Please release me: Electroplankton, Bit.Trips and littler LittleBigPlanet

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.



  1. Electroplankton has been my favorite DS cartridge since I first heard about it (on a Fluxus mailing list, of all places). Bought one immediately, and I’m glad I did, as the used pricing on them is insane (some folks are still asking over $100US for it, although now that they have the d/l version, prices are dropping quickly!). The fact of the matter is that for $20, you can download all 10 Plankton, and still be able to have something like the Korg DS-10 in the cartridge slot. Awesome music programs to go! Plus, now I can run 2 plankton @ the same time (if my daughter lets me use her DS Lite, that is…).

  2. It’s too bad Nintendo didn’t decide to do this a couple of years earlier. That’s when I gave up on the idea of obtaining a legit copy of Electroplankton, bought a CyclosDS and took matters into my own hands.

    1. I was lucky – my friend was keeping an eye out for used copies of it and found one for me.
      It was only 40 bucks!

  3. I got Electroplankton as a gift years ago. I was once asked “What game would you choose to play if you could only play one for the rest of your life?” and Electroplankton is my choice because the possibilities are endless.

    Everyone I’ve showed it/loaned it to has fallen in love, especially non-gamers. I’m glad to see more people will have the chance to experience Toshi Iwai’s genius!

  4. A friend of mine is part of a band (hes the keyboardist) and he uses Electroplankton on stage. It’s kind of awesome to see him whip out his DS and play it on stage!

    He invited me to play with him on one of their sound checks…the image of two guys playing their DS’s on stage and making music was hilarious. people kept staring.

  5. Sorry to see Electroplankton come out, that was like a secret weapon. I got it for my son when he got his DS a few years ago and it is our favorite. ($52 from Japan) I wish the gameplay was more developed, would love to save setups. It takes a while to set up the environs/boards/tones you want to start with, it really is not a performance application.

    Of course, that doesn’t stop me from using it as such; a few weeks ago I did a guest set on Crush Collision 88.3 WCBN FM and broke off in the middle for an ambient meltdown feat. Electroplankton… big fun!

      1. It is archived by time-slot I will look it up for you. WCBN is a great station here that has a long history feat. Ann Arbor and Detroit electronica. I used to be more involved but still play on-air 2-3 times a year.

  6. I can still remember (and regret) the time I saw Electroplankton for $40 in the local store and didn’t buy it. But I was happy to get Korg DS-10.

  7. Got my Electroplankton on Amazon a few years ago for around $40 after Kevin Kelly’s glowing review on Cool Tools. It’s still the one “game” I come back to again and again. I think it has some alchemic way of teaching the user about the relationship between sound, movement, and joy.

    In any case, it’s lovely.

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