Chris Sell
16 Aug, 2005

Electroplankton Review

DS Review | PALGN's final verdict on what is currently a Japan-only masterpiece.
Question: when is a game not a game? Answer: When it’s Electroplankton. You see, while most games are filled with set levels, tricky puzzles, on-screen health bars and mission objectives, Electroplankton has none of this. There is no aim, there is no goal and there is certainly no ending. Electroplankton, by its developers, is described as ‘interactive art’, and that is exactly what it is. Currently only available in Japan at the moment (the version that this review is based on), it's strong presence at E3 this year indicates a release in PAL regions is on the way.

Electroplankton is essentially one huge musical instrument, uniquely blended with the obscure and abstract visuals of an underwater world. Upon first switching on the ‘game’, you’re presented with two modes: Performance Mode and Audience Mode. The latter is essentially a demonstration mode where you can watch the CPU interact with the many different types of Electroplankton available. While this is a good way of seeing the variety of ways you can interact with the game, it’s the ‘Performance Mode’ in which you first get your hands on the little creatures yourself.

Electroplankton is made up of 10 very different modes, all predominantly controlled with the stylus. The first is called ‘Tracy’. On the touchscreen there are six differently coloured plankton; each representing a specific sound and tone. After selecting one you can draw a line with it. Depending on where you place the line, how long you make it and the speed in which you move certain parts of the line, you’ll get a different sound. Given the degree of control you have in this mode, and the variety of high and low sounding instruments, ‘Tracy’ is certainly one of the greatest and most time consuming plankton in the game. The second mode is known as ‘Hanenbow’. Here, tadpole-like plankton fly out from a small leaf towards a huge plant in the centre of the screen. As the tadpoles hit each of the plant leaves they’ll make a sound. By changing the angle and position of the leaves with the stylus you can bounce the tadpoles onto other leaves, thus creating a tune before they tumble down into the water below. The soft tones of the leaves combined with the tranquil splashing of water makes Hanenbow a wonderfully relaxing experience.

Lumiloop is strangely hypnotic.

‘Luminaria’ is one of PALGN's personal favourites. This mode starts out with four plankton, one at each corner of the screen on a large gird of arrows. Each time a plankton reaches an arrow a sound is made. The direction that the arrow faces can be altered with a simple tap. Switching the direction of the arrow will send your plankton on a different route across the grid. With each of the four plankton moving at different speeds and make different sounds, ‘Luminaria’ is definitely one of the more controllable plankton in the game and creating your own tunes and tempo is more than possible. The fourth Electroplankton on offer is the ‘Sun-Animalcule’. This starts off with, what is essentially, a blank canvas at your disposal that changes from day to night. By touching the screen, you’ll produce a plankton that makes a noise in relevance to the position you placed it in. This will grow over time into a sun, (or a moon if places in the ‘night’ stage). While the plankton is small it will only generate a quick shallow sound, but over time, you will get a deep full sound, until it bursts. You can place as many planktons as you like, at whatever speed you like, anywhere on the screen, and they will make different sounds in relation to their position.

Next up is ‘Rec-Rec’. This mode is based on microphone use, so your creations are limited only by your imagination in obtaining sound samples. You can use voice, music or even day to day sounds like a telephone ringing. There are 4 different sound samples you can have running at once along with a selection of backing tunes. The recording quality of the DS microphone seemed quite poor in other games like Wario Ware Touched!, but the crisp and clear samples you can record in Electroplankton shows how surprisingly good it actually is. The sixth mode is ‘Nanocarp’ Here you have over a dozen planktons floating on the surface of the water. By tapping the screen, you’ll send out a realistic ripple of water, making a sound whenever it touches a plankton. The planktons themselves send out a little ripple also, affecting anything near by. Interestingly, by clapping into the microphone you can change the shape and positioning of them.

‘Nanocarp’ is arguably one of the weaker modes in Electroplankton, but it’s still a worthwhile diversion. ‘Lumiloop’ however is superb. Spinning each of the five disc-shaped plankton on screen, produces a slow, soothing and somewhat euphoric tone that increases its prominence the more you spin. Changing the speed and direction emits further different tones. ‘Marine-Snow’ is based on the piano. With snowflake-like plankton scattered all over the screen, touching each one makes a piano like sound; swapping places with the next plankton you touch. You can then create chords by touching them as they overlap. Although ‘Marine-Snow’ is fun to play, it eventually becomes random and doesn’t really work as a result.

