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?
Marine-Crystals 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 the plankton surrounded by a light gray circle (there is one per group) 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 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 thirty-five snowflake-like plankton in one of three layouts: a grid, an oval or a double-circle. There are four different types of plankton cycling through the three layouts and each has their own distinct sound: piano, xylophone, music box or chimes. Tap one of the gently bouncing plankton to have it quickly switch places with the last one you touched (or the one surrounded by the light gray circle at the beginning). Drag your stylus through the group of plankton to produce scintillating glissando effects that evoke the very mental image of winter. The top screen focuses on only one plankton out of the available thirty-five – unlike in other Electroplankton releases where the top screen focuses on whichever plankton your stylus is tapping at the time. Though the plankton will all switch places as you manipulate them, if you leave the touchscreen alone for a minute or so, they'll all gradually float back to their original starting points – there is no faster way to reset them available, which would certainly have been nice, especially in terms of making music with this application.
Audience Mode is the same as Performance Mode, just with the CPU manipulating the plankton for you so that you can sit back and enjoy their sounds. You may step in and start playing with the plankton in Audience Mode at any time.
The sounds and visual effects of Marine-Crystals come together to create a winter-like undersea atmosphere. The plankton themselves are all shaped like little smiling snowflakes and each instrument tone coming through either the DSi speakers or a pair of headphones is made to sound crisp and sharp, just like that first breath of outdoor air after a toasty-warm morning inside your home. As in the other Electroplankton releases, everything is very simple and plain, though it works well with Marine-Crystals, as the eventual clumps of mixed up, slowly drifting plankton begin to look like actual snow on the top screen.
According to the artist himself, the theme of this particular application was inspired by actual 'marine snow', which is a mix of dead plankton, sand, soot and other detritus that drifts down through sea-water almost like actual snow (eww, gross). Fortunately for him, the end result turned out to be a much more pleasant thing, with happy (living!) snowflake-like plankton and sparkling, wintry instrument sounds to go along with them. In terms of making music with this one, the only obstacles are the constant switching around of plankton and the inability to reset them on the fly, but as the Electroplankton applications go, this is one of the better ones.