A Quick Look at Dolphin Blue

Just like our previous article exploring the history of the Sega Driving Simulator, this began as a sub-section of the upcoming part 4 in our 'Expanding the Dreamcast Collection' series regarding the next in the line of arcade systems to share similar hardware to the Dreamcast; the Atomiswave system. People often ask me…wait - who am kidding…let me start again. In my imagination, people often ask me to name the 'exclusive killer app' for each of the systems in the Dreamcast family and I usually struggle, but with Atomiswave, an answer is easy to produce; not only is this the best Atomiswave game, but this could well very be the single best exclusive across the entire Dreamcast family of arcade hardware. Read on to find out more.

I’m a big fan of Metal Slug but like many of you out there, I found the series got a wee bit stale after the third game. Not to say that subsequent games were bad or anything, just that…well, I couldn’t shake the feeling of déjà vu, and have always preferred the purity of the original game without all the zombies, mummies, aliens and transformation nonsense. Dolphin Blue fills the void left in the wake of the Metal Slug series’ change in direction, and then some.
Even before merging with Sega, Sammy had a close relationship with Sega.
Atomiswave and the Guilty Gear series are heavily associated with both companies. 
The game was one of the last Sammy developed before the merger with Sega in 2004. Despite this, it feels incredibly Sega-like for lack of a better term; blue skies, upbeat catchy tunes, cute spunky characters with plenty of 'tude and even an appearance from Sega’s very own Ecco the Dolphin…Ok, well that last part I may have just pulled out of my arse, but many of the gameplay mechanics do revolve around a certain bad ass cetacean chum.

The story revolves around a boy, a girl and their dolphins shooting and killing lots of stuff to save the world...or something like that. I don’t have a clue to be honest and it’s not really important. Story in video games is for pussies anyway.

The levels consist of three types of stages each with their own drastically different mechanics:
The first of these is the standard 'run and gun' type. If you’ve ever played Metal Slug then you know what you’re dealing with here; run from left to right shooting everything in sight with the occasional bit of platforming and dodging of projectiles and other objects. 
Next up, 'swim and gun.' These stages play a lot like a regular horizontal spaceship shooter in slow motion; you fly *ahem*, I mean swim through the water, shooting anything that moves, until you reach the end or a boss. Using the special will send your dolphin pal somersaulting through the water towards enemies.
Last but most certainly not least, is 'dolphin and gun.' As I sit here typing, I struggle to think of another game that plays anything like these levels, they really are quite unique (perhaps Shinobi 3 or Turtles in Time?). I suppose it’s not a million miles away from a run and gun, only now you’re riding a dolphin across the sea’s surface at high-speed, while shooting everything in sight. These levels are where the game really shines and it goes a long way in making Dolphin Blue stand out from the crowd. If you don’t feel a little tingle inside after riding a dolphin into battle, taking out an army of soldiers, jumping into the air at the music's peak and hearing the dolphin let out a war cry before plunging back into the sea to continue battle then quite frankly, there’s something wrong with you. Go back to your PS4 and continue lapping up [insert stereotypical game made by EA or Ubisoft with annual sequels here].
Speaking of the music, the composer Akihiro Uchida (most famous for his work on the early King of Fighters games) successfully created a brilliant soundtrack with peaks and lulls that more than adequately fit the atmosphere and length of each level. The graphical style and attention to detail in the sprites and their animations is also very reminiscent of Metal Slug; sprites breathe, show emotions and have other little quirks that helps give them real character and make them seem alive. Although similar to the Metal Slug series in many ways, Dolphin Blue manages to distinguish itself from its source of inspiration. Everything has an almost steam punk manga style to it and is far more colourful than any Metal Slug game could ever hope to be; spiky haired protagonists, blue skies and steam punk style robots and huge 19th century-esque mechanical contraptions rule the day here and the game is better for it.
Make no mistake, the game’s later levels are tough as nails, but the difficulty curve is smooth and has been designed well enough to make a 1cc (one credit clear) seem attainable for people without the reflexes of a ninja. And that’s what makes a good arcade game into a great one; designing the difficulty to foster belief in the player that they could one day successfully accomplish a 1cc with enough practice, even if realistically they probably never will.

Seriously, where did they come up with this stuff? Why did we never get a port of this game? It’s absolutely one of my favourite arcade games of all time and I strongly recommend you check it out. Load up Demul now and give it a crack.
Atomiswave system with Chinese bootleg of Dolphin Blue.
Check back in a week or so to read more about the Atomiswave and its library in the upcoming part 4 of our Expanding the Dreamcast Collection series of articles. I'll... I'll come and get you if you don't!


Tom Charnock said...

Cool write up Ross. This is one game I'd loved to have seen on the DC!

Dr. Bilal said...

For whatever reason Sammy decided against it. We petitioned for it back in the day.
Physically mailed them thousands upon thousands of signatures.

Cube_b3 of DCS.