Jay Button: Elebits, and an era of untapped potential

November 10, 2011

When the Wii was about to be released, I could not have been a more jazzed little Nintendo fanboy. My bros and I were in high school and had loved Nintendo for all our lives, as many of us of course have. With well-produced videos and coy press releases, Nintendo slowly revealed info about the console and made wild and lofty promises about the mystery codenamed “Revolution”. It totally worked on me. For two nights and one day, I stayed in front of the Best Buy in my town in a tent. I was second in line and the employees leaving work Friday night told us we were crazy and to go home. They opened the store the next day to a line around the building.

After the disappointing (to Nintendo, not me) performance of the GameCube for a whole generation, no one knew what to expect from their new system. Even to this day, I don’t know what to think of it. If what some people are saying about the motion controls in Skyward Sword are true, the Wii could just NOW be delivering on some of those promises. Many fans were immediately disappointed by the Wii’s launch lineup with many of the titles being minigame collections and the biggest one just being a GameCube holdover with some motion control crammed in. But one early release made me believe the Wii really could be something cool and that motion controls might be up my alley. That game was Elebits.

In the tradition of film classics like Batteries Not Included and Little Monsters, Elebits follows the storytelling style of putting a little bit of fantasy into the real world. In the world of Elebits, the titular creatures power all electrical devices until a thunderstorm causes them to go into hiding. As the main character Kai, you go on a search for the hidden elebits to put them back to work. Each level is a segment of Kai’s home which eventually opens up to his backyard and the neighborhood. The tiny creatures will be found anywhere from inside a microwave, under a flipped-over teacup or on top of a ceiling fan. As you find more of them new areas will be lit and unlock.

You find them by moving objects around with Kai’s capture gun, which is essentially the gravity gun from Half-Life 2. So they took the best part of HL2, made it a whole game, and gave you motion controls. As you collect watts from the captured elebits the gun gets stronger. You’ll graduate from tossing chairs and TVs to fridges and couches. I don’t think I ever believed in the Wii’s motion controls as a concept more than when I was playing Elebits. Unfortunately, after a while, it gets ridiculously repetitive. But power through, because it’s worth it to complete the game.

A sequel could have fixed any problems people had with the first game and it’s a shame we never got one. With its storybook presentation, fantastical concept, use of motion controls and adorable characters, this franchise should market itself. Elebits should stand next to Pokemon and Pikmin on the roster of cute, super-Japanese game properties. I’d own the entire line of Elebits plushies. But the real thing that irks me is how overlooked this game has been. While fans clamor for sequels to 15-year-old JRPGs and games that have already had 15 spinoffs, the Elebits fanbase has stayed largely quiet. So quiet that I haven’t been able to find it. In the four or five years since this game’s release, I’ve never ever heard anyone but me mention it. There was a DS spinoff, but that doesn’t really count, as it was a complete departure from the original formula.

Track this game down and give it a chance. Elebits is great if you’re looking for something weird and very Japanese. It’s also a great spin on the FPS genre, if you’re tired of shooting guys for being from another country than you. And it’s five bucks used at GamePorium, but is rare to find in the wild. Order it from eBay or Amazon, and try to remember why we once thought the Wii was going to be cool.