Tuesday, February 14, 2006

VG REVIEW: Electroplankton

Nintendo, for Nintendo DS
rated E for Everyone, $34.99

If we define a game as "playing," not only with rules, but with goals of some form or another, then "Electroplankton" really can’t be called a game.

It’s more of an elaborate toy.

An interactive, colorful music box that charms and delights but lacks any serious objective. No real achievement is attained or, ultimately, necessary to enjoy what’s offered here.

Created by multimedia artist Toshio Iwai, "Electroplankton" is a collection of 10 types of "plankton" — little virtual fish-shaped creatures that light up, change colors and make music depending upon how you interact with them.

There are plankton that bounce melodically off leaves. Doughnut-shaped plankton that emit trancelike hums when you spin them. Plankton that change formation when you clap your hands or blow into the microphone. Snowflake-shaped plankton that ring like chimes when you touch them. And a teardrop-shaped plankton that will copy your voice and alter it in various odd ways.

Each of the 10 games included here is unusual enough that repetition never sets in. Nor is the game simply a treat for your ears. It’s also fun to watch the plankton alter their shape and color as you fiddle with them.

Numerous complaints have been made by critics about not being able to save your musical creations.

Once you’re done with a particular section, your electronic symphony just floats off into the ether (unless you have your DS hooked up to some sort of recording device).

That doesn’t really bother me too much. The whole point of "Electroplankton," it seems to me, is to provide a ephemeral, impossible-to-duplicate experience. It’s supposed to be fleeting.

No, my problem with "Electroplankton" is that there simply isn’t enough material to maintain interest.

After about an hour with the game, you’ll have seen everything the title has to offer and be wishing for more.

Why can’t you control the pitch or color of the plankton, for example? Why can’t you use some of the other DS buttons as well as the stylus to alter the sounds? Why can’t you set up multiplayer musical experiments with your friends?

Honestly, I’m torn about "Electroplankton."

I’m extremely happy that Nintendo saw fit to bring a unique title like this to American shores. And I’m delighted enough with its concept and execution to still be picking it up for quick play weeks later. At the same time, I wish there were more meat on its virtual bones.

Perhaps ultimately "Electroplankton" is something best enjoyed by younger players; those whose hearts and minds are still open enough to appreciate the variety of experimentation offered by this game.

Er, sorry, I mean toy.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006


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