Review: Electroplankton Luminarrow (DSiWare)

Last, but certainly not least.

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?

Luminarrow 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, with basic functions being performed by the buttons: X zooms the top screen in on wherever your stylus last touched (denoted by a gray circle on the touchscreen), and Y zooms out; Select resets the field of play, allowing you to start anew; Start takes you into 'intermission' (pauses the game); and B will exit back out into 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 available: Performance Mode and Audience Mode. In Performance Mode, you are presented with a grid of thirty-six arrows and four plankton, each glowing their own separate colour as they sit quietly in the corners of the screen. The arrows are each rotated with a tap of the stylus, laying out a path for the plankton to follow. Select a plankton with your stylus and it will begin to move across the screen, following whatever path of arrows you have laid out for it. Tap and hold an arrow to make it spin, introducing a random element to your grid layout; tap the now-spinning arrow again to make it stop. The D-Pad directions activate a rushing wave that moves all of the arrows at once: left and right make them all point in one direction together, but up and down cycle through ten different preset patterns for you to try out on their own, modifying them however you wish.

Each arrow in the grid is a different note; as a plankton lands on an arrow, it will make the sound of that particular instrument in that pitch. Rhythm is introduced by the speed of the plankton themselves: the red plankton, featuring the sound of the piano, is the fastest; the yellow vibraphone plankton is half as fast as the red; the green music box plankton is half as fast as the yellow; and the blue celesta plankton is the slowest of the four. Though there is merit to methodically plotting out a path for the plankton to follow and choosing which to activate and when in order to create a melody of sorts, it is also fun to just randomly tap arrows or set them to spinning and see what strange music comes of it. The only drawback is that, once set into motion, the plankton cannot be stopped without resetting the entire grid with Select.

Audience Mode is the same as Performance Mode, only with the CPU choosing which arrows to turn in which direction and with the inability to clear the grid with Select and start over on your own (though you can still manipulate the arrows to your heart's content). In this mode, the individual plankton are all activated in the exact same order and on the exact same opening grid, so each 'song' in Audience Mode starts off exactly the same, though the CPU does get random as it begins to manipulate the arrows for you. For this reason, Audience Mode may become quite boring after a while.

Luminarrow is not quite as plain as most of its Electroplankton brethren. The plankton here are each brightly coloured (instead of being white on coloured backgrounds) and they glow briefly as they touch a new arrow and release a new sound. The arrows themselves are white, shining dimly against the bluish-purple background. Between spinning arrows, moving plankton and moving bubbles drifting upward across the screens, there really is a lot happening at any given point in time. At no time, however, does Luminarrow become visually confusing, nor does it become too hard to keep track of what is going on.

Musically, there is really no way to go wrong with this application. Nearly every melody produced herein is actually listenable, though depending on which plankton are activated it may be a driving, rapidly paced melody or a slower, more gentle one. The sounds overlap and resonate together nicely no matter which plankton is where on the touchscreen, and the evenly-paced rhythm of each individual plankton ensures that the occasionally hectic atmosphere never descends into pure chaos.

Conclusion

If you're going to try an Electroplankton title at all, you may want to go for this one first. Smiling, brightly-coloured plankton, controls anyone can manipulate easily and the ability for even tone-deaf, rhythmless individuals to create a melody pleasing to the ear combine to make this one of the strongest Electroplankton experiences of all. The Electroplankton DSiWare series in general may not be everyone's cup of tea, as they are not actual games per se, but anyone still on the fence about these little apps would do well to pick this one up and give it a shot.

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