Monday, June 04, 2007

Eledees Post-Mortem

If you've played Wii Sports, you've mastered Zelda, you're done with Excite Truck, and you're looking for something new to show off the potential of the Wii, then Eledees is DEFINITELY for you.

Eledees (known as Elebits in the US) is a game I got to see demonstrated at last year's Tokyo Game Show. I watched the Konami booth girls using the Wii remote to fling around heavy furniture, construction machinery, and the occasional house, and then went home to tell all and sundry how I'd just seen "Katamari with guns".

And I wasn't far wrong. Eledees takes most of the gameplay elements that worked so well in Katamari Damacy and its sequels and puts them into the context of a light-gun game. Some unfortunate design decisions and a lack of last-minute polish mean that it's ultimately not as good as any of the Katamari games, but as a novel and tactile use of the Wii control system it's definitely worth your time and money.

Eledees, for those not aware, are the nun-punchingly cute critters that live inside our electrical devices and make them work. Arriving on Earth from some kind of space-lightning-meteor many moons ago, Eledees have lived in harmony with humans for lo these many years. Unfortunately, something terribly vague has now happened, causing Eledees to strike en mass and hide under your couches, wardrobes and fine china instead of generating power like the subordinate slave race that they are.

It's (apparently) up to one exceptionally whiny kid named Kai to whip the no-good Eledees back into line with the aid of a trusty Capture Gun pilfered from his science-loving parents. The Capture Gun works a lot like the gravity gun from Half-Life 2, in that you'll be using it to pick up, rotate, shake, and otherwise zap the bejeezus out of absolutely anything that isn't nailed down (and some things that are).

Each stage is set within a fairly familiar domestic environment, starting with Kai's bedroom and ultimately working into the backyard, the city streets, and eventually a fairly over-the-top amusement park. You're given a time limit and tasked with capturing the heck out of the sundry Eledees hiding in the vicinity. Some Eledees are right there in plain sight, sound asleep and snoring gently, and you can zap 'em right there and then with your capture gun to add them to your collection. The majority, though, are hiding under or inside nearby items, so you'll be using your gun to pick up objects, shake them down for spare change, and eventually flick them out of your way with fairly explosive force.

Eledees come basically in two flavours. Some Eledees give you raw wattage when captured. Wattage counts towards the point total that you need to clear the level, so it's pretty valuable. Also, when your wattage reaches certain levels, items in the vicinity will power up, starting with the area's overhead lighting, and then moving on to things like microwaves, televisions and lawnmowers. You can switch on these powered items to trigger a flood of extra Eledees, which you'll want to quickly round up to add to your pool.

The other sort of Eledees will give you gun power. Your gun starts out at a pretty pathetic power quota each stage, but as you suck up power Eledees it levels up, giving you the ability to pick up progressively heavier items. Where at first you'll be straining to lift pizza boxes, it won't be long before you're shifting pianos, flipping bulldozers, and ultimately mucking about with the orbit of the moon.

The controls are mapped to a combination of the Wiimote and the nunchuk. You'll use the Wiimote like a light gun, hitting either button A or B to unleash your lightning-like capture stream. Zapping Eledees will add them to your captured collection, while hitting a movable object will lock the beam to the object. You can continue holding down A or B once you've locked onto an object to use the Wiimote to move the object around.

The Nunchuk uses the directional stick to facilitate your movement - up and down are forward and back, and left and right strafe. You can turn by aiming the Wiimote at the edges of the screen, which (by the way) works vastly better here than it ever did in Red Steel, although you'll still have some flaky moments. The nunchuk "shoulder buttons" let you crouch low to go toe-to-toe with ground-based Eledees, or stretch up to see over barriers and into drawers.

The basic gameplay of Eledees is fantastically good. Shooting Eledees and throwing around giant objects are visceral and rewarding experiences, and you'll be wanting more of both long after you've finished the game's 30 levels. Unfortunatley, Eledees throws some complications into the mix which work against many of its strong points.

For starters, some missions will arbitrarily challenge you to complete missions "quietly" or "without breaking things". These really amount to the same sort of gameplay - it means don't throw things around. Instead of cutting loose like some sort of gravity-gun-equipped-bull in a china shop, you'll have to gently lift items and then set them back into place. Luckily there aren't too many missions like this, because not only does it take the fun out of the best parts of the game design, but it's also ill suited to the controls.

