Rants and raves about all the latest in video games and other forms of mindless entertainment.

January 23, 2006

Review: Electroplankton - Ushering in non-games, unfortunately...

VGP Score


From the musically infatuated mind of Toshio Iwai, Electroplankton is one of sure to be many, non-game games for the Nintendo DS. Due to the nature of Electroplankton, there isn't much to say about the game. The length of this review, is precisely indicative of just how little there is to Electroplankton. It's not that I've forgone delving into the game's intricacies, it's just so devoid of content, that saying much more than a few paragraphs would be purposefully stretching thin something for the sake of a word count.

The game boots up, and immediately greets the gamer with the title screen. No logos or corporate affairs here, this game is all about the planktonite creation of musical fusion. The box exclaims that the Electroplankton will respond to your voice and your touch, to mesmerize you with unforgettable sounds; which couldn't be further from the truth. Let's get one thing straight, there is no game here. There is no sense of progression, no sense of agency, no underlining goal to be accomplished. It's a hodge-podge of 10 mini-games that ostensibly mesh well with the game's clearly defined sense of style. And when I say there's no game here, I mean it. This is what Nintendo calls "reeling in a new type of gamer". What I don't understand - or at least, what perplexes me - is that while attracting this new breed of gamer, they've up and abandoned the gamers that gave them their now diamond name-sake. Let's digress for a moment and look at Nintendogs. One of many "niche" titles that Nintendo created with the DS - a piece of software that can only be done with a DS, and was designed to attract a new kind of gamer; specifically, the rare and elusive gamer-girl. They succeeded. Not only did they succeed by creating a brand new fish to fry, they pleased most of us "main gamers" (whatever you call us) simultaneously. A grand slam, wouldn't you say? Here we have a "game", that appeals to no gamer, not even this new demographic hooked, lined and sinkered by Nintendogs, and to top that it barely even qualifies as a non-game.

You have two options, one of which is the game, the other is a participatory showcase of the Electroplankton mini-games, which in and of itself, is useless. There is no game there, and there is little to no interaction. Software-user interfacing takes a back seat as playing in this mode, known formally as Audience mode, is not interesting, not fun, and wholely lacking in every aspect of software design. This however, is neither the focus nor the bulk of the game, thankfully. In Performance mode, you have the choice between 10 different mini-games, each with their own aural fixations and rudimentary "game" mechanics. Each mini-game is based upon the aquaitic horseplay of different "plankton" - I'm sure some of them are fish, and others tadpoles, but who's keeping track, really? Playing with Tracy lets your draw a path for a quintet of arrow-head plankton to swin along. As they breast stroke across the screen, cacophonous or harmonious bells will chime in, depending on how rhythmically you set their paths. End game, moving on. You'll progress through several analogs of this plankton, but the end result is the same: touch fish, fish make noise. Rec-Rec, a fish like plankton lets you record 4 voice tracks, and sync them to background music. There is no choice of background music, and once you've recorded a few tracks, it's over and there's nothing more to see. Moving on...if you skip down the homogeneous list of plankton mini-games, you'll come across the Lumiloops. Think back to that 5th grade talent show, where the nerdy asian kid licked his finger and polished the rim of a wine glass, with varying volumes of water. While interesting, it lasts only as long as it takes to explain what it is. Melodious humming eminates, and eventually disipates, and the gimmick is done. One of the few "neat" plankton events, but distracting to say the least.

The most interesting, and probably the best of the mini-games, comes in the form of the Beatnes, or more appropriately, the BeatNES. Polygonal heads, attatched to chains of beads swaying with the rippling water, remixing the old school Super Mario Bros. theme song. How nostalgiac it is to hear the sounds of a warp pipe and ding-dong-ing of the 1-Up green mushrooms. Tapping the heads of these "Beatnes" will play a classic SMB sound, be it the warp-tubing or 1-Up-ing I just mentioned, or the classic, and mildly annoying coin collecting rings. Subsequently, these Beatnes recall the taps and musical effluence you just created, and will play them back to you in a loop overtop of the already hip-hop happening SMB theme song. Tapping the elongated, beaded bodies of these 5 different plankton, pops in with a single piano note which if your rhythm isn't too adept, will sync to the music automatically to the best of the software's ability. You can create some really neat stuff with this mini-game. Beatnes is a show stopper in terms of Electroplankton fun, and will probably be the one thing you spend the most time with. However, all that said, these 10 mini-games won't last you any longer than about 30 minutes. Half of the musical madness here is either too simple to create anything symphonically amusing, or too mundane to try for more than 30 seconds, just so you can say "Yeah, I tried it".

