I was pretty nonplussed when I first started playing Elebits. It’s sort of a weird mix of Katamari with a first-person shooter: on the one hand, you have a gun that you use to “capture” these elebit creatures that are hiding and running around, but on the other hand you can also use the gun to pick up various pieces of your environment and in general cause mayhem and wreak havoc.

The problem is, I don’t particularly like first-person shooters. And, at first, it really did feel like an FPS to me: maybe you’re capturing the elebits instead of killing them, but I sure can’t tell the difference. Playing around with the environment was sort of fun, but not all that great: it’s nice to be able to wander around a few rooms in a house grabbing items off of cupboards, and then, as you power up, throw the cupboard itself around, but I wasn’t really getting into it.

After a few levels, though, I realized that I was being unfair as labelling it as an FPS. After all, one key feature of an FPS is that the people you are shooting are shooting you back; that’s not the case in this game. Ironically, though, as I was realizing this, I came across a level where there were a few toy tanks that really were shooting at you; to make things worse, I couldn’t kill (sorry, “capture”) them! I may not always be thrilled with shooting people who are shooting back, but I like being shot at and not being able to shoot back even less. A few levels later, I figured out that, if you turned them on their side, they would stop shooting me, but it took me a while.

Admittedly, there weren’t enough guns for that to be a serious annoyance, and the guns didn’t show up on every level. Unfortunately, that annoyance was followed by levels with different annoyances: in some levels, you can only break so many objects, in others you can only make so much noise. Given that (the good aspect of) this game is about wreaking havoc on your environment, that was just frustrating: I’m all for judicious imposition of limitations in games, but those impositions shouldn’t be directly at odds with what makes the game fun!

At this point, my gentle readers may wonder why I continued playing the game. (And my less gentle readers are writing me off as a wuss, I suppose.) Around level 7 or 8, a few things happened to change my opinion of the game. The most important thing was that I managed to get out of the house, to the back yard. Inside the house, there was only so much scope to wreak havoc: you could work your way up to cabinets, but that was about it. Outside the house, though, you got to where you could toss around shrubbery with abandon fairly quickly, and start to see the possibility of throwing around cars and the like. And soon after that, you got to wander around the neighborhood; cars, light posts, you name it were fair game, and you started to look at houses in a new light.

The second thing is that I upped the sensitivity in the controls to the max. You use the wiimote to both aim and turn, but you only turn if the cursor is near the edge of the screen. (And you use the joystick on the nunchuck to move; it’s a Wii translation of mouse and keyboard FPS controls.) This worked okay, but it wasn’t as fluid as I would have liked. When you up the sensitity, however, the area where you aim but don’t turn got a lot smaller, and the controls started to feel very nice. I may be ambivalent about FPSes, but I appreciate good controls when I see them: I suspect that, as developers get used to the Wii, it will have the best FPS control scheme of any console.

After that, I was happy to play through the rest of the game. And, even setting aside the pleasant environmental mayhem, the game is based on a single, solid mechanism. You use your capture gun to manipulate the environment and to capture elebits; as you capture elebits, you turn on interactive aspects of your environments (usually meaning no more than buttons you can press to turn on machinery). When you activate that machinery, special elebits come out that let you power up your capture gun, allowing you to lift heavier things. And that, in turn, lets you find more elebits, leading to another cycle of turning on machines, etc. A nice, simple reinforcing cycle, and they did a good job of balancing the need to search through the environment carefully to find elebits without requiring you to be insanely thorough about that.

All in all, a pleasant game, with some good aspects, some interesting aspects. So I’m happy to have played it, but also happy that it didn’t last longer than it did. There were some dubious design choices, but ultimately nothing that was really bad; there was a touch of the Katamari genius, but not quite enough to grab me. (One aspect of the Katamari genius was completely lacking, though: the music sucked.) And it was a welcome sign that the Wii controls may end up working very well for some traditional game genres, not just for new ones.

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