Elebits Art 

What makes a "kiddie game," exactly? Cute characters in colorful environments? Bloodless violence? RPG heroes who are always coming of age, yet never seem to get there? Gore and hookers don't make a game good, and neither does their absence. A videogame's longevity isn't due to its paint job—it's what's under the hood that counts. Though Konami's Elebits looks like a Huffy bike, don't be fooled; a Harley-Davidson's motor purrs underneath.

Elebits is a first-person shooter (yes, really) where gamers play hide-and-seek against the clock with adorable creatures called Elebits. These creatures are full of watts; beaming them into one's Capture Gun turns on lights and powers up just about anything: lamps, pay phones, giant flying robots. Switching on these appliances releases special "power Elebits" that charge up the Capture Gun, allowing players to lift heavier objects and, thus, find more Elebits. It's a logical, addictive cycle, reminiscent of the Prince of the Cosmos's quest to find bigger and bigger katamaris. There's some of Pokémon's "gotta catch 'em all" fervor thrown in, with a dash of Pikmin aesthetic for taste. And somehow, the game manages to be more than the sum of its parts.

Certainly, some of the innovation in Elebits is thanks to the Wii's control system. One reason I don't play first-person shooters (FPSs) is because trying to aim my weapon with analog sticks and trigger buttons is such a pain. Any gun I wield—no matter how B or F it is—feels like a remote controlled machine I'm using from somewhere else. But when I point my Wiimote at cute little animals and shoot them, it actually feels like I'm firing a gun. As Dan notes in his review of Red Steel, Nintendo's controller changes the way console FPSs are played. That's a major feat in itself.

Elebits Screenshot

But a game of hide-and-seek is only as fun as where it's played. Had the developers just dropped us into a maze of sterile hallways Master Chief-style, Elebits would be as flat as three-day-old soda. Instead, the young protagonist hunts Elebits in a very familiar world: the one he lives in. He and his Capture Gun travel from his bedrooom to the hall closets, from lamplit streets to the local amusement park. All around him are objects he sees all the time—toilets, toy trains, vending machines—but he has to look at them with new eyes. Can he shake Elebits out of that toy bin? Force some out of the faucet by turning it on? Pull on the fancy chandelier and yank some from the ceiling? Our hero's corner of suburbia has all the secrets of one of David Lynch's small towns, but none of the creepiness. It's the perfect playground.

Still, there are rules. In some levels, I wasn't allowed to break more than a small amount of items; in others, I couldn't make too much noise. (The player's decibel level is shown on screen, with a bar that rises and falls). The Elebits can break things and make noise, too: before letting them stream like machine-gun pellets from their hiding places, I had to move vases and other breakables out of the way.

Also, players have only so much time to collect enough watts in a level before the clock runs out. This stipulation may sound daunting, but if we know a little about Elebit behavior we can harvest more energy with less effort. Elebits give different amounts of watts at different times, depending on their mood. They give the least when they are frightened, but when they're sleeping or singing, they give the most. Good strategy involves manipulating the Elebits' moods to get the most watts out of them: sneaking up on those that are sleeping, and shocking panic out of others with a ball of electricty, like a pulsing anti-hysteria slap to the face.

Elebits Screenshot

Having so many factors to consider (including spiky Elebits that hurt whomever tries to capture them and the occasional shooting cannon) makes for a surprisingly deep adventure. After completing missions, I'm graded on my performance. That makes it fun to go back and try to beat my old scores. (It also makes me wish that Nintendo had ganked Microsoft's GamerScore concept. The variety of stuff to do and unlock in Elebits would fit very well into a system like that). I can also design my own levels in Edit mode, and send them to friends through Nintendo's wifi network.

Is Elebits the best game ever made? Of course not. The story—a little boy named Kai feels that his Elebit-scientist parents love their research subjects more than him—feels tacked on and uninspired. At least it has the good sense to stay out of the way. The game's hit-detection is a bigger problem. It's accurate for the most part, but if I shoot around corners or between buildings, I don't hit Elebits I think I should be able to. There's also a hint of lag in the largest levels, possibly an artifact of the Wii's GameCube-and-a-half style graphics ability.