The three main attractions here are the Luminaria, Lumiloops, and Beatnes. Everything else can be thought of as filler. There's just no amusement there. It'd be a no brainer to say though, that overall, no matter which mini-game you chose, you're going to be getting the utmost in high quality sound, as I'm sure the lack of required compression allows for cleaner, crisper and more audible audio cuts. Great stuff to be sure, it's just a shame there's nothing here tempting you to enjoy it. Trying to shy away from the term "gameplay", Electroplankton offers mild amusement for a short while. The user interface is intuitive and easy to navigate, given the simplistic nature of the title. The glaring problem here is that Electroplankton doesn't offer anything more than you should come to expect from amateur flash games from websites like Newgrounds. The fact that Nintendo is charging top DS dollar for this title, is an insult to DS owners everywhere. There's no game to be played, for the gamer and the non-gamer alike. As a music creation tool, it's still sub-par, since there isn't anyway to mix tracks from different mini-games into a self-created masterpiece, and is sorely lacking in all of the composition departments. The ability to change tempo, change background music, and overall have total control are things that NEED to be in Electroplankton - but sadly, are not.

Given the mini-game nature of Electroplankton, would it have really been that hard to put in some sort of goal oriented gameplay here? Sure the music is fun, but what about doing something with that music? There are endless possibilities here, especially for a music game and DDR and Guitar Hero have shown us this. Yet, it would seem that Nintendo and Toshio Iwai collectively passed them all up, for reasons unknown. Is the game fun? Sometimes. For the most part, the game offers little satisfaction, even for a non-game. Were I to even grade it based on a non-game grading curve, the game still comes out stale though. As a piece of software, and not as a game, it's a mediochre at best music creation tool, and even worse for user controlled creativity. I just can't help but think on what a missed opportunity this is. I want to like Electroplankton, I even did enjoy some parts of it, but not enough. Even if every one of the ten plankton shared with me a visceral experience, it wouldn't have lasted much longer than 45 minutes, and would still fall short based on the bars of content and user control. It's something I'd wouldn't even pay a nominal fee for online for a flash based game, let alone the full $40 ($50 CDN) retail price, plus all applicable taxes. It just doesn't cut the mustard, sorry Nintendo. Sorry Mr.Iwai.

By the time you've finished reading this, you will have been completely finished with Electroplankton.


Blogger knight37 said...

Electroplankton is not a game. It's not advertised as a game. It's a musical toy, and that's pretty much it. It has no gameplay, because it's not a game, and not intended to BE a game.

January 24, 2006 1:26 PM

Blogger Adam said...

To correct you, yes it is marketed as a game. Anything that goes into a DS, is marketed as a game. It comes with all the warning booklets on videogames, it comes with an instruction manual on how to play the game, and on page 3 it has Nintendo's seal of approval for "videogame products". It's most certainly labeled and marketed as a game, but is sadly not a game.

However, I made sure to make mention, that even graded as a non-game, the score would not change. As a musical toy, it's still fairly useless. There is no user control over HOW and WHAT music plays, it's all pretty random. I appreciate that some people will Electroplankton, but the scope of the game is severely narrowed to a point where giving the game any respectable score would be an insult to myself and gamers everywhere. There is nothing in this game that I can't do for free and better in this very browser I'm using now.

January 24, 2006 4:01 PM

Blogger coke said...

I agree with your score.
When can we expect the review for Prince of Persia?

January 24, 2006 6:26 PM

Blogger Adam said...

Thats a good question. I plan on having it up by Thursday or Friday. I planned on having Electroplankton, Genji, Nanostray and PoP3 reviews up this week, so some might make it one time, others might not. I'm trying to make PoP a priority, but my hands have been tied in other business. I've been dabbling in a project I can't speak much about right now, but the time will come when it will be revealed. That is unless it doesn't compeltely fall through.

January 24, 2006 10:33 PM

Blogger anonymous said...

Only a 3.9? Come on, Adam, you can do better (Or worse?) than that.

January 26, 2006 9:12 PM


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