Dolphin Paradise: Wild Friends (iPad)

Now you can have your very own dolphin to pet, feed, and train with Dolphin Paradise: Wild Friends for iOS devices (iPad version reviewed here). This free-to-play downloadable title is a virtual pet simulator featuring those popular intelligent sea mammals.

The game starts you out with a pretty thorough tutorial showing you all the things you can do with your dolphin friend. It’s too bad you can’t go back and review it if you forget anything, and it also doesn’t tell you how to do EVERYTHING. Start out with a bottlenose dolphin and name it. Use the touch screen to interact with your new finny friend in several ways. You can pet your dolphin, drag fish from a bucket to its mouth to feed it, and draw lines and symbols to teach it tricks. Take pictures of your dolphin and show it off via e-mail or Facebook.

By playing with and feeding your dolphin, you’ll raise its experience level and unlock new tricks to perform and other goodies. Dive underwater and tag jellyfish, or perform tricks in succession at the dolphin show. You can also take your pal to the vet, or earn money by donating photos, sounds, or documentary footage. Doing any of these activities can raise various stats and earn money.

Speaking of money, there are various types of currency in the game, like shells and pearls. Use shells to buy common things like food for your dolphin, toys to play with, or a selection of decorations for your lagoon. Pearls are more valuable and harder to earn, but can be used to buy better food, décor, even new dolphins and orcas to play with! To do certain activities, you must also have your dolphin’s energy, health, and happiness meters at certain levels, too.

The different currencies and requirements to do and buy certain things are part of the game’s biggest problems. It’s hard to know what raises and lowers your dolphin’s energy and happiness levels; at least it was for me. To do activities to raise money and improve your dolphin’s health, you either have to pay pearls or wait a certain amount of game time. Earning pearls to buy all the good stuff is very hard, and really the only way to get enough is to buy them with real money. While nickel and diming is the nature of the beast with free-to-play games, I really would’ve rather have paid a set price for a self-contained game. Luckily you don’t HAVE to buy items with real money to still have fun with the game, the free-to-play parts are actually pretty fun on their own if you like virtual pet simulators.

Kid Factor:

Despite the nickel and diming, kids can still have fun with the free-to-play sections if they have a little patience. The graphics and movements of the dolphins are very realistic and lifelike, although the surface and underwater effects are a little more cartoony, but still very colorful. The game can be slightly educational, too, since it features facts on what dolphins eat and can learn. Reading skill is needed for the instructions and menus, but since most options have pictures to go along with them, younger players can still enjoy it with a little help.

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