Elebits (Wii) – Review

Elebits CoverElebits, produced by Konami for the Nintendo Wii, is a game that sounds great on paper and actually plays well initially, and almost has the feel of being the Katamari Damacy for the Wii. However, the game is spoiled by having highly repetitive gameplay and a graphics and physics engine that bog down the Wii (at least for myself) that makes the overall experience, after working through the last 1/3rd of the game, to be very disappointing and making the game a rather weak one, though one that still tries to offer a lot of replay value.

Story: B+

The world in Elebits is not much different from our own, except that strange small creatures (about the size of tennis balls, roughly) co-exist with humans since the dawn of time and by their presence, gain electricity to run appliances by some strange synergy. Your character, Kai, is the son of two research scientists studying Elebits, but who himself is rather taken back by the strange beings and rather have nothing to do with them. However, on a fateful night while his parents are at a lab continuing their research, a lightning bolt takes out power to the area – an event that shouldn’t happen with the Elebits. It turns out that the lightning bolt caused the Elebits to become scared and hid, no longer providing power. To restore power, Kai "borrows" his father’s capture gun, which not only can collect Elebits, but also lift objects as to reveal the Elebits beneath or inside it. Kai must restore power, gradually about his house, his town, and eventually to the local amusement park, to find the reason to the Elebits strange behavior.

Gameplay: C (Concept: A)

Screenshot of ElebitsOn paper and when I first played it, I thought Elebits would be great, the Katamari Damacy for the Wii. Using the capture gun (aimed and triggered with the Wiimote), and moving about with the nun-chuck, you simply point and click with the on-screen target to capture the Elebits. There’s three major types of Elebits: those that you can capture that add to your current Watt total, which affects what devices and appliances you can turn on, those that you can capture that slowly work to improve your capture gun’s power, and those that will try to attack you if you try to capture it. For those Elebits that you can capture, you can get more power if they’re calm, happy, or sleeping, than if they’re alarmed or scared, so it pays to be a bit cautious when searching. Several devices across each of the levels can be activated when you have enough Watts, and activating these releases the gun improving Elebits, in addition to some power Elebits. As your gun gains levels, it’s becomes possible to lift heavier and heavier objects, which usually allows you to find better Elebit caches or to reach a part of a level that you couldn’t before. Thus, the general trend of each level is to collect power Elebits until you can activate a device, perform the activation to improve your gun, and repeat until you’ve reached the time limit or required power amount needed to clear the level. In a sense, it’s very similar to the approach with Katamari Damacy – you start small with objects that are obstacles that eventually become simple road-bumps in your path to progress. For me, I generally tended to end up with the level a literally complete mess: furniture, devices, plants, and so forth all strewn about the level and generally off to the sides so that I had clear paths to get around, not necessary being destructive but really enjoying the chaos of the moment.

However, Elebits don’t have the huge size variation that Katamari has: you start in your bedroom, being able to lift furniture, to an amusement park plaza where you end up lifting some of the exhibit buildings and rides. Elebits bases everything on weight, and has a rather good physics engine that responses well to the various sizes and masses of objects. So in the beginning you’re only able to lift things that may be a few grams (on the order of ounces for the metric impaired), up to 1000 metric tons by the last level. As such, while levels may get larger with larger items to lift, it’s still all in good proportion to you. Besides being able to lift objects, you can also move them into or out of the screen by pushing forward or back on the Wiimote, and you can rotate them by turning the Wiimote too. Some devices work by simply pressing a button, but others require clicking and turning (like a faucet or a door handle), opening a door and performing another action (such as with an oven or a phone booth), or actually putting other objects into or on that device in a minimal puzzle capacity.

Elebits Screenshot #2In addition to capturing Elebits and moving objects to find more, there are special powerups that sit about the level, which behave as objects except that they are breakable. When you smash them open, they become active for a short time (usually 30 seconds). Some can either attract or stun the Elebits making their capture easy, while others can give your gun lock-on capturing ability, the ability to lift heavier weights for a time, or a shield to protect against Elebits that fire back at you. These can come in handy in many cases.

Now, while this basic setup seems to lead to a game of Katamari Damacy style (and thus is a great concept), there’s several errors in execution. The two largest ones are the repetitive nature of the game, and technical execution of the game, but there are also a few other minor aspects.

First, as mentioned, there’s a usual pattern to each level – collect Elebits to activate devices to upgrade your gun to be able to collect more Elebits. Lather, rinse, repeat. However, while the various power ups are introduced slowly over the first handful of levels, you basically end up with all the tools you’re going to get early in the story mode, save that you work on lifting heavier objects over time, and you get a few new varieties of Elebits that have different behavior patterns. This gets very old, very fast, unfortunately (particularly combined with the second problem). There’s a few levels that have unique requirements, such not breaking more than a specific number of objects, or avoiding making too much noise. There’s also a few midgame levels that have zero-gravity, including a few with a breakage limit as well, so you have to be very careful of how you move objects about. However, I found these levels to be more tedious than inventive, almost comparable to the Cow/Bear levels in Katamari. There are also 4 boss levels (with a total of 29 levels) that require some unique use of the capture gun to vary the gameplay. But even with these additional aspects to the level requirements, I think I got rather bored with the same steps over and over again through all the levels. It also became rather predictable, as I’d be able to guess where the caches of Elebits were rather easily. I don’t remember ever getting bored with Katamari Damacy, and I think part of this has to do with the drastic differences in size levels, while here in Elebits, there really isn’t a change of scale.

The second part of the game is that is unfortunately plagued by stressing the Wii to it’s limit and having massive slow downs in graphic updates on several of the second half levels. The early levels don’t have these problems, but since you are confined to the inside of a house, there’s no issue with draw distances or complex shapes. However, as you venture outdoors, the visible distances are rather large causing some strain. Objects themselves aren’t simplified down like in Katamari, though they aren’t either overly details, but this still creates a lot of work for the Wii when there’s a bunch of objects on the screen. This is even complicated by the fact that as you toss objects around, you may create piles of objects that didn’t exist at the start of the level, and makes the game even more sluggish than before. The slowdown may also be coupled with the highly realistic (and therefore computationally expensive) physics engine which does a fine job but may be a bit too much for the poor Wii. This leads to a couple of problems in trying to play the game. For example, when the game is sluggish, it is very difficult to get the action needed to break open powerups and instead you may end up whipping the powerup into the air and having no idea where it comes down. There’s also cases where you may be trying to grab Elebits that are visible but behind other objects and instead of getting the Elebit, the gun locks ont the object instead, and moves it unpredictably.

Both of these issues mean that by the time I got to the 20th or so level, I simply wanted to play out the game and get through it so that I didn’t have to worry about trying to fight the game against the poor drawing rate over all these levels in addition to the unchanging gameplay. For the first few hours I loved the game, but the second half of the story mode pretty much ruins the fun.

There’s one other smaller point that should also be mentioned: I found that the act of ’turning’ something, unless I was very careful with the remote, would cause my pointer to fly off screen and send my view in that direction as well. This isn’t a bad issue when turning a faucet handle to get the Elebits out of it, but there’s points that you pass through doors that require you to turn and then push in or out to open the door, and because my pointer would be off-screen, I couldn’t easily get that second motion in place. Fortunately, the turning motion doesn’t come up that much in the game but it’s one thing to be aware off.

Value / Replayability: A-

That said, the game does try to offer a lot to make you want to come back if you do find the gameplay interesting along the lines of games of this short. The overall game is relatively short, maybe about 5 to 6hr of actual playtime total to get through story mode. When you complete each level, you’re rated as to your performance, generally based on how fast you reach the required watts and how much more you collected. Each non-boss level contains three hidden pink Elebits, some which only come out under specific requirements, but collecting all three on a level opens special modes for that level: a time attack mode that allows you to pit yourself against another player to see how many watts you can capture in a fixed amount of time, an eternal mode that lets you play without a time limit, and a challenge mode that lets you play the level with more stringent requirements. There’s also special objects that are found on select levels that you have to find, but once found, can give you a benefit to play beyond that, and by achieving certain goals, you can also gain beneficial items to future play sessions. These items include having a fixed radar on screen at all times (which is normally only given by a powerup), or having the suction capture working at all times.

