With the launch of Nintendo’s quirky DS looming large on the horizon next week, it’s interesting when software is announced that’s more than an update, reworking or port of an already successful and recognised title.
We defy anyone not to raise an eyebrow at least after looking at Electroplankton. We sat for several minutes entranced by the dulcet chimings of the stylised aquatic life. Exploration of the game's (mostly Japanese) microsite suggests that 10 ‘plankton’ are featured, each with its own attributes. There are videos of people playing (and obviously enjoying) it, too. All of which begs the question: I think I like it, they like it, but what exactly is it?
Further scrutiny of the site reveals the name of Toshio Iwai. Iwai-san is a Japanese artist known chiefly for his interactive art and music installations. His work on the children’s TV show UgoUgo Lhuga brought him fame in Japan, but it is an installation he created whilst Artist-in-residence at the Exploratorium, San Francisco- Music Insects- that Electroplankton most resembles.
Users could paint lines of colour about the screen, which would then be converted into notes as ‘music insects’ on the screen moved across them. Iwai described it as a ‘tool for visual musical performance’, and it is not the first time that his interest in the possibility of such accessible tools has spilled over into video games. Sound Fantasy, for Nintendo’s Super Famicom was all but finished then abruptly cancelled by Nintendo. It was later reborn as SimTunes for the PC.
Electroplankton is more, then, of a concept than a game in itself. But like other DS software announcements from Japan - WarioWare, Feel the Magic, Pac-Pix- it shows that Japanese developers are perhaps more awake to the creative implications of the DS than their port-pushing Western counterparts.