“Potential.” That’s a word we’ll be using a lot when discussing the first wave of Wii games. Elebits is a prime example, a game that offers fascinating glimpses of what may be possible with this innovative console but doesn’t provide a satisfying gaming experience.
LO-DEF: The Elebits look great on the packaging, smudgy on screen.
It plays like any first-person shooter, only without the usual gore and viscera. It’s also gentler and much, much slower. The paper-thin plot has to do with tiny alien creatures called Elebits who are responsible for generating the world’s electricity. One night they go berserk and shut down. As an intrepid, Elebit-hating child, you set about the task of collecting the creatures with your handy capture gun. Few of the Elebits are standing out in the open. Most are hidden under, behind, and inside common household objects. In addition to snaring the creatures, your capture gun allows you to pick up and toss items that may be hiding Elebits. It’s just a glorified game of hide-and-seek.
You maneuver through the game world (which includes such thrilling locales as the garage and a downtown street) using the analog stick on the Wii’s nunchuk. The Wii remote is used to aim and fire the capture gun. The controls work well enough, though I encountered the occasional problem with trying to turn around: when I moved the cursor far enough off-screen, the Wii lost track of it and my character started spinning in circles. Elebits is missing some functionality that has become standard in faster-paced shooters, and they would have been nice here. Both the ability to run and a zoom function would have helped; the tiny Elebits can be hard to hit from a distance, and it often seems a waste of time to be trudging forward for a closer shot.
And though the basic controls are acceptable, the game’s physics engine does more harm than good. The crux of what’s supposed to be fun in Elebits is that you have to use the capture gun in order to interact with all of the objects you can see. You turn doorknobs by rotating the remote; you move objects with a flick of the wrist. It sounds great, but it ends in frustration. If you don’t move through a door fast enough, it closes and shoves you out of the way. All unbreakable objects bounce in wildly unrealistic ways, sometimes knocking your character around, sometimes blocking entrances and exits. I’m not sure what the intention was, but the capture-gun dynamic combined with your own lethargic pace makes Elebits feel as if it were taking place on the moon. It seems like a tech demo, not a game.
But Elebits also suffers from not taking advantage of technology enough. Part of the Wii’s populist mission was to adhere to standard definition displays. Nintendo’s oddly regressive stance hurts games like Elebits that depend on visual clarity. The problem isn’t that you can’t see the brightly colored little fellas, it’s that they just don’t look like anything. They are indistinct smudges of pastel pink and blue sprinkled throughout the nondescript levels. (These landscapes are really blandscapes.) The different Elebit creatures look adorable on the package and in the instruction manual, so it’s a shame you can’t see them in the game. High-definition would have really helped.
I’ll say this for Elebits: it’s not like anything you’ve played before. The inclusion of multi-player modes and a map editor also helps, particularly because you can share your custom levels with other users thanks to the Wii’s wi-fi connection. But that’s all just window dressing. What’s underneath is potential unfulfilled.