Electroplankton Impressions

Is it a game or a musical instrument? Our look at Nintendo's sonorous experimental title.

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Electroplankton may not sound like the title of a music game, but that's precisely what it is. The Nintendo-developed game was briefly demonstrated by Nintendo's Bill Trinnen during this morning's Game Developer Conference keynote speech. During the demo, audience members were treated to samplings from three of the different modes found in the game, all of which used some of the Nintendo DS's unique characteristics in order to create entirely spontaneous musical pieces.

The first mode featured the numerous singing plankton referenced by the game's title, lightly floating against a red background. Tapping an individual plankton with the stylus caused that entity to chime out with a musical tone, which then repeated several seconds later. Tapping plankton in succession caused a string of notes to emit from the DS, resulting in an otherworldly harmony that was adjustable on the fly. Tapping on an active plankton caused it to go silent, and dragging individual entities to different positions onscreen changed their tone.

The second mode featured in the demo showed four fish swimming in unison across the screen, to the accompaniment of a lively drum beat. By tapping a fish, you open up a window of recording time, during which you can record anything you want via the DS's built-in microphone. On that fish's next lap, your recording is played back for you in time with the music. With four recordable tracks (matching the four fish onscreen), Trinnen was able to compose a musical snippet in just seconds, featuring singing and Trinnen's own unique rap stylings. The recorded playbacks seemed a bit distorted to our ears, but the overall effect is pretty interesting nonetheless.

The final mode also involved the stylus and touchscreen combination and involved remixing popular Nintendo theme songs. In the demo, the familiar theme to Super Mario Bros. played in the background while onscreen, five chains were shown that ended in a floating box at the top of each chain. By tapping individual links on the chain, you could add notes to the tune, adding entirely new levels of harmony to the memorable song. In addition, tapping either the top or base of each chain resulted in sound effects from the game.

It's hard to call Electroplankton a game--it's more like a musical toy found on a gaming device. However, as Nintendo president Saturo Iwata's keynote speech emphasized, Nintendo is determined not to limit its definition of what constitutes a game in the future. If Electroplankton is any indication, the company is taking this theme to heart.

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