Find, catch, and mercilessly destroy cute creatures so you can power your toaster.
Elebits is a unique concept game that is intent to prove the Wii Remote is the “new wave" – if that wasn't a hard enough goal, Konami has self-imposed a comparison of the game to Katamari Damacy since it was first announced. This comparison is somewhat true since the two do have some odd similarities, but as soon as the two games differ, Konami's unwise design choices become evident. In the end, Elebits isn't as elegant or innovative as they, or we, may have wished it to be, leaving Katamari triumphant and Elebits just this side of mediocre.
I want to lay out in detail why Elebits and Katamari Damacy are similar, and if I seem indiscreet the reader must forgive me - Konami has gone out of its way to mention Katamari as a source inspiration for Elebits, and anyone who has played both will have trouble disconnecting the two. What is odd is that Elebits has the trappings of a shooter, much unlike its older brother, and this dissimilarity is Elebits' greatest strength. Aside from this immediate difference, the two games are extremely similar. In terms of subject matter, both games seem preoccupied with household objects and the basic aesthetics of every day life. Each game has a time limit that counts downward, and they both share inane plots (although the plot of Elebits is in no way interesting or amusing). Most important though is the gameplay structure: each game has the player performing a bizarre yet simple task while navigating benign territory, slowly unlocking access to new areas in a level by continually performing the same task. For Elebits, this is done via a "Capture Gun" that is utilized to catch the Elebits who are the source of all electricity. For some reason, they've abandoned their posts and are no longer providing energy to the world's appliances. Each level consists of a variety of objects tucked away in closets, on shelves, neatly stacked on tables, or behind glass doors - all of these objects must be shaken or turned around with the Capture Gun to expose the hidden blue, red, and other variously colored Elebits. Once found, they must be zapped by this same gun and turned into electricity. As more electricity is gained in each level, more appliances can be turned on, and in so doing you can reveal special yellow and pink Elebits that enhance the Capture Gun's ability to lift heavy objects. The typical level sees you finding as many of the red/blue variety of Elebits as you can until you can turn on the TV, the ceiling fan, the refrigerator, or the sprinklers, revealing the special Elebits that will allow your Capture Gun to lift boxes, pianos, and cars that block your way.
Now the most immediate difference between Katamari and Elebits is right here. While Katamari's therapeutic brain relaxing gameplay encourages the player to make the world cleaner and simpler, Elebits encourages you to make a mess. The Elebits themselves are not often lying around as are the objects in Katamari, rather they are hidden in books and dishes that are neatly packed on the shelves of the house, encouraging you to completely destroy the tight organization of the house to find them. This is not only counter intuitive to the basic premise of simple, free-form gameplay, but is actually a huge roadblock to completing each level. Because you leave a trail behind you at all times, and backtracking is encouraged and eventually required, you'll spend the last few minutes of each level pushing aside your junk so you can merely open a door or get a better view. Since the timer is counting down rather than up, each level will end if you have not captured enough Elebits within the prescribed time limit. Many levels of the game have to be played twice through in order to learn their ins and outs and better prepare your progress, and with some reaching fifteen minutes long, it's no picnic. All this adds up to is a frustrating experience that doesn't feel nearly as laid back as Katamari Damacy.
But even on its own merits, Elebits is lacking. The physics keep the basic gameplay fun, but unfortunately this fun is not what gets you through the level. Finding the Elebits is your goal, and this isn't as fun as throwing vacuum cleaners around the simplistic, lifeless worlds. After a few levels the gameplay itself gets wearing, and in anticipation of that moment the game introduces concepts such as limitations on noise and breaking things, enemies and health, and later, zero-gravity. These keep things fresh for awhile, (and make the game hard), but not long enough to draw more fun out of the concept. In presentation Elebits is a first person shooter, and frankly it is quite successful as a completely unorthodox take on the genre; the Wii Remote shines in the game, and I suppose that was Konami's primary goal. Some later outdoor levels seem to be channeling more orthodox first person shooter level design, but these unfortunately feature consistent slowdown that lets up only when facing a wall. This is sad, since these levels are great fun compared to the stop and go of raiding a closet. Even the game's interiors suffer from slowdown when there are a lot of objects in play, like during the zero-gravity levels (which are more fun than the real gravity ones). Finally, a very serious error was made with the game's hit detection: the game simplifies hit detection by reducing each object to a rounded off blob when trying to pick it up. These blobs are often bigger than the objects you are trying to manipulate, meaning that if you see an Elebit just to the right of a piano, you may not be able to capture it since your Capture Gun is trying to pick up the piano instead. This reduces the aiming in the game to a bit of a joke, which isn't funny when the entire game is about aiming a gun.
Konami seems to have spent extra care in providing a full package for their limited game; there is a multitude of modes, and high scores on each level unlock new objectives and features. Among these are Challenge Missions which differ from the first playthrough, and Score Attack mode. The multiplayer mode is limited, but has its moments: each player shares one screen, and movement is given to only one player at a time. From the menu you can decide if this rotates every game, or every few seconds, which is pretty fun but not in large doses. Also there is the ability to customize the levels by placing the Elebits and objects wherever you want, which could potentially see some great results, aided by the Internet and a considerable time investment. These levels, as well as in-game screenshots, can be traded via WiiConnect 24.
Elebits is a launch title that's a bit more ambitious than it should have been. The game is easy to pick up, but as the levels continue it becomes clear that the frustrations are not going to be eased, and the various modes are just repeating something you've already played. Many people will likely be able to dive into the game and glean some enjoyment from it, so to the curious, I recommend playing before buying. There probably won't ever be a Katamari killer, but there may be room on the Wii for a quirky shooter with more traditional gameplay. Elebits is not that game, but it gets really close.