Even with these minor hiccups, I liked Elebits a lot. The game is a showcase of everything Nintendo hopes for its new console: the novel simplicity of the Wiimote, deceptively simple gameplay that's easy for non-gamers to learn yet a challenge for gaming veterans to master. While I can't say that shooting cute little animals will revolutionize gaming as we know it, Nintendo has definitely made the first-person shooter to someone as clumsy as me. Here's hoping that Elebits is a sign of things to come.Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Tera Kirk

Tera Kirk

Tera Kirk grew up in a small Nebraska town called Papillion. Although she has a nonverbal learning disability that affects her visual-spatial skills (among other things), she's always loved video games. Her first game system was a Commodore Vic-20, which her mom bought at a garage sale for $20. With this little computer Tera learned to write Mad Libs in BASIC, to play chess and to steal gold from Fort Knox.

But then a friend introduced her to the seedy underworld of the Mario brothers and she spent her saved-up birthday and Christmas money to buy a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Her mom didn't like the Nintendo at first, but The Legend of Zelda changed her mind. (When Tera got Zelda II: The Adventure of Link one Christmas, she suspected it was as much for her mother as for her).

Though she graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2002 and recently learned how to find the movie theater restroom by herself, Tera still loves video games. Far from being a brain-rotting waste of time, they've helped her practice spatial skills and discover new passions. Her love of games like Kid Icarus and The Battle of Olympus led to a degree in Classical Languages and Literatures. She thinks games have a place in discussions on disability and other cultural issues, and is excited to work with the like-minded staff at GameCritics.com.
Tera Kirk

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Jason Karney

Your review makes Elebits sound fun; like the game is a lighthearted romp that’s a good diversion. I’d give it a chance, if I had a Wii!

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fishgills

Even though I agree with the majority of this review, for whatever reason, Elebits never hooked me. I played it and liked it – I thought the concept was fun and unique and the controls were intuitive – but clearing the rooms felt more like a chore than a game of hide-and-seek. The premise just wasn’t full enough to capture my attention. Even though I love the Ghostbusters-realized gameplay in theory, the actual practice just didn’t thrill me enough to continue – I put the game down after beating the first “boss” and I’m not sure when I’ll pick it… Read more »

Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria Art

“That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic.”
—Roger Ebert


Film critic Roger Ebert says that videogames aren't artistic in the same way that movies or books are, and he's right. All three structure their stories in different ways: the plot of a novel—William Thackeray's Vanity Fair, for instance—won't fit neatly into a three-act film without some cuts, rearrangements, and reimaginings. But I don't agree that one kind of storytelling is inferior to the others. Making a videogame audience “empathetic” requires more technical skill (and money) than doing the same for a film audience, but it can be done. For proof, one need look no further than tri-Ace's Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria.

Like the developer's previous Radiata Stories, Valkyrie Profile 2 is an extremely pretty action role-playing game (RPG). Its story and universe are inspired by Norse mythology. Silmeria is a valkyrie, a female diety who serves the chief god Odin by gathering soldiers for his army which will do battle at the end of the world. Now she's rebelling against her master so as punishment, he's put her in the body of a princess called Alicia. But the valkyrie's soul didn't stay dormant like it was supposed to and now she and Alicia share one body. Silmeria is still angry, and wants to turn Odin's own einherjar against him. The very soldiers he sent her to collect will bring him down.

Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria Screenshot

Combat in the game may take a little while to get used to, but it's still fun. Alicia fights alongside up to three other characters, each one mapped to a face button on the PlayStation 2 controller. The player moves everyone with the left analog stick and makes each person attack with the Square, Circle, Triangle and X buttons, respectively. I spent a lot of time pushing all the buttons at once, but I could also dash out of an enemy's line of fire, split my party up to keep people safe from enemies' special moves or to attack from different angles (essential strategy: the party gets items by breaking off parts of their foes' bodies). Hammering at monsters also fills the Special Attack gauge. If a party member is using a weapon that allows for special attacks, he or she can unleash massive damage when the gauge is full. When I first encountered this game mechanic in Radiata Stories, it was boring: filling my attack gauge took forever and only one character could use it—usually one the computer controlled, stealing my thunder without permission. Here, the gauge fills up in no time at all and several characters unleash their special moves at once.

