Review: Electroplankton Varvoice (DSiWare)

Repeat ad nauseum.

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?

Varvoice is an application where you interact with an 'electroplankton' – an undersea creature that moves about in the water and produces sounds when manipulated through the DSi. It can be controlled either by stylus or buttons. As in the other Electroplankton titles, X and Y zoom in and out on the plankton you are manipulating (in Varvoice, there is only one); left and right on the D-Pad cycle through all the available sound types (or you can just tap which one you want to hear); 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 one big, teardrop-shaped plankton with a little circle trailing from a string coming out of its top. The plankton is surrounded by a semi-circle of sixteen different shapes, which come into play once you have recorded a sound clip. Tap the happy little plankton, or press A, and it will flash as the DSi microphone is activated, allowing you to record about eight seconds' worth of sound. As you record, the plankton grows and grows on the screen until it finally hits its eight second limit and stops on its own, or you can stop it yourself with another tap. Once you've got something recorded, you can cycle through all the different shapes and watch the plankton take on each of them as it repeats your sound clip over and over and over and over. Some shapes will turn your sound backwards, others will speed it up or slow it down, some turn it into vaguely recognizable machine noises or synthesized tones… and that's all there is to this application. The entire point of the application is to record eight seconds of sound and cycle through different ways of hearing it played back to you. There is no way to stop it from making sound after recording something except by pausing or by tapping the little circle at the end of your plankton's string to erase the sound you have recorded (pressing Select will also do the same).

In Audience Mode, the plankton will cycle rather rapidly through the different shapes and sounds with a few random pre-recorded bits of sound, including "good morning", "touch me", "thank you", and a barking dog. You cannot record your own sounds in Audience Mode. It's somewhat interesting to tap the original teardrop shape and hear what the developers decided to record, but there aren't many different sounds; they're all fairly generic and inoffensive, with the incessant repetition that rapidly grows just as boring as Performance Mode.

Visually, the game is on par with the rest of the Electroplankton releases - simple, clean and well rendered. The plankton itself is cute enough and the layout is easy to figure out. The different shapes are interesting at first, but there's no real draw to messing around with them other than to change the sound playback.

Speaking of sound, the playback – even while the plankton is in its normal teardrop shape – is tinny, even when using headphones and it only gets worse as you begin to cycle through the different types of sound. Other than the opening sounds of an orchestra tuning up and the pluck of a stringed instrument as you enter one of the available modes of play, the audio quality available here is not pleasing to the ear at all, which is especially strange considering the quality of sound that the DSi Sound app is able to record and play back.


There is such a thing as "too simple". Varvoice was probably much more fun in the early days of the DS, when the microphone was brand new to Nintendo's line of handhelds and not many games took advantage of it. To be brutally honest, however, with the advent of the DSi and its built-in DSi Sound application (which features far more options than this, not to mention being much more flexible), there is no point in downloading this application as DSiWare whatsoever. Save your points and use DSi Sound to play with your voice instead.

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