Review by clarkisdark

"You can run, but you can't hide"

If the Nintendo DS is any indication, it'll probably be a full year before we start to see truly good games for the Wii. As of now, the Wii is--and will be for a while--dominated by mini-game compilations and dumb-downed ports with tacked-on motion control (even Twilight Princess is guilty of this). So what Konami has done with Elebits is actually an important step. This is a game built specifically for Wii, a game so new and intriguing, you'll probably never see anything like it on any other console. This is where the Wii starts to take off.

Elebits isn't going to immediately usher in a strong fan base, however, because its artistic direction is dauntingly kiddy for the Halo generation. But if you can look past the cute design, you'll find a very detailed experience. Though the Elebit characters are purposefully charming, and the game maintains a very cartoonish feel, its real strength lies in its use of physics. The levels you go through--living rooms, kitchens, backyards--are filled with all kinds of objects that can be uprooted and tossed around. While much of this feels very floaty, it's undeniably cool to watch a bookshelf and all of its contents fly across the room and smack into a ceiling fan. But when things get too out of hand, the framerate starts to stutter. The bigger levels in particular always run at a slower framerate, and it can get bad enough at times to make you feel a little queasy.

The sound department is in a similar league: mostly superb but with a few small hiccups. Voice acting in family-friendly games is usually pretty bad already, but Elebits takes the cake for some of the worst in the industry. Whoever is reading these lines is trying to be too dramatic, and it completely kills what the dialogue was trying to achieve. Luckily, cut scenes are rare, and the in-game ambience is perfect. The squeals of the Elebit creatures never get old, and the jazz/elevator background music fits well with the tone of the overall game.

But Elebits's real "tone" is debatable, because this is a game that can very well be frantic and chaotic or mellow and casual. In a first-person view, you travel through different rooms of your house or areas of your town in hopes of finding Elebits. Elebits are electrical creatures whose power you need to restore order. And finding them is like a sinister version of Hide 'n' Seek. They are everywhere. They hide under vases, inside empty pizza boxes, behind the refrigerator, and even in the DVD player. Others are lazy and have fallen asleep out in the open. But when found, they will squeal and try to run away before you zap them with your capture gun. This gun is your only available "weapon," and it's used not only to capture Elebits but also to lift and carry surrounding objects. Its power is limited, but when you find enough Elebits, you will be able to lift heavier objects. So when you first started out only being able to move ABC blocks, now you can pick up cars and fling them into the neighbor's yard. In that sense, it's a little like Katamari Damacy. It's wacky, it's often hilarious, and trashing a room to pieces is deviously pleasing.

You can't just barge in and "go nuts," though. Some levels put limitations on you, such as how many objects you are allowed to break or how much noise you are allowed to make. Caution is often needed. There are also physical dangers such as evil Elebits who will lunge at you and even flare guns which are always inconveniently pointed right at your face. But having these restrictions isn't disheartening. It means you have to work quickly and effectively in order to find the necessary amount of Elebits before time runs out. It's still plenty fun and satisfying.

The gameplay really comes alive because of the way it uses the Wii remote and nunchuck. Even in just the first few minutes of play, it's easy to recognize that playing this on a standard controller would feel archaic and somehow wrong. The nunchuck is used to move your character, and the Z and C buttons duck and stand on your toes respectively. The remote obviously controls your on-screen reticule. Pressing the A or B button--whichever is more comfortable--activates the beam. And that's it. It's incredibly easy to get into, even without doing the tutorial, and feels like a natural fit for such a game. An unfortunate result of this is that you often end up grabbing an object when you were trying to grab an Elebit. Having the A button go for Elebits and the B button go for objects would have cleared this up easily. But the biggest setback is how turning is handled. Like many of the other early Wii games, turning or looking up/down requires dragging your cursor to the edge of the screen. It's manageable but also feels very sluggish. What further exasperates this is when you have to actually turn the remote to open doors or active clocks. Once you let go of the object, you'll find it difficult rearranging your reticule back on the screen.

Annoyances persist in how the levels are designed. Playing Elebits makes me feel claustrophobic. All the objects are too close. They sit where they would in a real world situation, but these positions don't translate well into a game all about throwing things around. Stepping into a closet and shaking a couple boxes off the shelf can quickly turn that room into a huge mess, making it impossible to find anything or even back out and recompose yourself. Your character gets stuck a little too easily on objects. Even a small bottle on the floor can bring you to a halt, and you might not even know it's blocking your way, because it isn't visible from your default point of view. Other times, you'll fling something out of your way only for it to fall back in front of you. These instances can quickly become stressful and turn what is supposed to be a surreal, sugary experience into a game of frustration.

Lasting Appeal:
But Elebits is not hard, all things considered. While there are almost 30 missions in here, it only takes 8-10 hours to beat them all. Sometimes you'll have to restart a mission due to not meeting the time limit or breaking too many objects, but these usually only happen in the first few levels when you aren't yet used to how to play. However, every level can be played again to open up new stuff, such as a Score Attack mode, a Challenge mode where the limitations are even more demanding, and even an Eternal mode. Those levels with slower framerates are hard to do again, but the indoor levels are surprisingly fun over and over.

Konami could have left the game at that, and it would have been great. But here's a company that went to a lot of work trying to up a game's replayability. On top of the single-player mode, there is also a multiplayer mode that supports four people. Here, one person controls the camera, and everyone is trying to grab as many Elebits as they can. You can even set up the rules so the camera control changes hands every 10, 30, or 60 seconds. Each level from the story mode is playable here, and it's quite a bit of fun with two or three people. But the more people there are, the more chaotic it becomes, and I would never attempt trying this with all four in. If that wasn't enough, you can also take every story level into edit mode and send them to your friends via Connect 24. Placing objects with the capture gun isn't all that efficient, but it's a robust editor that is sure to further please fans of Elebits.

If you have a Wii, there are three games you need to own: Twilight Princess, Excite Truck, and Elebits. That last one will completely take you by surprise. While it certainly has a feel of Katamari Damacy and even Pikmin about it, this is unlike anything you've experienced before. Consider it a game of Hide 'n' Seek but with a whole lot more chaos. The Wii controller is also put to good use and makes Elebits feel like a game that just wouldn't work without it. But disappointments still exist. The framerate in some levels will make even the hardest stomachs churn, and it's very easy to feel overwhelmed and claustrophobic when a bunch of boxes and cupboards are closed in around you. If you can't physically handle these moments, I really feel for you, because you'll be missing out on one of the Wii's best so far.

+ Fun presentation
+ Great use of controller
-- Though there are a couple problems
+ Ability to uproot anything
+ Surprising amount of replayability
-- Claustrophobic level design
-- Framerate can get a chuggin'

Score: 8.0

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 01/05/07

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