I had a little trouble with the camera during the battles. It didn't let me see everything I wanted to, and monsters frequently snuck up on me. And while leveling up isn't as important in this game as it is in many other RPGs, fighting can get repetitive. But the battle system has plenty of variables to consider, so it doesn't feel empty at all.

As much as I liked Valkyrie Profile 2's mix of strategy and frenetic action, I loved the game's treatment of its characters—thanks in large part to what Ebert would call its “artistic importance as a visual experience.” Valkyrie Profile 2, as I said, is very pretty. A lot of work went into crafting the shine in people's hair, the flow of their clothes as they move, the complexity of their facial expressions. Watching Alicia and her friends is the closest I've ever come to watching a movie within a videogame without veering into Masahiro Mori's uncanny valley. (Well, almost. Though the characters' faces convey their emotions more fluidly than I thought possible, especially on a PlayStation 2, their lips sync poorly with their dialogue). Alicia can look at a guy with such a mixture of shyness, joy, concern for his safety and relief that he's with her that I don't know if she's in love with him or not.

Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria Screenshot

Our CGI heroine's ability to portray emotions even makes it clear who she is at any given time. There's a softness in Alicia's eyes that drops out as soon as the valkyrie Silmeria takes over. Growing up with such a powerful alter-ego has certainly had an effect on Princess Alicia, and through the game's subtle characterization, we see just how profound that effect is. The princess's father locked her in a tower out of shame, telling everybody she'd died. And even though Alicia has escaped, it seems like she's still hidden away somewhere. Silmeria handles all problems and confrontations; she talks to people when Alicia is feeling shy and makes major decisions. Other people even ask for the valkyrie when she's not in control of the body. In essence, Alicia is almost determined not to exist—an unusual quality for an RPG hero whose brethren often want to be the best and most famous fighter in the land.

The frenzied battles in Valkyrie Profile 2 belie the flowerlike way its characters unfold, one petal at a time. The story it tells may not look like the stories a film critic like Roger Ebert is used to, but it's still a story—and a good one—nonetheless.Rating: 8 out of 10

Tera Kirk

Tera Kirk

Tera Kirk grew up in a small Nebraska town called Papillion. Although she has a nonverbal learning disability that affects her visual-spatial skills (among other things), she's always loved video games. Her first game system was a Commodore Vic-20, which her mom bought at a garage sale for $20. With this little computer Tera learned to write Mad Libs in BASIC, to play chess and to steal gold from Fort Knox.

But then a friend introduced her to the seedy underworld of the Mario brothers and she spent her saved-up birthday and Christmas money to buy a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Her mom didn't like the Nintendo at first, but The Legend of Zelda changed her mind. (When Tera got Zelda II: The Adventure of Link one Christmas, she suspected it was as much for her mother as for her).

Though she graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2002 and recently learned how to find the movie theater restroom by herself, Tera still loves video games. Far from being a brain-rotting waste of time, they've helped her practice spatial skills and discover new passions. Her love of games like Kid Icarus and The Battle of Olympus led to a degree in Classical Languages and Literatures. She thinks games have a place in discussions on disability and other cultural issues, and is excited to work with the like-minded staff at GameCritics.com.
Tera Kirk

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In the world of gaming technology, the peripheral is the child star-turned alcoholic. The industry has always been flooded with devices that let players shoot virtual ducks with a "real" gun or compete against a robot or…whatever it was the Power Glove was supposed to do. Many of these gadgets aren't bad ideas in and of themselves. It's just that—like a kid who wants to be an astronaut one week and a cowboy the next—game developers often lose interest in these add-ons and leave them to languish on the Island of Misfit Accessories. But today, the peripheral's prospects are looking up. Sony's EyeToy camera is enjoying success with games like Antigrav, and now Nintendo's brought us the DK Bongos controller. Does playing bongos change gaming for the better? In the case of Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat, I think so.

Structurally, Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat is a throwback to the 2D platform games of fifteen or twenty years ago. Players control the big ape as he runs, jumps, fights monsters and collects items. Even its plot has a straight-from-the-80's simplicity: In order to become king of the jungle, Donkey Kong must travel to different fruit-themed kingdoms and defeat their rulers.

