NINTENDO DS REVIEW: ELECTROPLANKTON

There is nothing to do in Electroplankton exactly so then why am I playing it so much? by Cole Smith

January 10, 2006 - It's difficult to describe Electroplankton and even more difficult to predict why you would like such a game. First of all, Electroplankton is not really a game. There are no objectives, no scoring, no puzzles, no combat and no ending. It's something that you play around with - like a virtual musical instrument. It's all about manipulating and interacting with the onscreen characters which creates interesting rhythms and musical patterns for you immediate enjoyment.

Electroplankton's interactive characters are 10 different species of electronic virtual plankton. These virtual creatures are aquatic in nature and resemble microscopic organisms. They move about in patterns and waves and produce different musical tones, lighting effects and colors. It's kind of like being in the Surreal Sea Monkey Symphony Orchestra.

There are 10 different segments, each one featuring different types of plankton with different interactive styles. When you get bored with one you move on to the other. You don't have to unlock them as they are all ready to play with right out of the box. Some will fascinate you more than others but all of them are basically novelties. There is no way to capture or record your creation to play for others. I think this is a serious oversight on the part of the developers since being able to play back your artistic interpretation to other players could turn this into more than just a curiosity. There could be competitions and even concerts - and while that's still a possibility it would all have to be performed live.

By tapping, touching and drawing on the screen you manipulate and interact with the plankton. You can even communicate with these creatures via sound. You can use the built in microphone to blow and sing into as well as melodies clap out rhythms. There is even a sampling segment which lets you record anything in your environments and loop it into a repetitive four-beat musical track. When you put your headphones on you will experience total escapism. You can play Electroplankton anywhere and incorporate sounds from your immediate environment should you choose not to escape but to manipulate.

Tracy is one particular segment that utilizes the stylus. You draw lines that are followed by the six planktons which emit piano-like arpeggios. The arpeggio changes with the direction of the drawn lines and the speed in which you draw them. To have less notes that are held for a longer duration the stroke should be slow. Conversely faster notes require a faster, shorter stroke. The lines don't have to be straight. You can experiment with different shapes.

In Hanebrow you shoot plankton onto a plant and they play different tones as they bounce off the leaves. You can adjust the angle of the shooting cannon so that you can hit different leaves. The tones cascade, making it sound like a musical Chinese water garden. If you manage to bounce onto the same leaf twice it will turn red and give you a different pitch. If all of the leaves turn red then the plant will flower. This is the only segment that gives you some direction. It rewards you for completing a simple objective.

Luminaria consists of four plankton that follow a course determined by 36 arrows. The four plankton travel at different speeds and produce tones as they pass over the arrows. All of the arrows can be moved to change the directional paths of the plankton which in turn changes the tone-producing pattern. You can move the arrows individually or all at once but they only turn clockwise.

Sun-Animalcule requires that you touch the screen to create plankton that look like miniature suns. They pulsate to the beat and emit different tones depending on their placement on the screen. They continue to grow and after turning into moons, they turn back into suns and eventually burst. You have to tap new ones into existence to keep the music going.

Rec-Rec is the sampling segment. Four different colored fish move across the screen to a four-beat rhythm. It takes them four beats to get from start to finish. This makes for easy visualization. Touch one and it will turn red indicating that it will begin recording on the next pass. You can record anything from the sounds of a TV show, to traffic, a machine, a few swear words and even a fart or a belch. The trick is to record these sounds so that they gel with the original beat.

Lumiloop has five circular orbs that glow and spin. They give off different tones and colors when spinned in different directions. The notes last as long as you spin the orbs. You can create some nice harmonies and visual effects.

Marine Snow has a group of 35 snowflake-shaped plankton that correspond to a note on the piano when you touch one of them. After you touch one it changes place with another one. Eventually you won't be able to keep track of where they all went and the resulting cacophony will sound like a musical battlefield.

Beatnes features five snake-like plankton that are positioned vertically. Each plankton is composed of 10 different parts including the tail, head and the eight links that comprise the body. The Mario Bros theme begins playing and you can add sound effects such as coins, power-ups, mushroom pulling, jumping and spinning to the song by hitting different parts of each plankton. It's similar to Rec-Rec but you use prerecorded samples instead of your own.

All of these segments go deeper than I've just explained. The more you experiment the more you will discover. The manual gives you some hints and even spoils some of the surprises by telling you what shapes you can uncover in some of the segments.

Electroplankton is a very colorful game with a unique graphic concept that may be simple but like the game itself, is very original. These stick figured graphics are somewhat crude but they are perfect for this game. With grinning faces they are charming and display traits that make them seem alive and intelligent - especially when they mouth your words that you record into the mic. The sounds are excellent although there are some digital artifacts that are audible at the end of some samples.

Electroplankton is unstructured. It's a freestyle experience that allows one to unlock his or her creativity without fear of judgement. It can be totally engrossing and incredibly relaxing. It can be pretty daunting to actually try to compose musical ideas. Electroplankton is basically for serendipity and should not be considered a musical instrument. It's like a multi-media abstract canvas that incorporates the majority of the senses, with the exception of taste and smell.

It's not for everyone and that's why I suggest you rent it first. Within a few minutes you'll know if Electoplankton is right for you or not.

By Cole Smith
CCC Staff Writer

Rating out of 5
Electroplankton (DS)
4.0
Graphics
Not the best looking game you've ever seen but it does the job of bringing music to life.
5.0
Control
There's no other game to compare this to. This will set the standard for which similar games will be judged.
4.2
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The musical sounds are great but there are some dirty digital artifacts which keep the game from reaching pure, sonic purity.
4.0
Play Value
With the headphones on, this game can be played anytime that creativity strikes.
4.5
Overall Rating - Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
System: DS
Dev: Music Maker
Pub: Nintendo
Released: Jan 2006
Players: 1
Review by Cole Smith

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best