The sounds they make change depending on how their environment is changed by the players. Old-schoolers will love the BeatNES plankton, which emulates the sound chip from the NES and features sound sets from several different video game classics.

In addition to the traditional Performance Mode, Electroplankton can also switch to Audience Mode, in which the plankton give a performance that can still be influenced by the player. The manual suggests plugging the DS into a stereo and using Electroplankton as listening music, a prospect which is actually quite enjoyable, as the game can be quite absorbing. Simply testing the plankton's abilities can engross one for long periods of time, and once the player understands the specifics of a plankton's abilities, discovering what sounds can actually be made and how to make them can keep one entertained for longer still.

Some of Electroplankton's replay value comes from its use as a music composition utility. Only about half of the plankton can be used in this sense, but it actually is possible to use your DS and the game as an instrument if desired. Unfortuantely, saving compositions is not possible. Hooking the DS up to a tape recorder or PC are the only options for saving Electroplankton sessions.

multiplayer

While Electroplankton is officially a single-player game, experiencing it in tandem with other people can be enjoyable. Obviously, having more than one voice present for recording can be interesting, but it's also remarkable how the attention of a group of people can be captured for hours by the game itself. In theory, more than one stylus could also mean more than one influence on the plankton at a time, as well.

overall

Electroplankton has a few flaws, the most glaring of which is the lack of a save feature, but it is definitely an unusual type of game which is indicative of Nintendo's current philosophy in game design. The product is clearly an experiment in several ways, from having artist Toshio Iwai design the game in its entirety to the choice of having it for sale near exclusively online in America.

The score bar below might as well read "BANANA out of 10," because a numerical score simply cannot do the game justice, as any impressions of the title will be purely subjective. Those who have a strictly-defined idea of what a game is or should be will not only dislike Electroplankton, but will actively loathe it and should ignore the title. For those players who are open to new gameplay experiences, have a background in music or are very casual players, Electroplankton can provide an entertainment experience that is unlike any other.

dojo doubletake
Electroplankton is a game in that you play it; but it also plays with you. Electroplankton has no objective, no winner and no end: what you play is what it gives you. I had the privilege of playing Electroplankton five months ago when a friend imported it. I have not looked back. I have given my DS and stylus to many a casual gamer and simply told them, "touch." And they smiled.

Each of Electroplankton's unique ten modes/plankton can be used to compose music. Learning how to play each mode and then mastering it is the depth you swim with the plankton. Electroplankton is one of those games that you will never sell, because it is always good for a few minutes of creativity: it has no replay value because its replay value is infinite.

Many have maligned the lack of save, but they miss the point: Electroplankton isn't about the past, it is about the present; each moment is unique, and the mystery of creativity is its art. You touch, it responds; you touch again, it responds again: an endless aural dance.

Electroplankton is perfect for those quiet moments at a party, when a few of you huddle in the haze and, uncaring, pass around the DS, or place it in the center, where each of you wield a stylus as only you can to syncretize. Then you will find times alone when you, your headphones, and a DS will meditate to the simplicity of Electroplankton.

You cannot rate Electroplankton because it has no end: it is not contained. But it begins and who can say where it will lead you. Its depths aren't for everyone, but all can play in its shallows, and you in whom music thrives, will find the perfect toy.

-- Abraham Walters

final score 8.2/10





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Staff Avatar Aaron Roberts
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