Toy Talk
- Brief Looks at Recent Thrift Store Acquisitions -

Volume LXIV

By Mark Patraw
Published on 11/11/15

Like Rodney Dangerfield, I get no respect. The other day, I was crouched down, merrily rooting through one of the thrift store's toy bins, in search of plastic treasure, when an elderly woman, rummaging through the dolls' clothes on a shelf above, dropped some of the miniature garments down onto me. She didn't make any attempt to pick them up or apologize either. Rather than simply not caring, I'm going to assume that she just didn't notice what she'd done. I really should have checked the weather report before I left the house--had I done so, I'm sure I would have been advised that it was supposed to be cloudy with a chance of pantaloons.

As always, if anyone reading this knows more information about any of these items, that I haven't already discussed below, and would like to share, or just chat about toys, feel free to e-mail me and let me know!

Toy line: Create 2 Destroy.
Manufacturer: Crayola (2013).
What I paid: Twenty-five cents on 10/14/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
Size: 6.2 cm (2.4") wide x 11.5 cm (4.5") long x 7.9 cm (3.1") tall.
Articulation: Back hinge and spring-loaded tail.
Notable features: Dinosaur figure with integrated clay molds, inside its back and on the bottoms of its feet, and a spring-loaded, catapult tail.

The Create 2 Destroy line of toys was designed around the simple premise that boys like to make stuff and then smash it to smithereens. How can you go wrong with that?

At first glance, I figured that this Ankylosaurus-esque dinosaur was from Mattel's Imaginext franchise, but closer inspection soon proved otherwise. "Destructodon" is actually made by Crayola, a company well-known for its various artistic products, not action figures. Even more curious, at least to me, was that the reptile's body also incorporated multiple clay molds, which I would typically associate with Hasbro's Play-Doh brand, not Crayola.

This Destructodon creature was originally included with the "Suburban Slam" Create 2 Destroy set and retailed for about seven dollars. I only have the dinosaur, but a complete sample would also have included a play mat (that, cleverly, also doubled at the toy's wrap-around packaging), a container of Crayola's special "Morphix" modeling compound (red-orange), and a couple of white plastic molds, used to make various objects for the reptile to obliterate (vehicles, buildings, and a tree).

So, what you would do is lay down your play mat, mold several structures out of the Morphix to build your town environment, and then set them up however you liked. Next, you'd make some boulders, using the mold located underneath Destructodon's armored back, load said ammunition into his tail, and then start laying waste to the clay neighborhood you just made. In addition to lobbing those projectiles, you could also stomp on the structures with the dinosaur, leaving a different imprint from each of the four molds on the bottom of its' feet (a skull & crossbones, "Zok!!!", a crack/fissure, and "Fwoosh!"). Sounds like fun to me!

The dinosaur itself looks mighty cool. Destructodon has a pretty detailed sculpt, with a nice scaly texture running all over the body. The real Ankylosaurus was a herbivore, but Destructodon's large fangs imply that it subsists on flesh. There's very little paintwork (just the eyes and its' nails), but the blue and purple color scheme is pleasing to the eye. What I really like about this figure is that, because the clay molds are hidden, it works great as a toy all by itself (which is what initially drew me to Destructodon, even before I realized its other functionality), whether you have any interest in messing around with clay or not. It would have been nice to get some leg articulation, but the appendages are glued into the body, so they're never moving. On that note, the only thing I don't like about Destructodon's appearance is that its four feet don't rest evenly on a flat surface (some of them "float").

As I said, I don't have any of the Morphix clay (and, even if my secondhand Destructodon had come with some, chances are that it would have been hard as a rock anyway), so, as usual, I mixed up a batch of homemade stuff (Play-Doh, or any other modeling compound you happen to have lying around, would work just as well). Reading several online reviews of Create 2 Destroy products, I learned that Morphix had a somewhat granular texture (probably just to differentiate it from Play-Doh, rather than serving any real structural purpose), so I tried to replicate that by adding some sand to my mix.

Following these directions should result in a ball of clay big enough to mold eleven boulders.

Here's my improvised recipe for "fake" Morphix
(A modification of bread clay):

  • Once slice of bread, with the crust removed and discarded (or, in my case, fed to the dog).

  • Two teaspoons of white glue.

  • One teaspoon of water.

  • Three teaspoons of sand. Please note that I got mine from a clearing in the woods nearby and didn't clean it, which is probably why my clay ended up so brown.

  • Food coloring as desired to make the hue(s) that you want. I used one drop of red and four drops of yellow, trying to make orange, but, obviously, thanks to my dirty sand, that isn't what I ended up with. Considering that I'm using it to make rocks anyway, the color I did get is great for that.

  • Put all of the other ingredients on top of the bread slice, fold the whole affair up into a ball, and then start kneading/mixing it together with your hands (it's a good idea to have something underneath your work area, like a piece of newspaper, to catch any crumbs/debris). Don't worry if it's a gooey mess that sticks all over your hands at first--that's normal. Massage it long enough and it should take on a clay-like consistency (if you're still experiencing poor results, try using less water/glue, or, alternatively, a larger slice of bread, next time). The finished substance should keep for a few days, in an airtight container/bag, and storing it in the refrigerator, when not in use, will also help prolong its life. The modeling compound will air dry if you want to make permanent structures (these should also be sealed, with paint, or something similar, if you want them to last long term). If it starts to dry out while you're working with it, sprinkle a few drops of water on the clay, knead it in, and it should become pliable again.

