Dolphin

Atari 2600

Review by Clint Dyer

Activision

Action

Graphics: 9

Sound: 9

Gameplay: 8

Overall: 9


dolphin.gif (2711 bytes)This game, designed by first time designer, Matthew Hubbard is one of the most technologically astonishing games on the 2600. You play the part of a female dolphin (one of the first games that allowed you to control a dolphin), being chased by a squid, both swimming from left to right on the screen. If the squid touches you, you lose a life and start over at the beginning. You start the game with the squid well behind you and the object of the game is to avoid being touched by the squid. To achieve your goal, you must avoid obstacles that slow your progress.

Every so often, there is a line of seahorses that goes from the top of the water to the ocean floor. This line of seahorses has one of the seahorses missing. You must guide the dolphin through the hole in the seahorses to avoid being slowed down. To help you tell where the hole is going to be, the game gives you a sonar audio queue (audio queues, such as this, are another first in the video gaming world). If the pitch is low, then the opening will be on towards the bottom, the higher the pitch, the higher the opening. Learning the sound queues is a major part of success in this game, because running into a wall of seahorses slows you down quite a bit and brings the squid ever closer.

In addition to the seahorse line, waves, in the form of arrows, come from the right and left of the screen and move to other side of the screen (if coming from the right, they go all the way to the left of the screen, etc.). If the arrow points to the left, when touched, it slows the dolphin or squid down. If it points to the right, when touched, it speeds the dolphin or squid up. Learning to avoid the "bad" waves and hit the "good" ones is another key to success in the game. In addition to the good waves, thereís one more helper for the dolphin. Every so often, a bird will fly across the sky portion of the screen (you can tell when the bird is coming by another audio queue and the squid will change color briefly). If the dolphin jumps out of the ocean and touches the bird, she will earn points (varying as to how many times youíve touched it before), become invincible and the squid will run from her. Catch the squid and you earn 1,000 to 8,000 points (depending on the difficulty level of the squid) and start over again at the next difficulty level.

The squid itself is probably the most intriguing aspect of the game. It seems as though itís randomly controlled by the computer, but occasionally, you can "lead" it and make it hit a bad wave, or conversely, make it miss a good one. In addition, throughout the "levels", the squid will change colors, which determines his "level of difficulty". The more color changes, the smarter and harder to avoid he gets. Overall, though, the squid really seems to be acting like a real squid chasing itís prey. For a system with not very much power, Iíd say thatís an accomplishment and a half!

The game does have a rather steep learning curve, in that it takes a long time to get used to putting all the aspects of the game together and playing well. At first, making the dolphin fit through the tiny hole in the line of seahorses is difficult, but once you get the sonar sounds memorized, moving the dolphin through them isnít too difficult. Learning the little things, like when the seagull is coming and the squid trick (in the box below) takes time and patience. Once you get those skills down, although the game is never easy, it is one of the more addicting games Iíve played for the 2600. The patch requirement for this game is 80,000 points, which doesnít seem very much until you start playing. Iíd be willing to bet that they gave out very few of these patches, due to the difficulty of the game.

Graphically, this game is second to none. The colors are bright, especially the skyline that the VCS is famous for and the animation on the squid and the dolphin is superb. Each uses 3 or 4 cells of animation, which makes the movement through the water smoother and more lifelike. The dolphin could have been drawn better (itís a little flat), but other than that, graphically, this game is superb!

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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:22 PM