My Dolphin Review
Posted by Spencer McIlvaine
Now you’re playing with power. Dolphin power.
My Dolphin is the dolphin training simulator for the Wii for which everyone's been clamouring for years. Using the Wii Remote, players guide their aquatic pal through a performance to carry out jumps, spins, back flips and other tricks in order to perform for your audience like…well, like a trained dolphin. So, is this simulation good enough to earn a fishy?
To begin, the story of My Dolphin has one of the most bizarrely stupid premises for a game that we’ve ever seen, so much so that it bears summarising here. You see, a young boy was one day staring into the sea, apparently contemplating suicide because he was so lonely. So King Triton sent him a dolphin. The boy loved the dolphin and they had fun together. Because he just always has to meddle with a good thing, King Triton gave the boy a ‘Magic Tool’ to let the boy rob the dolphin of free will. The Magic Tool is later revealed to be a Wii Remote and Nunchuk. This happened many decades ago, because the young boy is apparently now an old scientist named Dr. Hiroshi. Dr. Hiroshi has made it his mission to distribute Wii Remotes and Nunchuks to other sad little boys so that they too can know the joy of enslaving a dolphin. We can only assume these conversations go a little something like this: “Hey little boy. Are you sad? Lonely? Come over here. I’ll let you use my ‘Magic Tool.”
Once the story is out of the way, the game reveals itself to be more of a proof-of-concept testbed than anything the grand introduction would have lead us to believe. Although billed as a dolphin trainer, the game is actually more of a dolphin simulator. Players don’t train dolphins so much as directly control them with their magic tool…er, Wii Remote. The game requires a Nunchuk, and this is unfortunate because the attachment is largely wasted and used only for an extra couple of buttons to memorise; your watery pet cannot even be steered with the . As a result, the controls could have benefited from some streamlining down to just the Wii Remote, or else allowing players to steer with the considering that currently the only way to steer is to point the Wii Remote at the screen and then swing it to the left or the right.
In addition to clunky steering, the entire control scheme is marred by awkward motion controls. Even though these controls are essentially just a series of ‘tricks’ that can be performed by combining the correct combination of button presses and thrusts with the Wii Remote, it is often unclear if your awkward thrusts were registered and so you will frequently jab repeatedly in the same direction attempting to trigger the trick that you want to perform.
As if poor motion detection wasn’t problem enough, you must memorise which button or buttons must be pressed in conjunction with each motion. The button presses required are shown on screen, but you only have a short time to press them in the right order. It can take a lot of trial and error before getting the hang of it, and in combination with poor motion detection can be very frustrating. As a result, you may think that you are going to have your dolphin wave to the crowd for a trick, but you may end up doing nothing at all and have to start the whole process of performing a trick over again.
Your performance is limited in time, so failure to perform a trick successfully will bring down your score because you are wasting time with each failure. As a result, in order to do good enough to get a ranking on the leader board, you will likely have to pull off a flawless routine. This means you had better really enjoy games where you tell a dolphin what to do, because you’ll be practising the same routine over and over again until you get it right.
This repetitiveness is heightened by the fact that there are a relatively small number of tricks that you are allowed to perform. Compared to the hundreds of moves allowed by various controller motions in modern fighting games, the dozen or so tricks available here seem paltry, and although there is an option to arrange your own routines, you cannot create your own tricks. Thus, like the sandcastle building mode in Sandy Beach, what at first glance looks like a creative outlet, it is all really just an exercise in following directions and repeating someone else’s creative work over and over again ad nauseum.
In between shows and championship competitions, you can spend some playtime with your dolphin. This allows you to practise some moves outside of a full routine and improve your mammalian chum's skills at achieving them. As for actually playing with your pet, well, this is where things get interesting. The game only ships with petting your dolphin as a play option. Want to let your dolphin play with a ball? That’ll be 100 Nintendo Points, please. How about a ring to leap through? Another 100 Nintendo Points. As far as additional content goes, that’s not too expensive, although it’s essentially useless content and there's no reason it couldn't have been included in the game proper.
Where things get questionable is if you decide that you want more than one porpoise pal to call your own. You see, each additional dolphin must be purchased as DLC at 100 Points each. So if more than one person will be playing this game, prepare to purchase an extra creature for each of them to name after themselves. However, the game can be played from beginning to end with just one underwater chum, and the initial selling price is low enough to not begrudge the selling of additional content.
The graphics are fair, but frankly the game doesn’t show much except for a bland, blue outdoor aquarium. There is an audience implied from their cheering and booing, but we never see them. All we ever see is water, the surrounding land, a dolphin and more water on the horizon. As a result, passable graphics are easy since there is nothing here to challenge the system, so it's disappointing to see such lack of ambition.
The music options are basically seven public domain compositions that players may choose between. This is too limiting because the game seems to think that players will save their performances to show to other people at a later time. We can’t imagine a situation where anyone will ever ask to see our dolphin show, but if they did it might be nice to have been allowed to personalise the background music to our performances more so than just with the same seven songs included. The Wii can read music from an SD card, and it would have been a useful feature to perform dolphin backflips to the tune of “The Final Countdown” instead of “Waltz of the Flowers”. Without such a customisation feature, the sound choices are as rigid as the choice of tricks to perform.
My Dolphin, according to the Operations Manual, is a “therapeutic action game.” We fail to see what is so therapeutic about a game that is composed of nothing more than repetitive wrist movements and button memorization. Also, lacking in anything that could be described as “action”, My Dolphin would be better described as a game that forces you to do the same thing over and over again in hopes of achieving a different result. That’s not the definition of therapeutic, that’s actually the definition of insanity. If you are insane, or if you really, really love dolphins, then this game is for you.