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?
Sun-Animalcule is an application where you interact with 'electroplankton' – tiny undersea creatures that produce sounds when manipulated through the DSi. It is mainly controlled via the stylus, with minimal button interaction. As in the other Electroplankton titles, X and Y zoom in and out on wherever your stylus is moving at the time; 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 of play: Performance Mode and Audience Mode. In Performance Mode, you are given a big, blank space to work with. The idea is to fill that space with up to thirty plankton at any given time (any more than that and the ones you originally planted will begin to disappear in favour of the new ones). Plant your little plankton anywhere you like across the touchscreen to hear them emit sound, see them shine brightly, then watch them grow from tiny little dots into giant, smiling blobs that expand to fill the view on the top screen. Each plankton will grow for a little over a minute before disappearing from the touchscreen. You can tap and drag a plankton from place to place if you like, which causes their sounds to change pitch as they're moved about. You can tap a plankton to make it disappear from the touchscreen, or press Select to clear the touchscreen entirely.
There are two types of plankton available to you: Sun Animalcule, which are planted during 'morning', 'afternoon', and 'evening', when the screen is filled with warm yellows, oranges, and reds; and Falcato, moon-shaped plankton that are planted at 'night' or 'late night'. Where Sun-Animalcule look like little suns as they grow, and they make sounds like wooden xylophones, steel drums and stringed instruments, Falcato instead emit a circular glow, with their sounds being more eerie and resonant – like something out of a movie about outer space – with steel bells, plucked strings and other synthesized noises. Each portion of the 'day' lasts one minute and you can advance one portion at a time by pressing right on the D-Pad (or go back in time with left). There is no way to stop time in its tracks, though you may go forward or backward at will. Audience Mode is more of the same, though the CPU will plant the plankton for you so that you may sit back, relax and just listen as the chaos ensues. As in other Electroplankton DSiWare releases, you may interact with Audience Mode in the same manner as Performance Mode.
The plankton themselves are presented as simply as in the other Electroplankton releases: mere blobs or shapes against a backdrop of colours that change smoothly as the 'day' progresses. Bubbles float upward lazily in the background, giving the player the feel of looking into an aquarium of sorts. As the plankton go through their cycle of sounds, they first smile, shine or glow and then their faces disappear, visually reflecting each change. It is relaxing, but can become somewhat hectic (and creepy) as the plankton grow larger and larger, overlapping one another and crowding all over each other with their great big smiles.
Depending upon where on the touchscreen they are planted, each plankton will have its own pitch, going from lowest at the left to highest at the right. As they grow, their sounds change to become richer and louder, so small, young plankton will provide a faint counterpoint to large, elder plankton. The plankton each cycle through three different sounds every three and a half seconds or so, providing their own natural rhythm to this application. A skilled musician may be able to work that rhythm for themselves to create music with Sun-Animalcule, but the average user will likely wind up with a chaotic mass of noises all rushing past one another. While the noises by themselves are all pleasing to the ear, they may become maddening after a while if too many plankton are planted at once.
Sun-Animalcule is interesting to mess around with, at least for a little while. Scatter your plankton seeds across the touch-screen and enjoy what sounds come forth, but watch out: with the plankton each having their own regular rhythm, the sounds may either come together and overlap nicely or tumble over one another in a mad jumble. While it's not a bad Electroplankton release to pick up, you'll either love it or you'll wish you'd bought a calculator or clock instead.