Luminaria level of "Electroplankton"
In the Luminaria level of "Electroplankton" users touch the bottom screen to change the direction of four sound-producing creatures. The top screen provides close-ups.
By Columnist
updated 1/16/2006 1:00:45 PM ET 2006-01-16T18:00:45

A curious form of marine life has washed up on our shores.

From Japan comes "Electroplankton," an almost indefinable type of interactive experience built for the handheld, touch-friendly Nintendo DS gaming platform. Supremely addictive, it busts open the capabilities of DS as more than just a game-playing machine.

The stars of this title are electroplankton, tiny sea creatures prone to a variety of colors and shapes. Some look like snowflakes, others like DNA strings. A third resembles goldfish. Most have weirdly anthropomorphic faces that resemble either Casper the Friendly Ghost or a smirking Tom DeLay.

When activated, the electroplankton produce sounds that range from dance-friendly beats to high-pitched twittering suitable for dogs — or a Bjork album. This while bouncing around the screen, creating wild patterns of color and shapes. The show changes constantly as the user interacts with it through the DS's built-in touch-screen and microphone.

It's not a game in the traditional sense; there's nothing to "win" in "Electroplankton." Think of it instead as an interactive sound and light show, or an experience in pocket-sized psychedelia.

Ten different electroplankton species, each boasting their own looks and quirky behaviors, inhabit the digital watery depths. One species produce loops of whirring arpeggios when the user touches and drags it to another part of the screen. Another makes sounds as it bounces down the leaves of an aquatic plant. Adjusting the angles of each of the leaves changes the tones; the result can resemble an electronic version of the Indonesian gamelan. 

The remaining electroplankton spin like tops or shimmy like Elvis and sound like pianos or musical boxes or chimes. Two incorporate sounds recorded from the built-in microphone. With another electroplankton species you can record four different sounds and add them to several bumping "four-on-the-floor" tracks.

The Lumiloops "species" of electroplankton
The Lumiloops "species" of electroplankton produce warm washes of sound when they are spun using the DS's bottom touchscreen

While the user manipulates the screen and microphone to compose pocket symphonies, the top screen of the DS serves as a magnifying glass for the action. The visual effect is best described as a mash-up between a 1970s lazerium show and "Finding Nemo."

Sound confusing? It's not. The intuitive interface makes it easy to get started.

I've shared "Electroplankton" with a number of colleagues, non-gamers all, and after providing them with a quick tutorial on using the Nintendo DS, I let them go to work. Each took to it instantly without having to consult the manual — although the 60-page manual, with doodlings by game creator and multimedia artist Toshio Iwai is worth a look.

The number of different sounds and resulting tunes you can produce are infinite. Sounds may loop, echo or fade, depending on the type of plankton you're using. Given this, it's a shame that there's not a feature to save your scores on the Nintendo DS. Nor can you mix different electroplankton tracks.

The more technically and musically inclined will be zipping their "Electroplankton" tunes through ProTools or more sophisticated music software much like the musician Beck acknowledged the largely underground followers of video game-inspired music last year when he used the Nintendo Game Boy to remix four songs.

The rest will have to make do with losing their musical arrangements forever the second the Nintendo DS is turned off.

Life is fleeting, even for electronic sea creatures.

© 2013 Reprints


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments