Mario? Zelda? Bah! When E3 2006 drew to a close last May, there walked away a faction of gamers who swore that Konami's unique gravity-defying action title Elebits stole the show. The game's premise was one part Half Life and one part Pikmin, challenging players to arm themselves with a gravity gun and hunt for electrified critters called Elebits. It may not have been the most original outing ever put into production, but here, finally, was a project that could only be done justice on Nintendo's Wii console and Konami seemed fully aware of that truth. Elebits really utilized the Wii remote for some very off-the-wall and engaging physics-based gravity puzzles that had some players coming back again and again. Still, for an audience still somehow convinced that Wii could pull of visuals in line with some HD-ready competitors, Elebits' simplistic graphics didn't always impress.
Jump to the present. Now that we've finally gone through the final copy of the game, the obvious question springs to mind: does it live up to its E3 potential? Thankfully, the answer is yes, for the most part. Elebits is in a rare class of Wii titles that genuinely capitalize on the functionality of Nintendo's controller, promoting its strengths. As a result, it is oftentimes incredibly entertaining and fun. Konami has also incorporated WiiConnect24 support into the outing - a feat that not even the Big N could accomplish for its first wave of projects. And there's a multiplayer mode, too. But the Elebits experience is still lessened by the same drawbacks that interfered with its E3 showing - namely, unspectacular graphics and sometimes out-of-whack physics.
Elebits begins with a misstep in the form of a poorly presented storyline. Beautiful hand drawn illustrations are timed to some of the dullest, give-me-my-paycheck-because-I'm-late-for-dinner voiceovers ever recorded. We learn of the Elebits, these pint-sized entities that provided the world with electricity until a child wished them away. Now, they've gone into hiding and taken the world's source of power with them. It's up to the aforementioned kid, armed with a capturing gun that manipulates gravity and is then able to zap the Elebits, to find the critters and put things right. The tale is simple and merely more of a quick setup for the action to follow than anything else, but the developer has stretched out these cinematics longer than they need to be and the monotone dialogue is sure to make you question whether or not the voices were provided by the programmers themselves.
Once the game starts proper, though, Elebits shines. The title utilizes both the Wii remote and the nunchuk. The former controls the direction of your capturing gun. Press the A button or B trigger and your gun will shoot an electrified beam that can manipulate gravity or zap critters. And you can maneuver about the environment with the remote in the same way that you would a first-person shooter. Meanwhile, the nunchuk's stick is used for strafing in all directions, while the C and Z buttons raise and duck your character respectively; both are useful when looking above and below objects for Elebits. The control configuration feels very natural and responsive and you will be able to pick it up in a matter of minutes. Interestingly, although the process of turning is actually similar to the structure in the admittedly flawed Red Steel, in which you feel like you have to drag the screen to the left or right, the big difference is that the Elebits experience is paced much slower so that you never need to whip around in a heartbeat.
The Wii remote's level of speed and accuracy for a game of this type becomes apparent as you play. You'll find yourself zapping and throwing objects upward and then catching and tossing them again in mid-air. The fact that just about every object and item in the various Elebits stages can be manipulated means that you will have more fun than you probably should just creating messes of rooms and hurling everything from buckets and tables to beds and cabinets around. It's a very engaging and satisfying process, and when Elebits spring forward from underneath a recently-tossed flower pot, you might find yourself hooked, unable to put the controller down until you've unearthed them all.
The game dishes out a surprising level of hidden strategy, too, due in large to a clever balance between the electrified items in the stages and the ability of your capturing gun. As each level begins, the once-electrified objects - everything from remote control cars to microwaves and even street lights - are powered off. You'll need to use your capturing gun to collect scattered Elebits and only when you've nabbed enough will you gain access to flip some of the items on, at which point you can zap a different pedigree of Elebits to power up your gun. When your weapon powers up, it is able to lift heavier objects, such as cabinets and, later on, everything from diesel trucks to entire building structures. The careful balance successfully encourages you to zap the variety of Elebits in each stage for different reasons and a level-by-level time limit keeps the action moving at a steady pace. We would have preferred an immediate option to play without the time limit, too - a practice area perhaps, but we'll live.
All of these inclusions add up, of course, but the real stars of Elebits are the control and, of course, the physics. The robustness of the title's physics engine makes possible some challenging and engaging gameplay scenarios - some more ridiculous and hilarious than others. Konami's game doesn't really cheat. The objects do come to life with real physics and you can toss them into the air, hurl them at each other, stack them on top of one another, and so on, and the items will react with a realistic sense of collision. That being true, the physics are definitely loose and floaty, which is bound to turn some gamers off. When a diesel truck is thrown into a building with the capturing gun, it will not crash into the structure and break apart. Rather, it will bounce off the building as a ball might. Some objects have a heavier feeling to them, which is great. However, that floaty, bounciness is an attribute that all the items, big or small, share in common - a disappointment.
The stages are varied and in greater numbers than expected. Elebits features about 30 areas of different size, length and complexity. The time limit in a few of these levels is in the five minutes range. Others are nearly 20 minutes long. And as you advance, you'll explore everything from living rooms and bathrooms to toy-filled bedrooms, backyards and eventually entire city streets. It's a rewarding progression because you do start off with the small and end with the big. You won't be able to advance to the next level until you amass a predetermined point level (which you increase by zapping Elebits and powering up your weapon) and there may come a time or two where you won't quite hit the mark and thus you'll be forced to replay. Meanwhile, as the missions advance, they present new challenges. For instance, if you make too much noise in one level, you'll lose; if you break too many of these specific pots in another, you'll have to restart. There are even a handful of enjoyable boss battles, the objective being to find the creatures as they hide under objects before time runs out. These additions, while seemingly trivial, sprinkle in an extra level of welcomed strategy and variety to the progression of the game.
Finally, Elebits features both a four-player compatible multiplayer offering and WiiConnect24 functionality. The multiplayer mode takes place on a single screen and each player controls a capturing gun. The first player, however, also controls all the strafing and camera movement, too. It's a quasi-cooperative and quasi-competitive mode where you all work together and yet you also compete for points. Luckily, unlike in Ghostbusters, you can cross the streams. In our experience, though, the multiplayer mode quickly turns into chaos with four different streams and so many objects being interacted with at a given moment.
The WiiConnect24 option, meanwhile, enables you to create your own custom Elebits levels and trade them with friends over Nintendo's network. The map creator is simple, but flexible enough that we're convinced some very clever stages will eventually pop up from users. There are, in fact, already videos on the Internet that showcase entire user-defined levels based around physics, where objects fall and create a massive domino effect. The map creator does have some limitations. For one, you can't really design your own stage - you have to select one of the levels that Konami has already created for the single-player affair and then you can place objects, items and Elebits within it. Also, you have to unlock the objects and characters in the single-player mode before they become available in the map editor. Still, it's a great addition and we're thrilled that it's in the game - it indefinitely extends replay value.
You may have noticed some of the gorgeous illustrations that Konami has created for Elebits. Unfortunately, these do no translate to the game experience. Rather, the title's big visual standout is its impressive physics - and don't get us wrong, the physics do put on a show. Still, in order to get everything running with a semi-smooth framerate, the developer has chosen to keep the environments and the objects within simple. Some of the locations, especially indoors, still look pretty good. But overall, the title has a blocky style hampered by lots of dithering. In later outdoor levels, there's some slowdown, too, although for the most part the title runs smoothly. Given the amount of object manipulation going on, we can't complain too much, but there's definitely room for improvement. On the other hand, Elebits does run in 16:9 widescreen and progressive scan modes, which always makes us happy.
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