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• Electroplankton

developed by indieszero, published by Nintendo
1 player/no saves/Nintendo DS & DSi Ware/2006.01.09

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Electroplankton is undoubtedly one of the most original creations on the Nintendo DS.  Designed by Toshio Iwai (the creator of the electronic step-sequencer called the Tenori-On), Electroplankton is more of a musical toy than a video game.  Besides his love of video games and music, Iwai’s primary inspiration came from his childhood memories looking through a microscope.  When playing, the top screen shows an enlarged view of the cartoony plankton floating around on the bottom screen.  Players can use the DS’s touch screen and microphone to interact with 10 species of colorful plankton, each with their own unique musical functions.  There are no goals or time limits; you simply select one of the available plankton from the title screen and play to your heart’s content.

Because it is more of a curiosity than a video game, the initial retail version could only be purchased through Nintendo’s online store outside of Japan.  In 2009 each of the 10 electroplankton “instruments” became available through the DSi’s download shop for 200 points apiece, however the full release will likely remain a sought-after collector’s piece due to its lovely instruction manual which has hand-drawn illustrations.

The Electroplankton

Tracy

6 different plankton appear on the screen, each representing different instruments (piano, xylophone, music box, etc.).  You trace lines from the plankton, and they will follow it exactly the way you drew it.  The plankton emit different sounds depending on the line’s direction (low pitch when swimming to the right, high pitch when swimming to the left).  You can also change the overall tempo by pressing the left and right buttons.


Hanenbow

Small tadpole-like plankton launch out of the water from a leaf towards a plant.  When they land on the plant’s leaves, they emit different notes.  By changing the angle of the leaves you can cause the plankton to bounce and ricochet from leaf to leaf in complex patterns.  Also, the more a leaf is “played”, it will gradually change color from green to red.  Each time it changes color, its sound changes to a different instrument.  Pressing the Select button will change the aquarium to one of four varieties, some of which have more than one plant to play around with.  You can also increase the number of plankton jumping out of the water by pressing left and right.



Luminaria / Luminarrow

A matrix of arrows appears on the screen which 4 plankton follow at their own predetermined speed.  Every time they hit an arrow, they emit a sound (piano, vibraphone, music box, celesta).  You can tweak the direction of the arrows by tapping on them to create complex pathways for the plankton to follow.  If you tap and hold on an arrow, it will spin causing the plankton to move in a random direction.  You can also simultaneously change the direction of all the arrows by pressing up, down, left, or right.


Sun Animalcule

The player can place up to 30 plankton eggs by tapping anywhere on the screen.  You can then drag them around, as the tones they emit will change depending on their screen position.  During the day, the circular Sun Animalcule plankton emit different sounds as they grow.  Eventually, they get too big and pop.  At night, the Falcato plankton appear, which function the same but look like crescent moons.  A day lasts around 5 minutes, but you change time using the left and right buttons.


Rec-Rec

4 fish-like plankton swim from right to left across the screen, and reset after they disappear.  By tapping on them, you have 4 seconds to record whatever you want through the DS microphone.  After recording, that plankton will play back the recording until you tap it again.  This allows you to layer 4 recordings on top of one another.  Pressing up and down will change the background rhythm into one of 8 styles, and you can speed up or slow down the whole “song” using the left and right buttons.


Nanocarp

16 plankton with large ears swim in up to 28 unique formations based on the sounds they “hear” through the DS microphone.  You can get them to swim in various patterns by blowing, clapping, and singing “Do, Re, Mi” in different ways.  The Nanocarp will also emit notes when they sense a nearby vibration.  Tapping the screen will cause a minor ripple, while pressing up, down, left, or right will cause a large wave to pass in over them in that direction.

Lumiloop

5 disc-like plankton appear on the screen.  They’ll start glowing and hum in harmony (called a pentatonic scale) when you spin them using the stylus.  The sound changes depending on what direction they’re spinning, and it gets louder the faster you spin them.  If you stop spinning them, they’ll gradually lose speed and come to a stop.  Pressing the Select button changes the environment and the sounds they make.

 

Marine-Snow / Marine-Crystals

35 snowflake-shaped plankton appear on the screen in one of four varieties.  Triangle (xylophone), square (music box), pentagon (chime), and hexagon (piano).  Tapping on them individually causes them to spin and swap places while emitting a note.  You can also trace over a group of them to emit a string of notes.  Pressing the Select button changes their formation and shape.

 

Beatnes

5 plankton with long tails wiggle back and forth.  Tap the top and bottom of each plankton, as well as the 8 individual segments in between, to create sounds based on classic 8-bit Nintendo games.  The background beat and sound effects are taken from Super Mario Bros., Kid Icarus, and others (changed using the Select button).  Furthermore, the sounds you make will repeat several times, allowing you to create harmonies and more complex beats.  You can also change the tempo using the left and right buttons.

 

Volvoice / Varvoice

A large plankton appears on the screen surrounded by a menu of different shapes.  By tapping on the large plankton, you can record up to 8 seconds of audio using the DS microphone.  When finished, the plankton will play back your recording until you erase it or make a new one.  Then, you can select one of the 16 shapes from the menu to change the way the recording sounds.  Some shapes play the recording in reverse, others speed it up or slow it down, others change the pitch.

 

Presentation

Each of the electroplankton has its own distinct appearance and are very cute and colorful.  The game has a simple but streamlined appearance, since normally the background is just a soothing color with bubbles floating around.  The sounds that the plankton make are perfectly clear, based on high-quality recordings of real instruments (besides the 8-bit Beatnes).  I wouldn’t change a thing about the way it looks or sounds.

Closing Comments

Electroplankton is a relaxing experience, allowing you to create soothing musical patterns out of chaotic randomness.  The main problem is you can’t save one configuration and overlap it with the others.  Once you exit to the menu your “work” is erased.  It would have been fun to keep one set of plankton repeating their pattern in the background while playing with a different set.  The 4 and 8 second time limitations on the plankton that record sounds through the microphone is also a bit of a bummer.  If you own a DSi or 3DS and are shopping in the download store, the best options are probably Tracy, Hanenbow, Luminarrow, Rec-Rec, or Beatnes.  The other 5 plankton are enjoyable in their own way, but are somewhat limited by comparison.  As one of the most creative and unique titles available on the DS, it is certainly worth checking out, but your mileage may vary.

Quick Run Down

PROs:

  • Totally unique musical toy
  • Fun & Relaxing
  • 10 different “instruments” to play with

CONs:

  • No save / layer functionality
  • Even with 10 “species” it could use more

One Sentence Review: One of the most original titles on the Nintendo DS, Electroplankton is more an artistic experience than a video game.
One Word Review: Creative!

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