Overall Score 82%
Picture the scene. The Prime Minister is about to make a speech. Suddenly a huge alien spaceship appears and beams him on board! Who can save him? This is a job for... a dolphin?
Laser Dolphin has you guide the titular mammal through the oceans of Earth and those of alien planets, swimming through underwater caverns and blasting mines, gun turrets and heavily armed sealife with a laser cannon strapped onto your back. First you must find an alien spacecraft that crashed into the oceans years ago - then you can hunt down the kidnappers.
You control Laser Dolphin by a combination of mouse and keyboard. Guide him by moving towards a mouse-controlled crosshair, which you shoot towards with the left mouse button. Hold down the firing button to build up an R-Type like megalaser. You can also "strafe" - move without turning in that direction - with the keyboard. This allows some nimble movement during battle.
There are two main goals in Laser Dolphin. The first is to get to the end of the level, allowing Laser Dolphin to proceed to the next. The other, optional goal is to find the five gold dolphins hidden on each level. These are useful anyway - they can restore lost health. Your time, score and other factors are shown on the level select screen. You can replay any level and there is no overall score - just the urge to beat your best times/scores for each level.
If you tire of blasting enemies, there are two other game modes. Stunt mode is a fun frolic through a series of obstacle courses, performing jumps and tricks to score points. Your landing, tricks and whether you pass through any hoops all contribute. Then there's Race mode, in which your aim is to pass through all the hoops as quickly as possible. Both modes rate your score with bronze, silver or gold medals. Again, you can replay them as often as you like. You can also play custom levels created in the level editor.
Graphically Laser Dolphin is clear and well defined (though certain elements seem rather simply drawn, such as the gun turrets and mines). I thought the TNT Turtles rather sweet, at least until they swim into you and blow up in your face. Generally the problem is that everything is so big, you can't see what's approaching you until it hits you, but this is a minor niggle when everything holds together so well. Some thumping music tracks accompany your battles, and there's the usual batch of sound effects for everything from water splashes to laser blasts to explosions and more besides.
Laser Dolphin is very playable once you get to grips with the controls, and with practice you can perform some elegant jumps over surface rocks while firing volleys of laser bolts towards your enemies. My biggest gripe was the way enemies often seem to home in on you before you even see them - especially those rocket launching fish!
There is a fair amount of longevity to Laser Dolphin. Elements are introduced over time and with four worlds to explore - and a somewhat complicated level editor - there is plenty to keep you entertained. The difficulty curve may get a little steep for younger players (the ideal dolphin fans) but freedom to play and replay as often as you wish helps to offset that.
I was impressed with Laser Dolphin. An unusual concept meets smooth graphics and a range of game types. The unlockable cheat modes (selectable in the options, and cheated games don't count on your stats) are a nice touch. All I need now is to know how a dolphin can pick up a telephone with a flipper. Ah, the mysteries of the deep...
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