Diatomic (WiiWare)

Game Review

Diatomic Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Sean Aaron


The first time many saw images from Diatomic one word was in their head: Geometry Wars (okay, that's two). The similarities in appearance are definitely there: closed-border shooter (attention: new term coinage alert!) and old-school wire-frame graphics. This isn't a bad thing though, with imitation being the best form of flattery and all that. Certainly history is littered with derivative games that were regarded as great in their own right; lest we forget that Geometry Wars is essentially a marriage of Tempest and Robotron: 2084. When creating a title that is similar to an established, popular game it's important to set it apart in some way; whether it's the underlying game mechanics or by adding additional features. Unfortunately the developers of Diatomic have elected to set their game apart from similar shooters by publishing it with horrifically broken controls.

Visually the game looks pretty nice. It takes place on a single screen which is conceptually like a petri dish filled with fluid and has nice water effects as your avatar and enemies move around the screen like so many microscopic organisms. The wire-frame look is also pleasing and has a slightly rough quality like you were playing it on an old colour LCD handheld. The sound isn't too brilliant, but it gets the job done and the generic easy-listening electro tracks you hear repeatedly aren't annoying, but they're not something you'd pay money for on their own.

There's a tutorial to walk you through the basics of play. You move your critter around the screen with the (STICK), which works very nicely. The next bit you need to learn is how to attack and this is where it all goes to hell. Despite the fact that Wii has a Classic Controller with two sticks and the aforementioned Geometry Wars: Galaxies made brilliant use of the pointer as a method for aiming in 360-degrees, Diatomic uses Remote gestures to whip your critter's tail at enemies. Now we don't have a problem with remote gestures per se, but there's a time and a place - to quote Dirty Harry: "a man's got to know his limitations."

You can pull off remote gestures vertically and horizontally almost 100 percent of the time; attempting to recognise separate up/down and left/right gestures is asking more and needs a lot more finesse, but Diatomic is asking for 8-way joystick movement and it's just not going to happen. You don't need to go to beta to know that, because the Wii's been on the market for three years now and there's no one making games trying to detect diagonal movement in a Wii game using Remote swipes - well, except Grendel Games.

If you wanted to be so ambitious you'd think that there would be some kind of motion calibration settings or MotionPlus support, but there isn't. There are two primary methods of attack: you can whip your tail at enemies or hold (A) to form a shield for collecting enemy shots which you can then fling back with - wait for it - the same remote gestures used for whipping your tail.

To say we were able to hit the target half the time would be generous. You do occasionally get lucky and there seems to be some slight guidance given to your shots, but if it takes several minutes to complete a single tutorial section because you cannot hit a slow-moving target by flinging back their bullets, then something is very wrong. Of course it would help if the tutorial wasn't interrupting every 30 seconds to tell you what you're supposed to be doing. If we were suffering that kind of short-term memory loss we would have forgotten why we were playing the game and switched it off!

There is a 3rd attack which is a spin attack, but you have no real control over where you're going. You hold (B) and just bounce around the screen until your spin metre runs out (supposedly you can influence direction with the (STICK), but it was almost imperceptible). This is a rather critical attack because it's one of only a couple of ways to eliminate the spawners which are giant red blobs with teeth that spew out the rest of the enemies. You're supposed to destroy the spawners before they grow big enough to start shooting out mines; killing them is also the only way to progress to the next level. You can either spin them to death (multiple hits required) or hit their mines back at them with your tail, but both strategies are fraught with danger.

In order to build up your spin metre you need to collect spin energy capsules left behind when normal enemies are killed; trying to hit mines at all exposes you to the risk of being being destroyed by them when you invariably miss due to the wonderful attack system. Needless to say getting past the first stage of the game is a real accomplishment until you realise there's another 64 to go and little chance you'll ever see them.

That's because you only get one life in this game. Not one life and you can take multiple hits, but one life and getting hit by an enemy bullet or a mine is instant death (well, there is an animation of your tail acting like a fuse as a chain reaction blows you up). You have to earn continues and you only get one initially, so you basically have two lives before it's game over. The game's pacing isn't as frantic as Geometry Wars, but given you'll have trouble hitting an enemy right next to you it won't be long before the spawner is pumping out mines everywhere that only have a three-second fuse and a sizable explosion radius.

The game could be somewhat playable if you had the standard three lives (or more relaxed hit detection), but having to sit through a slowing fading "Game Over" message, the high score table and then the stage select menu to start a new game is just too tedious given how quickly you'll use up the life you have. Easy deaths and limited lives combined with a dodgy attack system make for a frustrating time and we felt lucky to get to stage two; after a dozen failed attempts to beat Stage two and a throbbing wrist it was decided to leave well enough alone and move on.

