Electroplankton’s most interesting feature might not be what it is, but rather who made it. The
box proclaims it was “Created by Toshio Iwai,” the
renowned Japanese interactive media artist, and the manual includes his thoughts on the game and its characters. Taken
in the context of his earlier works, Electroplankton owes more to its creator than to its medium. While Iwai has created
video games before, beginning with Otocky, a musical shooter for the Famicom disk system, and SimTunes, part of Maxis' popular Sim series, you'll find direct
inspiration for Electroplankton in some of his other works: in this video, you
see the precursors of Elecroplankton's Luminario and Lumiloop. Iwai creates
systems of touch, sound, and light and although the Nintendo’s DS was built to play video games, it's a perfect
canvas for his creations.
The program (remember, it’s not
a game) features ten unique plankton; each
one responds to your touch, your voice, or both. There are Rec-Rec, fishlike plankton that feed on sound and basically
act as a four-track recorder. Record four-second clips on all four plankton, and hear them played back over a beat.
There is a group of five Beatnes plankton, with geometric heads and long tails, which recreate sound effects from the
Nintendo Entertainment System’s sound chip as you tap them. Hanenbow are small plankton that leap from the water
to bounce off leaves, each leaf they hit creating a melody. This is perhaps the only scenario that even resembles a
game: the longer the Hanenbow are airborne bouncing on leaves, the more the leaves change color. When they all turn
red, a flower blooms and you continue just as you were before. This challenge, insomuch as it is one, provided the one
goal in the game and, as a result, I returned to it frequently.
Does it play?
The lack of objective is difficult at first -- the program
challenges you to do nothing more than enjoy it, a not insignificant task. It requires patience and concentration to
relax and appreciate the subtleties of each plankton. Once you’ve become comfortable with the behaviors of all
the various plankton, you can spend some time enjoying them; using the Beatnes to create your own funky Super Mario Bros. theme, or the Hanenbow to create a serene image accompanied by
xylophones and drops of water. The music will continue to change dynamically, responding to subsequent touches while
abandoning older ones. After creating something you’re proud of, the most frustrating absence is the lack of a
If the ability to save individual
tracks would have been a great addition, the ability to save tracks and lay them over other saved tracks would have
been an inspired one. Use Beatnes to make the beats, layer the otherwise worthless Volvoice on top with your own voice,
and throw Lumiloops on top of the whole thing. A more open-ended musical creation system, while novel, would exceed the
purity and elegance of each experience.
Perhaps the most used feature was the Audience mode, where each
plankton will perform on their own. This mode was added in later as a demo, to explain how each plankton worked. After
following his suggestion to try "placing your DS nearby and watch and listen to Electroplankton like a CD player." Leaving the plankton to do their thing, occasionally lending a
hand in their autonomous jam session, felt like a dynamic, shuffling iPod, where every new track was a surprise,
greatly extending the title's limited re-playability.
appreciation of Electroplankton is exceedingly subjective; musical and
creative types will revel in the unexpected delights, both visual and aural, while gamers looking for a more
traditional "game" will lament its shallow depth and aimlessness. The experience is ephemeral, captured for a
moment, you and your handheld system. It’s a solo affair, best enjoyed with headphones, and certainly not enjoyed
Overall Rating: 8.0 / 10
[Note: Assigning a score to Electroplankton seems fundamentally vulgar, so I'll qualify my
rating with the acknowledgement that it is a review for gamers of the gaming -- and not artistic -- functionality of
the experience. While it can be thoroughly enjoyable, cautious gamers might benefit from a pre-purchase rental.]