Some of us are old enough to remember when all you could do with a virtual pet was feed it when it beeped, play "guess the number" and wait for it to eventually die. We've come a long way since then, arriving now at 101 Dolphin Pets, Teyon's follow-up to its more ferocious shark-based smorgasbord of 101 Shark Pets. The sequel doesn't provide a sea change of improvements, but the ones that it includes help make this a worthwhile experience for aquatically inclined youngsters.
Typically, a game of this genre will focus in part on simulating a realistic, loving pet/owner bond, à la Nintendogs, and likewise on Sims-esque resource management. This entry largely concentrates on the latter, as one of your main goals is to stay focused on a number of meters on the top screen and take care of your pet accordingly. The tasks are generally simple – feeding, taking your dolphin around a stream for exercise and, in a Metroid: Other M-reminiscent show of authoritarian control, allowing it to use the bathroom. The stress level never rises above a generally relaxed tempo, and unless you purposely neglect something, you won't find yourself in a bind. This gives the game an undemanding Zen-like feel instead of a Diner Dash-style vibe.
As in the game's predecessor, one of your main objectives is to teach your dolphin tricks – the same ones as before, in fact. Upon entering this mode you're given a set of simple stylus directions from which to choose, corresponding to specific Sea World-style feats. Feed your friend a fish if it does well and reprimand it when it doesn't, and eventually you can enter your pet into competitions and win cash. You'll use this to improve your dolphin's quality of life with dozens of products, from water that tastes better and increases its thirst meter more quickly to mini-game elements that slightly change the experience, as well as environmental decorations and hilarious costumes. Picking the best thing to buy is never a challenge, but the lack of complexity fits right in to this approachable, relaxed experience.
Dolphins just want to have fun, or so the legend goes, and here you'll find a small selection of mini-games that are newer and better than those in the title's sharky sibling. There are five in all – Catch the Ball, which tests your timing accuracy and hand-eye coordination; Memory, which is basically a variation on Simon; Painting Book, which challenges you to colour in a shape that it selects once you find it in a morass of overlapping doodles cluttering the touch screen; Hoop Jumping, another timing-based excursion that requires you to send your dolphin forth at the correct second to align it with its target; and Spheres, which implements that Diner Dash charm, tasking you with dragging a number of spheres to the correct spots while under the gun of quickly and concurrently draining timers for each. Every one of these is simple enough to easily pick up as well as challenging and more or less unique enough to hold your attention. All in all, they're fun, control well and, with three difficulty levels each, will keep you coming back for more no matter your skill set. The game keeps track of your high score and rewards you with cash for doing well.
No one should have trouble getting accustomed to 101 Dolphin Pets, with its easily navigable image-based menus, well-written, informative tutorial messages and alert system that reminds you to attend to your dolphin's needs. You'll also find out about competitions this way, and if you've been keeping up with your skill management you'll be eligible to enter. Likewise, your pet won't sit down for school if its well-being meters are low, giving the game's separate parts an interlocking, connected feel.
Shark Pets veterans will recognise the four locations in which your pet can swim, all of which are colourful and impressively detailed. The music is a big improvement here, providing pleasant, peaceful piano-based tunes in place of the former title's generic, unmemorable rock songs. A large selection of varyingly designed dolphins – 101, some say – unlock for adoption throughout the game, though plenty aren't significantly unique. Once again their animations are limited; the dolphins will swim around, leap happily when pleased and pleasurably writhe a bit when petted, but none of it will exactly knock you off your feet.
101 Dolphin Pets presents a relaxed, fun and extremely approachable casual pet simulator with simple, entertaining and progressively challenging mini-games that noticeably improve on its predecessor's oft-clunky, unimpressive selection. The younger audience to whom it's targeted will find a lot to like, and while in the end there's only so much you can do and none of its independent parts will exactly blow you away, what's included will keep junior marine biologists busy and entertained for a long time.