‘Beatnes’ however is pure brilliance and definitely one for all you ‘old school’ gamers out there. With 4 different Nintendo themes on offer (there’s music from Mario Bros and Kid Icarus for starters) you have on screen, 5 ‘strings’ of plankton that represent an instrument each. Using the different scales offered you can input any kind of tune or beat that you like. The game will then remember that and play repeat it while you add in further instruments and melodies into the mix. The final mode on offer is the ‘Volvoice’, This is a bit different to much of the others in that it features no music, just manipulation of voice sample. By recording your voice you can play it back in over a dozen ways. It’s not got the staying power of much of the other mode, but it’s good fun. For all of the modes there are also plenty of hidden functions assigned to the dpad, so full experimentation is key throughout Electroplankton if you want to get the most out of it.

Beatnes is packed full of classic Nintendo themes.

Visually, the game is all about style over technical quality. Despite the fact the game is made up of sprites, the sheer artistic quality is what makes it shine. Each mode, regardless of how simple they are, has their own look and feel, as do the plankton within them. Electroplankton really is a great example of how simple sprite based graphics can work just as well as billions of polygons. The sound quality in Electroplankton is amazing and is up there with the best on the DS. Through the standard speakers, the hypnotic sounds produced are outstanding with each instrument sounding incredibly crisp and clear. But play with headphones and select the ‘Sound: Headphones’ option at the start screen and you’ll be immersed into the game within seconds as the rhythmic tones blend seamlessly from ear to ear as your plankton travel across the screen.

If there was one issue to have with Electroplankton is the inability to record or save any music that you create. While Electroplankton is more like how many would treat a musical instrument in that the point of playing is the enjoying and not so much the end result, there are times that you create such an impressive tune, it’s a shame you couldn’t save that moment rather than trying to replicate it again. You can get round this by simply recording from your DS headphone slot to the sound card on your PC, something that I have personally done, but a recording ability would have extended the longevity of Electroplankton somewhat.

With the likes of Yoshi’s Touch & Go, Pac-Pix and now Electroplankton, the DS is beginning to build the lineup of original software that Nintendo promised when the machine was announced last May. Although a PAL version hasn’t been confirmed, the prominent showing at E3 this year gives a lot of promise that a western release is planned. But given the simple menus, that are all labeled in English anyway, anyone who isn’t afraid to Import could just as well pick up the JPN version anyway. Regardless of any shortcomings it has regarding its longevity, Electroplankton is the perfect software for a handheld as it’ll hold your attention whether it’s just for 2 minutes or for as long as 2 hours. Many won’t ‘get’ Electroplankton. It’s not a game, it’s interactive art. It has no point, other than to entertain. And for those wanting something a bit different from the norm, something to sit and relax with after a hard days work, Electroplankton is perfect.
The Score
The developers say that this is not a game, it's art - and that is exactly what it is. Electroplankton is like nothing else, which is the main reason why we're reviewing it now. With PAL release details unknown, it's too much of a great piece of software to pass by undetected. So for those interested, import if need be, but do not miss out. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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8 years ago
This game sounds great! Haha...

Seriously though, after seeing the Electroplankton demo during Iwata's GDC keynote speech, I knew this had promise. Your review only re-affirmed that in my mind. I have to say that the lack of a recording function is a huge dissapointment; what's the use of creating something cool that you can't show off to your buddies later? I guess connecting it to your PC is a way around the problem, but what am I supposed to do when I'm on the bus, train, in the car etc?

I'm sure to pick it up if the... sound experience... arrives on our shores. It would be interesting to know how this has sold in Japan. If the game doesn't arrive here, would a non-japanese speaking, non-japanese reading person like me still be able to make use of an import?
8 years ago
Personally, not my cup of tea. I have the musical talent of an anal cavity.

But that doesn't mean that i t can't be any good! Looks like a funky and original title, just wht the DS promised.
Shame about the lack of save feature though....
8 years ago
...I was really interested in this - but no recording? [face_freakin'_plain]
8 years ago
Brendan wrote
...I was really interested in this - but no recording? [face_freakin'_plain]
I guess you could somehow get a line in to your comp and record them as mp3s for the whole world to hear icon_wink.gif (If you have that sort of patience).
8 years ago
Wow - actually sounds good! I wasn't interested in this before now....

Brendan wrote
...I was really interested in this - but no recording? [face_freakin'_plain]
Maybe they'll add recording to the western releases?
8 years ago
Stranger things have happened.....

would be good though.It just seems like a given that a game of this type would have SOME sort of record feature.
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