There's hardly a thirty-something alive that hasn't played Sega's Ecco the Dolphin.
First released on the Sega Genesis / Mega Drive in 1992, the memorable action game certainly scores points for originality - but looking back on it with eyes no longer blinded by the Sega / Nintendo rivalry, it's not a whole lot of fun to play.
For one thing, Ecco the Dolphin is frustratingly difficult. For another, the game quickly confines you to caverns that restrict your swimming, your frolicking, and your feeding - exactly the kinds of things you want to do when wearing a dolphin-skin suit.
Thankfully, I Am Dolphin by Max and Haley cuts to the heart of everything that's glorious about dolphin-ism - swimming, leaping, eating fish, and beating up sharks.
The Dolphin's Cry
I Am Dolphin is an odd title, to be sure. It could almost be described as an undersea fighting game. You slip into the role of a dolphin named bandit, a playful bottlenose, and then you start eating fish.
After you've learned the basics of the game's controls, you're allowed to access the main (fish)meat of the game - nose-to-nose brawls with other creatures of the briny deep.
There are dozens of fish species ready to put the hurt on your dolphin friend. You win a match by outmaneuvering your foes, and then charging at an opportune time to cause damage.
If you manage to attack a rival fish when they're on their last hit point, you'll devour them. That includes sharks. The creepiest part is, your dolphin avatar smiles through the whole meal.
If you win a brawl, you earn pearls. If you lose, pearls are subtracted from your total. As you accumulate the shiny rocksyou can unlock and play as other sea mammals, including Simon the Commerson's dolphin and Zoey the orca.
Since it's based around one concept - fighting - you might write off I Am Dolphin as a simple game. While it does indeed play a single note, there's a lot of depth here thanks to the game's control scheme.
You drag one finger to turn and twist in the water, while tapping the other side of the screen causes you to charge.
It takes some getting used to (and is admittedly easier to pull off with the extra room a tablet provides), but I Am Dolphin feels very good after you put in some practise.
Your fighters move like real dolphins; they twist, turn, spin, leap, and charge like living torpedoes. It's very pretty, as well as very intense.
A nicked fin here and there
Even though I Am Dolphin focuses all its efforts on delivering a cool underwater experience, it could do with a few small tweaks and adjustments.
When your dolphin leaps and breaks the surface, they need a second to recover after crashing down. It makes sense in a biological context, but it can be hugely distracting if you're in the heat of a battle.
You're supposed to gauge your depth by the darkness of the water, but that's not quite enough. A numeric indicator would be far more useful.
It also wouldn't hurt to have the action zoom out a bit during a chase. It's pretty easy to disappear off-screen when the action gets thick, which is disorienting.
Finally, I Am Dolphin is the kind of game that makes you want to yell, "Teach me!" It would be fun to gain access to fish and dolphin facts as you collect more pearls.I Am Dolphin is a little weird and a lot of fun. It's a good purchase for anyone who wants something different from their action / fighting games. Or, to put it another way, if you're not dolphin, you should remedy that.