Electroplankton is a group of unique sound-manipulation applications all bundled together as one DS title. Designed by exhibition artist Toshio Iwai, it is a collective work of art disguised as a game. The title itself has gone on to become a cult hit. With the advent of DSiWare, Nintendo has seen fit to separate the games and release them individually on the service. Nearly four years after their original North American release, how do these little apps hold up all by themselves?
Lumiloop is an application where you interact with 'electroplankton' – undersea creatures that move about in the water and produce sounds when manipulated through the DSi. It is controlled mainly via the stylus, though the buttons will work too: X zooms the top screen in on a plankton and Y zooms out; Select switches the groups of plankton (each group emits their own distinct sounds); Start takes you into 'intermission' (pauses the game); and B will exit back out to the main menu. There is no save feature, so if you create something you like, you'll have to remember how you did it for next time.
There are two modes of play: Performance Mode and Audience Mode. In Performance Mode, you are presented with five round, dimly glowing plankton. Spin one of them around in a circle and it begins to gradually produce a single low tone that makes its way up to a maximum of two octaves higher, depending on how long you spin the individual plankton. With each octave, the plankton will emit a brightly coloured glow that gradually expands to fill the touchscreen. As you spin different plankton, the glows (and tones) overlap to produce only a marginally interesting visual experience, but a very relaxing aural experience. To stop a plankton from making sound, spin it in the opposite direction or just leave it alone and it will gradually slow to a stop; the glow will disappear along with the sound.
The laid-back atmosphere, however, is somewhat marred by the spinning that must be done in order to start and keep the sounds going. About eight seconds of steady spinning produces thirty seconds (or so) of sound, both up and down through the three octaves. It can become hectic trying to keep the plankton all up and running in order to create the harmony of your choosing, and that brings up another possible turn-off to this application – the goal is not so much is to create music as to create harmony. Given how long it takes to activate a tone, it is very hard to introduce any kind of beat or rhythm into the harmonies you create. Audience Mode takes care of the control issue by allowing the plankton to activate themselves at will, but it comes at the price of allowing the CPU to choose what tones and sounds are activated at any given time. You may step in with your stylus at any time during Audience Mode.
Lumiloop is presented very simply. The menu screen is the same as in all the other Electroplankton titles, with the same plankton introduction before beginning the application itself. After that you just have five big round blank plankton that each shine with their own circular glow as you spin them. That's it. The view on the top screen will shift focus depending on which plankton you're spinning, so spin them to the right to see one colour, spin them to the left to see a different one; overlapping the glows as you please.
Musically, this application is almost in the nature of temple bells, with the way the tones slowly fade in out of existence. The pentatonic scale used is the same between each set, the only differences being the type of sounds produced and at which octave the tones begin. All three sets of plankton are tuned so that there is no dissonance between any of them, no matter which plankton are activated at any given time or which direction they are spun. Again, while it is very relaxing, some may find it incredibly boring due to the lack of any kind of beat.
Lumiloop is an excellent example of how the Electroplankton series is more a group of sound-manipulation applications than anything else. This application would probably have fared much better in one of Iwai's interactive art installations than it does all on its own as a DSiWare release. Considering that adding rhythm to your harmony is not really possible in Lumiloop, audiophiles or those in need of something to relax to may enjoy playing around with it, but others will want to steer clear.