Electroplankton [Toshio Iwai, DSiWare]
This week's best and most important release is actually over four years old, but has bubbled back to the surface in a new way, as multimedia artist Toshio Iwai's interactive-music package Electroplankton re-emerges from the depths as a series of individual DSi downloads.
Originally commissioned by Nintendo and released in 2005 as one of the first wave of games for the just-debuting DS, Electroplankton proved difficult for many in the West to wrap their heads around, with many expecting the title to be a full-featured music recording package.
That it definitely is not (and including Gattobus's above video is a bit misleading, but far too beautiful to not use). Instead, it's a fantastic primer to the brilliant gallery work Iwai's been involved with for the past two decades -- touch and sound and light installations made more accessible as consumer software, in exactly the same way he and Maxis had collaborated years before with SimTunes.
Fans of Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers' Generative Music series of iPhone apps -- or, indeed, of Iwai's electronic instrument Tenori-On -- will not want to pass this one by: it's still one of the highlights of the DS's library, and its most awesomely meditative experience.
LittleBigPlanet [Sony Cambridge, PSP]
Apart from that the week's been dominated by the release of the newly downsized LittleBigPlanet for the PlayStation Portable, and I can quite happily report that it's made that that fantastic voyage largely intact.
I won't reiterate here all the reasons why I think the game's been so important, as I laid that all out earlier in the week (along with a gallery of concept art), but suffice it to say that the reasons to like Media Molecule's original are largely the same reasons to like its little sister.
That comes with two caveats, though: the superficial one being that the game suffers from a distinct and tangible lack of Rexbox -- the UK illustrator who lent the original much of its CMYK sticker mad charm. The other is that after whipping through its single player levels, the strength of the game rests solely on its community, who have yet to flock to the game and populate its user-level section with as much ferocity as they did on the PS3 (even the recent contest-winning game-jam level has yet to appear).
That will surely change with time -- it is, of course, only a handful of days into the game's wider PlayStation Network digital release -- but for now it's a much more lonely experience, particularly given the late-day news that the game's multiplayer had been sacrificed for better physics simulations, with only the gently paternal coos of Stephen Fry's narration there to keep you company.
Bit.Trip Void [Gaijin, Wii]
Finally, the other best downloadable of the week is the WiiWare latest from indie dev Gaijin's retro-futurist rhythm game series Bit.Trip. It's the third we've seen this year, and probably the most accessible for the series newcomer (though there's also now a free demo version of the series premiere, Beat, to give your teeth a trial cutting).
And for the third evolution in the series (which -- as ultra-sharply observed by Fez creator Phil Fish -- can be seen as tracing the evolution of videogames themselves, from Beat's paddle-control, to Core's D-pad, to Void's now analog-/joy-stick controls), it's surprisingly minimalist.
Where Pong asked simply that you Avoid Missing Ball For High Score, Void only slightly modifies that to a "Avoid Missing Black Balls, Definitely Avoid The White" duality. That lays the groundwork for an austere but powerfully raw risk/reward mechanic in which you grow your Void with every black dot, but have to then more delicately dance in between the whites -- touching the whites instantly deflates the Void, but keeping it engorged and manually emptying it at the last second before a tragic turn earns you the most bonus points.
To be sure, it's only slightly less punishing than the prior two games (each level now has checkpoints, though continues have to be earned by high score), but here the pixel-chaos feels more managable and more legible than the at-times-haphazard fake-out dot-flinging that preceded it, and the reward of its synaesthetic light/music show has always out-shined the abuse it's doled out so freely.
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