There is support for a second player, but they just get to move an on-screen cursor with their remote and press (B) to shoot enemy bullets. We figure it's like having a designated driver: after playing a marathon session trying to get a high score the second player will be able to drive you to hospital after you've crippled yourself making scores of "precise" remote waves. Thanks to the presence of a rather detailed statistics page you'll be able to participate in a study on the long-term affects of playing Diatomic - or submit evidence in the class action lawsuit that will result if sufficient numbers of people play this game long enough to develop carpal tunnel syndrome.


Diatomic is a game suffering from an ill-placed desire to stand apart from established popular shooters on the Wii. Whilst being a bit different is certainly admirable, choosing a rubbish control system is not the best way to do it. Given the rest of the game was interesting enough, adopting a more conventional method for attacking enemies would at least have made it playable - even if it looks very much like a "mee-too!" effort. We can only suggest you avoid this and pick up a copy of Geometry Wars: Galaxies instead - you won't regret either decision.

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User Comments (47)



Zammy said:

Looks seizure-inducingly good.
Plays seizure-inducingly bad. Fair enough.



KnucklesSonic8 said:

Too bad it turned out to be a flop. Thought this one had potential. The game sounds very frustrating, probably because of the apparent lack of care that went into the control system. I can understand them trying to make the game challenging but when the controls don't work the way they should, players are bound to give up (especially with the limited chances for mistakes). Excellent review.



stratocastx said:

I was really, really looking forward to this...but had feared for the worst when I heard about the motion controls. Very similar situation with Evasive Space. Hopefully we'll see a demo of this one so we can at least try the controls for ourselves.



Sean_Aaron said:

I was also really looking forward to this, so it was a bitter pill when I was getting stuck in the bloody tutorial. I really don't understand the thought process behind this control mechanism. I cannot even see why you'd waste time coding it this way. A gesture is just not going to feel right for a primary attack unless your weapon is a sword or a hammer. I actually had to play Stop Stress after playing this to work out my frustrations!

I actually played Evasive Space again yesterday, and whilst it can be frustrating dying repeatedly (I'm in the caves again), at least the control scheme works and restarting is only a matter of a few seconds.



Token_Girl said:

Why would any dev try doing diagonal movement recognition with a Wiimote, wouldn't you need Motion plus for that kind of accuracy anyway?



brandonbwii said:

What's with the bad WiiWare lately. That's been my primary source for quality content since the shelves are littered with shovelware. Lack of quality this close to Christmas? C'MON!



Tails said:

I for one thought the game was okay. It's not that bad once you get use to the controls. I already got to the 2nd world in it its not as hard as you think just takes paitence .



chris3116 said:

Boo. I thought the game would be cool. It seems it's not. It's a good review. However, I'll get Blaster Master soon.



JayArr said:

Wow, those visuals remind me of a Phish concert a went to a few years back.



Sean_Aaron said:

@Tails: I can appreciate what you're saying, but in a game of this type you shouldn't have to "get used" to the controls, you should be able to just play the game.

The only way I could see motion working would be if you auto-targeted the nearest enemy, but then you'd be de-skilling the game and it wouldn't be as compelling. Better to just rip-off the Geometry Wars control scheme and be done with it; at least people could enjoy the game for what it is that way.




Gutted. This, like stunt cars, was on my insta-download list pending disaster. Disaster has struck. Can someone do Geometry Wars WiiWare please?

Should've used wiimotionplus I guess

The review sounds like it caused Sean pain. Thanks for being a NL soldier Sean!



bro2dragons said:

talk about disappointment. geometry wars is still a little more than i like to pay for most games, so i was gonna get this instead... but i guess i'll keep waiting.



Viper6391 said:

Wow, this week is turning out to be a major disappointment for Wiiware, and this looked promising. It's too bad that the controls are terrible. Guess I'll just stick with Blaster Master and Earthworm Jim 2.



Sean_Aaron said:

Geometry Wars was worth the asking price when it first came out; you should be able to find it dirt cheap 2nd hand (unless people late to the party have been snapping it up) -- definitely worth it; as far as I'm concerned the score of 8 it received here is too low!



Stargazer said:

Indeed, Geometry Wars: Galaxies is good stuff. I bought it on day 1 and have no regrets.



WolfRamHeart said:

Not all of the recent WiiWare releases are bad. Flowerworks and Rubik's Puzzle Galaxy: RUSH are actually really great games. Download one of those titles instead. As for Diatomic, I am sorry to see it turn out this way. It looked like it had some real potential. Too bad the awful controls kill it. Thanks for saving me 800 points Sean.



