Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Electroplankton review

Electroplankton is like a precursor to Wii Music, so what better time to review it than now? Well, okay, reviewing it back at the release date would have been better but... Moving along.

Oh dear... The summary's gone! Well, that just works better here. So blah.

Developer: Indies Zero
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: January 9th, 2006
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone

With all this talk of Wii Music, one game has come to mind. A game that went ignored by the public, and loved by the few who bought it. That game is Electroplankton. Like Wii Music, it exists only for one purpose: To play around with different "instruments" and make music. The difference is, in Electroplankton, those instruments are bizarre musical plankton. These little critters come in ten different species, all of which sport different musical abilities. The different plankton are:

Tracy: Tracy follow the lines the player draws on the touchscreen, making musical notes as they go. Six plankton are on screen at once, each of which can follow its own unique path drawn by the player. Each Tracy has its own unique "voice", with piano-like sounds, chimes and xylophone-like sounds playing as they follow their path. The tempo can be adjusted with the D-pad, and all plankton can be stopped at once by pressing Select. One problem: Sometimes if five or so Tracy are going at once, starting to draw a new line will cancel out the path of a currently moving plankton, causing it to travel along the new line even though another plankton is sitting there doing nothing. Kind of a pain.

Hanenbow: Hanenbow fly off of a leaf in the corner of the screen, flying towards a small leaf-covered branch. As each plankton hits a leaf, it makes a sound, and bounces off. The angles of all the leaves on the screen can be adjusted, including the launching leaf. Hitting a leaf enough in a short amount of time turns it red, and if all leaves turn red, a flower appears at the end of the branch. However, it's just for show, and in no way affects the Hanenbow. Many Hanenbow can be on screen at once, bouncing from leaf to leaf until they fall into the water below. Messing with the D-pad affects the "rate of fire", while pressing A makes the angles of all the leaves appear written on screen (Handy if you want to replicate a tune later on). Pressing Select cycles through the four different leaf configurations, allowing for many more tunes to be made.

Luminara: Four different plankton appear on a field of arrows. Each arrow can be manipulated by the player, with each tap by the stylus rotating the arrow 45 degrees clockwise. As the Luminara hit the arrows, they will play a note and turn go in the direction the arrow points. Each Luminara has its own sound and speed, with the hyper-fast red plankton sounding like a piano, while the slow blue plankton makes a high-pitched, crystalline dinging sound. The location of the arrow determines the pitch of the sound, with higher-pitches in the bottom right, and higher notes in the top left. Pressing left and right on the D-pad rotate all the arrows counter-clockwise and clockwise, respectively. Pressing up or down cycles through all the preset patterns of arrows, and as usual, Select resets everything. I only have two small problems with the Luminara: First, there's no way to stop just one of them. Second, not being able to change the direction the Luminara starts off in is a pain. If only there were some way to rotate the arrow they're sitting on...

A look at Electroplankton's Luminara

Sun-Animalcule: A blank field stares back at the player when starting the Sun-Animalcule program. Tapping anywhere on screen plants an egg, which slowly grows and plays notes every few seconds. Where the egg is placed determines the pitch and sound the plankton will emit (They can later be moved by dragging them around with the stylus). The simulation slowly moves from day to night, and placing an egg at either time will affect its shape. Eggs placed during the day are round, while night eggs are moon-shaped. After a while, the plankton disappear, although it's possible to destroy them by tapping. Also, pressing Select will remove all plankton on screen.

Rec-Rec: These plankton swim across the screen over and over as a beat plays in the background. Tapping a Rec-Rec allows the player to record a few short seconds of audio, and the plankton will play it every time it swims by. There are four Rec-Rec in all, and thus four recordings can be made at once. Sing, beatbox, clap, snap your fingers, it doesn't matter. Record whatever you want. Pressing the D-pad up or down cycles through the selection of background beats, while pressing left or right increases and decreases the tempo. Select, as usual, deletes all the sound recorded on all four Rec-Rec. Which brings me to one minor gripe: What if I want to delete the sound on just one plankton? Nope, ain't gonna happen. Bugger.

Nanocarp: Appearing in groups of sixteen, these plankton lazily drift about on the screen. It's impossible to arrange them directly: Instead, players must make noises in the microphone to shuffle them about. Different sounds make different formations. For example, two quick claps make a circle, while blowing into the microphone for a few seconds makes a heart shape. However, they don't hold formation for long, slowly drifting off into an unorganized mess. Tapping the screen can send ripples flowing around, causing the Nanocarp to make their little chime-like noises. Players can also send waves across the screen heading left, right, up or down by messing around with the D-pad. Also, in addition to the previously listed methods of bringing the Nanocarp into formation, pressing Select also cycles through the pre-determined shapes.