Picking things up and throwing them around is easy, but you can also (in theory) rotate things by twisting the Wiimote left or right. In practice, you can really only turn things about forty degrees each way, because that's about as far as your wrist will go before your bones snap. As you have to pick things up in order to rotate them, and then put them down to allow your wrist to return to its normal position, rotating things in practice doesn't really work. It's fine for situations where the game asks you to turn doorknobs and taps, but when you need to turn a bin upside down to shake Eledees out it's just a pain.

Also, when you lock onto an object, the object will always remain as far away from you as it was when you zapped it, meaning if you want to bring an object closer to you you'll either have to back up, put it down, and walk forward again, or engage in some haphazard item-juggling with the Wiimote. The game blithely ignores this limitation by regularly tasking you to put one item inside another, or on top of another, or otherwise do something made difficult by the imprecise controls. When you hit the late-game level made almost entirely of these annoying puzzles you'll probably have a "Hulk smash" moment and end up just ripping the scenery apart with your grossly overpowered capture gun. What makes it doubly annoying is that it would have been very easy to set the D-pad on the Wiimote to allow you to draw in and push out captured objects.

The game ships with both a multiplayer mode and a level editor, which both seem initially promising but don't really pan out. The multiplayer mode lets up to four players share the same screen while competing to capture Eledees, but only Player 1 will get to control the camera angle and movement so it's not really a particularly fair fight. After a brief taste you'll probably wish that the possibilities of a split screen mode had been more thoroughly explored.

The level editor lets you play with a reasonably large number of objects, save levels, and share them with friends via WiiConnect, but ultimately the interface is fairly poor, and in any case the levels already included in the game are deep enough that you're unlikely to feel the need for additional challenges.

And the levels are deep - there's a staggering amount of different objects to toss around, about a zillion Eledees to find and capture, and a good number of bonus goals and objectives to complete, from finishing the occasionally devilishly hard Challenge missions to finding the three Pink Eledees hiding in each level.

Between levels you're shown what the developers laughingly refer to as a "story", involving Kai's quest to hunt the Eledees. The European release (redubbed to use the word Eledees instead of the US Elebits) features voice acting so awful that it will make you long for the masterful artistic talent of mid-80s anime dubs. Kai's voice in particular grates like nails on a chalkboard. The best bet is to skip these hideous outings and dive right into the gameplay.

Overall, Eledees is not without its faults (of which there are many), but as far as shooting-gallery-gravity-gun-sandbox games go, it's the clear leader in a field of one. It's a fantastic use of the potential of the Wii control system, and it's the sort of game that will leave all your friends wanting to have a go. As Wii releases continue to be more or less average for the foreseeable future, there's no good excuse to buy anything else for the system until you own this.


Xantar said...

Your point about moving objects towards or away from yourself brings up an interesting point about the Wiimote. Supposedly the Wiimote detects movements in all three dimensions so that in theory, if you wanted to (say) shove a chicken into an oven, you could simply grab the chicken and push forward with the Wiimote. Unfortunately, that only seems to work in Elebits (I'm a Yank) if you are positioned just right to do the action.

A couple other games have had trouble with forward and backward motion, too. Red Steel had you using that dimension from time to time as well, but it never seemed to work right.

On the other hand, any Wario Ware game that used the Z-axis seemed to work perfectly. So maybe there's no trend to see here at all.

P.S. When Elebits came out here, I went looking for it and couldn't find a copy anywhere. At the third store I went to, the clerk commented, "We're out of stock. I really don't know why so many people are buying this game." It made me feel very snobbish and superior.

GregT said...

The rest of the Wiimote functionality felt so natural for Eledees that I kept trying to do fishing-rod motions to throw things but it never seemed to work.

There's a challenge mission where you're supposed to throw basketballs through hoops from behind a barricade; the "trick" is that you actually have to flick them into a corner, and then grab them at long range and dunk them through the equally long-range hoops. It's wrong when game design is based around working with the game's broken mechanics...

Anonymous said...

How many levels are there to Eledees

Anonymous said...

how many levels are there in Eledees

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