    *** Please note that this is an experimental recipe that I made on the fly solely for the purpose of this review. If you wish to try making some, or improving upon my directions, you do so at your own risk. Young children should be supervised while playing with it. This compound will likely stain surfaces/fabric and it should NOT be eaten by people or pets! Also, due to the abrasive nature of sand, it can cause minor scratching/pitting on some surfaces, including the plastic Destructodon molds (think of it as sandpaper in clay form). If you have access to some other type of safe, granular matter that you think would work better than sand, you might want to try substituting that instead.***

    I know that they're supposed to be boulders, but, molded in this color, they certainly look like balls of dino poo instead.
    Destructodon must have too much fiber in his diet.

    Nowadays, I'm much more interested in modeling figures out of clay rather than destroying them, but, as a child, I would have been all over this and doubtlessly spent many hours happily mashing little Morphix towns. While Destructodon isn't Godzilla, that's basically what the Suburban Slam set amounts to. Crayola's creation allows the user to fulfill the fantasy of rampaging through a helpless metropolis as a giant prehistoric reptile. This plastic creature is well-made and quite a bit of fun, and I'd be interested in acquiring another dino, or two, from this line, and the separate mold(s) for making the structures that they love to smash.

    Destructodon, recolored green, was also available in the larger "Metropolitan Mayhem" kit (which cost about $25, new), paired with a red T-rex, and a couple of little volcanoes that could "erupt" Morphix rocks.

    Toy line: Mini Mad Wheelz.
    Manufacturer: Mana-Tee Concepts, LLC (2003).
    What I paid: Brain Drain was twenty-five cents on 10/21/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store, and I got Early Bird Special in a twenty-five cents "boys" grab bag of toys over a year ago, on 5/10/14, from the same establishment.
    [Brain Drain] 2.5 cm (1.0") wide x 3.1 cm (1.2") long x 2.7 cm (1.1") high.
    [Early Bird Special] 2.3 cm (0.9") wide x 3.1 cm (1.2") long x 3.4 cm (1.3") high.
    Articulation: Spinning wheels.
    Notable features: None.

    As I've mentioned numerous times in the past, cars aren't my thing, unless you make them weird/monstrous like this, then you have my undivided attention. Mana-Tee Toy's Mini Mad Wheelz were essentially a grosser/zanier variation on Galoob's classic Micro Machines. In addition to these diminutive vehicles, you could also buy larger versions, which featured pull-back motorized action that the tinier ones lack.

    These miniatures were mostly sold on blister cards, in groups of 2-4 vehicles. The Mini Mad Wheelz collection can be divided up into six sub-groups: Fast Foods (pizza, hamburger, french fries, and Early Bird Special), Monster Motors (classic movie creatures including Frankenstein's Monster, The Mummy, Dracula, and Wolfman), Road Kill (a flattened cat, skunk, turtle, and squirrel), Road Warriors (a Western sheriff, pirate, medieval knight, and Native American brave), Body Parts (a running nose, chattering teeth, an eyeball, and, of course, my lovely Brain Drain), and, finally, Sports Nuts (a basketball, soccer ball, baseball, and hockey puck on wheels).

    Brain Drain's design is simple, but wonderful. The beady eyes, and nose/mouth like arrangement of nerve bundles between them (which remind me a lot of Futurama's Dr. Zoidberg's features), give the creature personality and a delightfully-unsettling creepy appearance. Brain Drain would make a great villain for a science fiction B-movie! The paintwork on the toy is a tad on the sloppy side, but, for something this cool, I just can't hold it against the manufacturer. I daresay Brain Drain is a top contender for the best vehicle out of the entire Mini Mad Wheelz toy line.

    Early Bird Special? More like "Better Late Than Never", considering that it's erupting as a fully-formed adult from its egg! Interestingly, the top portion of the toy is cast from pink plastic (which you can see poking through, here-and-there, in spots where the paint wasn't applied thickly enough)--given that the bird is predominately white, you would think that the manufacturer would have cast it in that color to save some money. While the overall effect of the sculpt is cartoon-ish, the feathers are surprisingly detailed.

    It still rolls fine, but both metal axles are a little bent on my sample of Early Bird Special, so the wheels are slightly angled. There's no way to tell if that was done by a previous owner or if the toy actually came out of the factory in that condition. I tried bending the axles back into a straight alignment, but didn't have any luck, and I was afraid to exert too much pressure, lest I break the toy.

    Oh yeah, if you buy the boxed value pack of Mini Mad Wheelz (nine vehicles plus sixteen accessories) you get an exclusive, vacuum-metallized gold variant of Early Bird Special, re-named, "Golden Egg", which was probably a reference to either the classic Goose That Laid Golden Eggs fairy tale or Willy Wonka's golden eggs in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It looks neat, in a trophy sort of way, but I prefer this fully-painted version (of course, I'd probably buy the metallic bird anyway if I did happen to run across one).