Lumiloop: Five circular plankton appear on screen, and spinning them makes a slowly growing sound similar in nature to that of the famous THX "Deep Note". Each of the five Lumiloop present make different tones when spun, each ramping up in a similar fashion. As each plankton spins, they slowly begin to glow a a color unique to themselves, such as red, purple, orange and green. Pressing Select changes the selection and coloration of the plankton, allowing for different notes to be played. Holding the stylus still on a Lumiloop stops it quickly, although they will eventually grind to a halt on their own. Without a doubt, they are the simplest of all the Electroplankton. Very calming, though.

The slowly growing sound of a spinning Lumiloop is quite calming

Marine-Snow: These snowflake-shaped plankton all sit still on the screen. That is, until they're tapped. Tapping a Marine-Snow will swap it with the previously tapped plankton, meaning they'll start to shuffle around the screen as you play. The original location determines the tone of the sound emitted, so once they're all shuffled up, it's nearly impossible to determine which note is where. Marine-Snow is definitely more about messing around than making music. Pressing Select will cycle the Marine-Snow between three different formations: The default set-up of a seven by five grid, a set of two circles (One inside the other), and one large circle.

Beatnes: Five different snake-like plankton sit on the screen, wiggling back and forth. The music from an NES game plays in the background (Select can be used to choose which game music plays), and tapping the head or bottom of each Beatnes emits a sound effect from the selected game. Touching any of the Beatnes' individual body sections plays a note, allowing the player to jam along with their favourite classic game theme. Each note played is "remembered" by the Beatnes, and is later played back a total of five times before it is forgotten. It's a little hard to describe this in words, so here's a video for you to check out. Hopefully this explains what I mean by the notes later being "played back". The big downside to Beatnes, though, is the aforementioned limit of your beats being played back only five times. If only it endlessly looped the beats you input, with the ability to erase the memory of any Beatnes at will. Otherwise, this is my favourite of all the Electroplankton.

Volvoice: Volvoice isn't so much an instrument as it is a voice recorder. Basically, you tap the plankton to initiate the recording process, with the ability to record about five or so seconds of audio. After this, the Volvoice will continuously repeat your recording. As it does this, you can select one of the many different shapes available for the Volvoice. Each shape repeats the audio in its own unique way, such as very slow, backwards, with lots of reverb, or just normally. Just tap a shape and it seamlessly begins "speaking" in the new way. A really fun little toy to fool around with.

Yes, that's right. Electroplankton is a "toy" much in the same way Wii Music will be. Hey, it's fun, so that's what matters.

Perhaps the biggest problem with Electroplankton is the fact that the game cannot record any of your songs. So, you made a really neat little tune? Too bad, it's gone forever. I've made some amazing compositions in Beatnes, but now they're long gone. This really hurts Electroplankton big time.

In addition to the basic mode of play, there's an additional "Audience" mode. Basically, it's just like normal play, but the game does all the work for you. So you can just sit back, relax, and enjoy the music. If that gets boring, you can add your own touch to the music as if playing the game normally. A really nice and relaxing mode. Seriously, I almost fell asleep in Audience mode once. Very calming.

Although I really don't think the graphics even matter in this game, I need to review them, so here goes: They're basic, but charming. The plankton are strangely cute, but everything is too darn simple to be amazing. Okay? Moving along.

Electroplankton is cute, but it's no Final Fantasy III in the horsepower department

Of course, the audio is the star in Electroplankton. After all, it's a music game! I love all the different notes and such at my disposal, with the only problem ever being figuring out where to start!

Electroplankton is probably the only game where multiplayer isn't built in, but is entirely possible. Just get another friend with Electroplankton and a DS, and start jamming out the tunes! Just... Good luck finding someone else with this game. It sure didn't burn up the sales charts, and Nintendo doesn't even make it anymore. It's becoming quite the hot commodity, so anyone who wants it had better act soon.

Overall, Electroplankton is a great toy. Not a game, but a toy. It's soothing, it's addictive, and overall, it's fun. However, the lack of a recording feature is a real pain in the ass, so Electroplankton only earns a score of...


While the lack of a recording function was a major factor in Electroplankton losing some points, it wasn't the only thing holding it back. Like I said, the game isn't exactly stunning to look at, and some of the plankton are a little less fun than others. Still, if you like music with a heavy dosage of quirky, Electroplankton is for you. It's a great little piece of software, and the lack of sales it garnered is practically criminal. So go ahead and pick it up! Hurry, before it makes Chrono Trigger's eBay prices look like chump change!

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