eShop Treasures: Five years later, Electroplankton still amazes

If you headed Nintendo of America, how would you release a brilliant first- party title you knew wouldn’t sell?

Back in 2006, the company found the perfect solution: If you didn’t pre-order the $19.95 Electroplankton, you probably couldn’t get the game. Arriving in beautiful, shiny-foil packaging, the quirky music generator marked the most limited cartridge launch in Nintendo’s North American history. They produced enough copies for fans’and that was all.

I pre-ordered, picked it up at launch, and fell in love with the odd, funny little world of sounds, patterns, and unexpected beauty found in Toshio Iwai’s creation.

The title, however, had one glaring flaw: you couldn’t save or export your music. That omission eventually led to my bone-headed decision to trade it to a friend. On the plus side, I traded it for Kirby’s Canvas Curse, so we both got something good out of the bargain.

Fortunately, Nintendo gave Electroplankton a second life by releasing its separate stages individually as DSiware at 2 bucks each. Even so, most Nintendo fans only know the game from the Hanenbow stage in Super Smash Brothers Brawl. And that’s a shame, so I’m encouraging anyone who’ll listen: give a module or two from Electroplankton a try. You might get hooked and end up buying the entire downloadable collection.

I never owned a DSi, so the 3DS eShop marked my first chance to rediscover the title. It holds up very well, though the lack of a save feature remains frustrating. Breaking the game into individual downloads doesn’t hurt the experience at all; even the original cartridge forced you back to the “lobby” between modules, and you could never carry sound clips from one section to another.

Never played Electroplankton? Have you ever visited a great science museum that had one particular hands-on exhibit that was so good folks stood in line for it? Electroplankton would be that exhibit. It’s also the most relaxing software title I’ve ever encountered, and a lot cheaper than a spa.

I recommend starting with Hanenbow (the musical jumping tadpoles game), Beatnes (play music with 8-bit NES effects), or Trapy (indescribable). The only module I don’t like much is Lumiloops, which involves drawing circles as quickly as possible. Note that, currently, you need to use the eShop search engine to find any of them.

Electroplankton isn’t for everyone, but it’s very much a part of Nintendo’s world; it’s the charming, peaceful garden in the corner that no one ever notices. Give it a try. I think you’ll enjoy the visit.

If you’re an Electroplankton fan, which one is your favorite?