Also, by achieving a decent grade on a level, you can unlock that level and objects for that level in edit mode. You can create your own levels with variations in goals (including breakage and noise limits), with the only real limit is that each object you place has a cost, and your total object cost cannot exceed a specific number for a level, which is to likely used to keep the number of polys on screen low. This works somewhat like Garry’s mod for Half-Life 2 in that you can manipulate objects in all 3 dimensions and it’s possible to set up simpler machina setups. People have already used the edit system to create Rube Goldberg devices and domino chains, for example. Once you’ve created and tested your levels, you can send them between other friends via memory card or Wii online. The game also includes 4 player multiplayer (on the same console only), with one player controlling movement while every player attempts Elebits capture.

Graphics: C-

Ignoring the aforementioned graphic slowdowns, the game uses reasonably ok graphics, not too detailed but not overly simplified. However, much of it seems average. Because much of the game is in the dark, most of the backgrounds are dimly lit while the bright Elebits stand out very easily against it, and it’s very easy to tell what type of Elebit you’re about to capture if you are even, virtually, 500 feet away or so due to their different colors. Unfortunately the engine really penalizes the game here – while the objects look real enough, the large draw distances and the large number of objects that can be on the screen drag the drawing speed down to nearly unplayable levels.

Sound: B

The background music is nice and bouncy, but there’s not a lot of variation in it between stages. The sound effects within the level are decent enough to let you know where Elebits may be, either due to the sound of breaking glass as they run away behind you or firing an energy bullet at you. There’s a few selected cut scenes which have rather stilted, Shatner-like voice acting at times, which for some reason I found funny.

Overall: B-

I really wanted to like Elebits – the preliminary reads on the concept and the first hour of playing were a joy. However, once the game started to become the same variation of gameplay without adding anything significantly new to the mix, it became boring quickly. Which to me is really weird as I could go back to Katamari Damacy and say exactly the same thing in that each level is pretty much the same thing over and over again, and both games are about the same length. Ignoring the technical issues with Elebits, the only reason I can see myself liking Katamari as much as I did over Elebits is that there’s a better sense of a vast scale in Katamari, starting with thumbtacks, and ending up with whole landmasses, with the distribution spread out through the game. Elebits really doesn’t have that same spread, nor do the Elebits you capture have any size variations, and thus make the overall game seem just a bit more mundane.

Unfortunately, it’s very hard to think about Elebits without including the slow rendering of the game near the last 1/3rd of the game, which also likely influences my opinion of the core game. I think that if there were no technical issues with the rendering, I’d say that Elebits would at least be a B, though not into an A-range game, certainly not as good as Katamari; the low grade I give it here is because an engine that is that slow on modern hardware has likely not be tested fully and feels rushed out the door without concern for this. I would suspect that Konami was trying to make sure this title was close to Wii release and before the holiday seasons (it is very age-appropriate for kids), and given that you can play 2/3rd of the game without major issues, it will still draw people in. (I note this only because while I had problems with the slow speed, I can’t find post after post about this speed on message boards; some people complain, some people have nothing to say on the matter, so I wonder if this has to do with certain models of the Wii – thus, I’m trying to take the graphics out of the picture to think about the overall game only) And as such, given other titles that are presently out there for the Wii, this might be a good game for younger kids, given that it makes them think about spatial movement and how objects would interact with each other; plus, which kid wouldn’t want to be able to make a virtual mess? However, older gamers will unfortunately find the title lacking in an overall pleasing experience, though it’s definitely worth a rental to try out.

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