GamerforGod said:

That's too bad!!!! This game looked like it would be fun. Well, at least I have Geometry Wars: Galaxies. I actually picked it up slightly used at a Game Rush at Blockbuster for only $6.99, less than I would have paid for Diatomic!!!! lol Blockbuster just doesn't know what they have their hands on sometimes!!!! lol



KDR_11k said:

Dragon Master Spell Caster came out with disastrous controls but by the time I got it they had already added Classic Controller support that works perfectly. I think the Diatomic devs could try making a patch like that too. Would you re-rate the game if that happened?



SwerdMurd said:

was gonna get this last night...got bit.trip.void instead....not exactly a good way to spend 600 points either (a shame that the series consistently got worse )



Twilight_Crow said:

Developers should have learned by now that, even well implemented, motion controls are not for everybody, and there should always be an alternative control scheme.

I'm glad to hear about Dragon Master's update, I may consider it now. NL should definitely update their reviews when the games get improved.



vakama94 said:

well i downloaded this game yesterday and so far its good, the controls are a little broken but just when you try to whip to the right, anyway lets see if the developers can update something so the game can be better



Sean_Aaron said:

Well, we've never re-reviewed a game, probably because when games get updated like that it's usually in a different territory and we don't want separate reviews for separate territories.

I would say if anyone thinks a review should be revised for some reason like the change of controls in Dragon Master, the best way to get a result is to use the Contact link to send a message to the admins.



l3reak said:

What a disappointment, I was going to buy this! Glad I bought Rubik's Rush instead which is awesome. I'm a big Wii motion controls defender, and will often argue that some games do play well once you get used to the controls(Wii Sports Boxing, for one). But, even I know that asking for 8-directional Wii remote gestures at all is unreasonable, especially in a 1-shot & you're dead game that demands extreme precision like this.

I guess that Flower game is next on my list.



Orgone said:

I'll stick with Midway Arcade Treasures since you can play Robotron with dual joysticks on my wavebird



Alfred_ENG said:

I don't think any great or even good WiiWare games are coming out this Christmas for Europe. Very poor. I will be playing mostly my old WiiWare games. On the bright side i will save lots of money. Good review Mr Aaron. I don't think 2010 will be any better. I feel very low and will just call it a day.



MrMartinLee said:

Too bad. While waiting for the review, I read the instruction manual in the Shop Channel, and got a hint of what was to come... forced motion controls. I wonder if this and other games (Three Musketeers) will ever be updated with decent controls?



Tim_from_Grendel said:

Thanks to everybody here who offered constructive feedback on our title Diatomic. We are committed to delivering a great game experience. Some people have made it clear that they are having issues with the controls of our game, and we like to take this opportunity to communicate that we'll get back to them. In the mean time, we'd like to thank you for your support.



Sean_Aaron said:

Tim, I appreciate your response. I hope you're able to get some kind of patch in for Diatomic, but I don't know that we can revise the review post-publication.



CanisWolfred said:

Eh, it looked interesting, but I'll just take yer word on it and pass. I already have enough Geometry Wars clones, including Geometry Wars itself(I really need to get GeoWars2, though).

EDIT: Ooh, possibility of a patch, eh? Well, I guess I better keep an eye on it, then.



joeshabadoo said:

Tim! I bought your game I can can totally see a great core concept in there! EASILY. You just need to add in a few more control options:

a) IR pointer/button press for tail whip/projectile throw. This would entail using an unmapped button on the nunchuck and the IR. When the button is pressed, the diatomic dude will perform the tail-whip or projectile throw in whichever direction the IR is pointing relative to the character. Look to Evasive Space for an example, but movement is still on the analog stick for your game

b) generic motion used for tail-whip or projectile throw, but only in the direction that the diatomic character is currently facing. This one's self explainatory.

c) button press for tail-whip or projectile throw, but only in the direction that the diatomic character is currently facing.

I would use option a) that I just suggested, but all would function better than the existing setup



XCWarrior said:

Darn I was looking forward to this. I sure hope Nintendo allows for patches Tim, cause I think controls are way more important than graphics (not that they are bad, I'm just saying) in a game.



vakama94 said:

@Tim: i have gotten to chapter 3 in the game, i have to say its a really fun game, a little hard but you get used to and the controls could have used more polish but so far im enjoying it



joeshabadoo said:

sorry but it's remains too dodgy and difficult to articulate directional strikes. I understand the short motions you're looking for, but performing those motions, particularly above the diatomic character, are too awkward and uncomfortable

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