But instead of using a regular GameCube controller, players bang bongos to get Donkey Kong where he needs to go. Resting on a writing desk or in my lap, the bongo controller responded pretty well to taps and claps. Tapping the left and right bongos quickly with two fingers made Donkey Kong run in those directions, while hitting them both at once made him jump. The bongos are even fitted with a microphone, so that when the player claps his hands, Donkey Kong stuns enemies and reaches out to grab things. (Tapping the mikes on the sides of the drums works just as well—no, better. It's quieter and doesn't sting).

The bongos affect Jungle Beat's gameplay so deeply that they make an old, familiar genre new again. They forced me to "feel" the game in a way that a thumbstick and buttons never could. When Donkey Kong attacks an enemy, the camera zooms in like a bus about to crash. Then I hit the left and right bongos as fast as I can, and the great monkey punches: left-right, left-right. It genuinely feels like I'm beating the crap out of somebody. Maybe that's why the game earned the new E10+ rating from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.

Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat was not a game I could lose myself in for hours and hours: at least, not at first. The bongo controller takes some getting used to. Years of Control Pads and Dual-Shock Controllers have made my thumbs tireless—forces to be reckoned with, even. But now I'm using my fingers, palms, arms and shoulders, which aren't accustomed to working like this.

Even more draining than my physical tiredness was the feeling that Jungle Beat had about as much substance as a soap bubble. Kingdom after kingdom passed me by. I rode on parachutes that looked like cats, bounced into flowers and swung on vines. Winner's crests—the bronze, silver, gold and platinum medals Donkey Kong gets after beating a boss—piled up and I thought: "God, this game is short!" In fact, I breezed through Jungle Beat's kingdoms so quickly that I eventually ran out of currency to unlock new ones. I had to go back through the game to see how deep it really is.

When I first played through the Chili Pepper Kingdom's Cloudy Heights, I hated it. There's almost no solid ground to speak of, and Donkey Kong must swing from vines and jump between walls to avoid being electrocuted by storm clouds. But as I spent all that time in the air, my combo chain was climbing. Being tossed like a ball by a monkey in a bush gave me a score of +4. Floating in a bubble up a shaft got me a +8. After hopping into a flower, bananas were suddenly worth 14 times their value. "How long can I keep this going?" I wondered. I obsessively restarted the kingdom—again and again and again—until I'd found 900 bananas and a new favorite level. (Only 900? Sheesh. I need more practice).

Are Nintendo's DK Bongos an innovation, or just a gimmick? It's too early to tell. Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat is fun, but has only whetted my appetite for more bongo-compatible games. With time and resources, the bongo controllers can be used in better and cleverer ways as time goes on. The question is: Will Nintendo continue to support the new peripheral, or will they run out of ideas? I see too much potential in the DK Bongos to brand them a publicity stunt just yet. Hopefully Nintendo does, too. Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Tera Kirk

Tera Kirk

Tera Kirk grew up in a small Nebraska town called Papillion. Although she has a nonverbal learning disability that affects her visual-spatial skills (among other things), she's always loved video games. Her first game system was a Commodore Vic-20, which her mom bought at a garage sale for $20. With this little computer Tera learned to write Mad Libs in BASIC, to play chess and to steal gold from Fort Knox.

But then a friend introduced her to the seedy underworld of the Mario brothers and she spent her saved-up birthday and Christmas money to buy a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Her mom didn't like the Nintendo at first, but The Legend of Zelda changed her mind. (When Tera got Zelda II: The Adventure of Link one Christmas, she suspected it was as much for her mother as for her).

Though she graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2002 and recently learned how to find the movie theater restroom by herself, Tera still loves video games. Far from being a brain-rotting waste of time, they've helped her practice spatial skills and discover new passions. Her love of games like Kid Icarus and The Battle of Olympus led to a degree in Classical Languages and Literatures. She thinks games have a place in discussions on disability and other cultural issues, and is excited to work with the like-minded staff at GameCritics.com.
Tera Kirk

Latest posts by Tera Kirk (see all)

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