Before we go any further, let me make one thing very clear: the new Japanese Nintendo DS title Electroplankton is not a game. If you’re expecting T&A, or lots of killing and explosions, or effeminate heroes struggling against a clichéd evil force, then you’d best stop reading this right now and go troll an EA or Square-Enix forum. (Zing!)

Still here? Okay then. You were warned, so I’m not going to tell you again. Now we can get into what Electroplankton is really all about. Electroplankton is best described as an “audio visual toy.” Instead of trying to fight a boss or beat a high score, you instead create musical sounds and melodies using the eponymous plankton. There’s really no “point” to Electroplankton, other than just playing around with the various creatures within. Revered Japanese artist Toshio Iwai created this quirky little title, and his unique style of visual art mixed with sound is clearly prevalent. Electroplankton is like an orchestra gone mad, or at least dumped underwater. And since Electroplankton is so heavily involved with music, it even comes with a free pair of headphones. Sweet deal.

Electroplankton has two modes: Performance Mode, and Audience Mode. The former lets you do as you please with any plankton, while the latter is a “demo” mode of sorts, going through the various plankton at random. You can still interact with them in Audience Mode, but you don’t have to. Performance Mode is where most users will spend their time, of course. You’ve got ten plankton to choose from, and each differs considerably from the others. I’ll give you a rundown on each of them; I know the names sound weird, but hey, blame the Japanese.


To control these plankton, you touch one then draw a line with the stylus. The Tracy will follow the line, sounding tones at a set interval, depending on how long the line is and at what speed you drew it. Once you get multiple Tracys going, the resulting cacophony can be deafening.


If these remind you of tadpoles, you’re not far off. Hanenbows leap out of the water and bounce off of leaves, striking a windchime note each time. You can move the leaves to different angles to make the plankton bounce longer, and use the D-pad to send more Hanenbows flying out of the water.


There’s four of these onscreen, and they’re surrounded by a bunch of little arrows. Tapping an arrow will rotate it 45 degrees. Once you tap a Luminaria, it will move along from arrow to arrow, proceeding in whatever direction they’re pointing. Each plankton moves at a different speed, but they’re all timed correctly so that none of them will be “off” by a beat or so. The D-pad can change all of the arrows at once, as well as arrange them into preset patterns.


At first, you won’t see any of these plankton on the screen. To make them appear, just tap random points on the screen. Soon, a Sun-Animalcule will “bloom” along with a tone. The background color of the screen will change, which alters not only the tone of the plankton, but also their shape. When it’s dark, the plankton will become moons, rather than suns!


I know many folks who love Electroplankton for this little guy alone. Four of these fishlike creatures will swim across the screen in time with the background music; if you touch one, the next time it crosses the screen, it’ll record any sounds you make. As you can guess, you can record and loop up to four different effects, and create some very cool arrangements. (My personal suggestion? Try a beat-box.) The D-pad will either change the background track or alter the speed, depending on which direction you push.


These little buggers are all lined up in a row, and they respond to ripples in the water. You can make the ripples by tapping the water around them, or even touching a Nanocarp itself. Bear in mind that once one of them moves, it creates a ripple, too, which often causes a chain reaction with most of the other Nanocarp on the screen.


Mmm…forbidden donut. Well, not quite, but that’s what a Lumiloop looks like. There’s five of them onscreen when you select this plankton, and you use the stylus to spin them. Doing so creates a nice ambient tone, and once you get all five going, it creates a very soothing arrangement. It nearly put me to sleep (in a good way!).


Underwater snowflakes? Whatever melts your butter. Tap two of these in a row, and they’ll switch places while emitting a piano note. After a while, the screen can get really chaotic, but you can just keep on playing, and everything still manages to stay in tune.


This one is my favorite of the group. Split the name into two pieces: “beat” and “nes.” As in “NES.” The Beatnes plankton make classic NES sounds, in time to the beat. Tapping the various segments produces various beeps and bloops, looped a few times over before you get to do it all over again. There’s even some Super Mario Bros. and Kid Icarus sound effects thrown in for good measure, along with some other surprises. Perfection!


Tapping a Volvoice will cause it to record whatever noises you make into the microphone, and the plankton will swell up as it fills with sound. Tap it again to stop recording, then tap any of the shapes surrounding the Volvoice to play your sounds back with all manner of weird effects. The plankton will also move its mouth in time with the sounds, which is hilarious in and of itself.

These descriptions are just the tip of the iceberg. As I’ve explained in a few of them, the D-pad can affect the sound and visuals alongside the stylus, and pressing the Select button will often have even more results (be it changing the layout of the plankton, resetting them, etc.). While it may not look it on the surface, Electroplankton is much deeper than you’d think, and each time you boot it up, there’s something new in store. The only downside is that there’s no "save" function; if you create a particularly cool composition, there’s no way to hold onto it, unless you’re recording it through an outside source.

Well, there you have it. Reading this article doesn’t even come close to the true Electroplankton “experience” you really need to get a copy for yourself. Electroplankton is one of those must-have DS imports; there’s rumors of a US release (fueled by Nintendo president Satoru Iwata showing the software at the Game Developers’ Conference), but with no official release date on record, it’s still worth the extra money to snag a copy from our friends across the Pacific. Hardcore DS fans really need to check out Electroplankton; if you don’t like it, then there’s something very wrong with you. It truly is a work of art like no other.