    Mini Mad Wheelz are mighty cool, and I'd like to acquire some more. It's hard to top motorized gray (pink) matter, but that crazy chicken is great too. The Road Kill, Body Parts, and Fast Food assortments appeal to me the most, but I wouldn't mind owning several of the others as well, even the sports-themed ones, which, like cars, is subject matter that I generally have little interest in.

    Toy line: Liv.
    Manufacturer: Spin Master (2011).
    What I paid: The styling head cost me twenty-five cents on 1/28/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store, and I purchased all five wigs, on 10/30/15, from the same establishment.
    Size: 19.2 cm (7.6") wide x 14.0 cm (5.5") deep x 27.0 cm (10.6") high.
    Articulation: Neck rotates.
    Notable features: Swappable wig(s).

    I still love my Liv dolls (excluding the McDonald's toys, I've got a dozen of them now), but, once you've written about something several times, it's difficult to come up with anything new to say, so, unless you get creative, one tends to just end up repeating themselves, which is why I've refrained from reviewing any more of the dolls. That said, at the beginning of the year, I found this large Sophie styling head, which, while similar to the smaller McDonald's ones, features the ability to swap full-size wigs, which I felt was special enough to discuss.

    The head itself looks pretty good. The proportions/features, while not strictly anatomically-correct (in comparison to a real woman), replicate the look of the smaller dolls well. Likewise, the styling head retains the beautiful, lifelike inset eyes of her full-bodied sisters, which always look worlds better than painted peepers do. Speaking of which, Spin Master was a bit stingy with the paint, as the little bits of Sophie's hair, poking out from beneath the textured towel wrapped around her noggin, were simply left the flesh tone of her plastic skin--they really should have gotten some color. The underside of the model is also hollow, which looks cheap, but that design decision does make the styling head weigh less, and it's not something that you're going to see when it's in an upright position anyway.

    A complete sample of this toy should obviously include a wig (blonde, with pink streaks), and the box should also contain a hair brush and an assortment of jewelry (earrings, barrettes, and a choker necklace) to spruce Sophie up with. I believe that you could also buy separate Liv wigs for this styling head, in various hues.

    When I first bought her, I didn't have any human-sized wigs on hand (just doll-sized), and I wasn't willing to write about the toy without being able to take advantage of that play feature, so, I patiently waited nine months, until the end of October, when I knew, from prior experience, that the thrift store would significantly discount their selection of Halloween wigs (only ten cents a piece!) So, let's take a look at the quintet that I bought:

    The short, black curly one is okay, but nothing too exciting. I think I'd like it better if it was longer or styled more elaborately. I don't know the manufacturer, but the tag indicates that it was made in 2010-2011.

    The red pigtails wig is very cool, and probably my second favorite out of the lot. This one reminds me strongly of Pippi Longstockings and the Wendy's fast food franchise mascot girl. I took it off for this photo, but there was originally a light blue ribbon tied onto the left pigtail--I really liked how that looked, so, when I'm feeling more ambitious (ha!), I should hunt around for some matching ribbon so that I can do them both up that way.

    I'm no expert on the subject, but I suspect that the short, slightly-feathered, dirty-blonde/light-brown hair piece is an "actual" wig, rather than a Halloween prop. Its' construction is much nicer than the others (it even has internal velcro straps so that you can adjust it to different-sized heads) and the coloration/cut also look the most realistic to my eyes. The tag lists its size as "Average 18", which I would guess is the circumference? My blonde locks have definitely darkened since I was a child, so, if I ever needed a hair piece, I think I could probably pull this one off, even though I haven't let my hair grow that long in at least a decade.

    Unfortunately, the 2010 Rubie's Costume Company Star Wars dark brunette Princess Leia wig is pretty bad. The seam running down its length is horribly off-center and many of the hairs on the right side of the wig are pulled outwards from the circular bun, ruining the overall look. It's also child-sized, but, even so, it still seems too small even by those standards (it doesn't even cover Sophie's head completely in the back). Why did I buy this again? Even ten cents was too much for a wig in this condition.

    And, finally, this curly red mane is my favorite (um, what was I saying about not having a preference for crimson hair in last volume's introduction?) My first impression was that this piece, produced by Magic Paper Group, was a Disney Brave Merida wig, but it's dated 1996, long before said animated film was released, so, short of time travel, that's just not possible. I had hoped to find several wigs with tresses of this length, but, alas, that didn't happen.

    In particular, I was looking to acquire full-length wigs in blonde (simply because that's Sophie's usual color), flourescent lime green (so I could make her look like Jem's Pizzazz), and ebony with pink streaks (Monster High's Draculaura). In addition to the five that I did buy, I left a couple of others in the bins: a short, curly white one and a rainbow-hued clown wig. Had the ivory tresses on the former been long and straight, I probably would have purchased that, but I had absolutely no interest in making Sophie look like she escaped from a circus with the latter. Interestingly, they had multiple copies of the Princess Leia and dirty blonde ones too. Maybe I'm just remembering wrong, but I believe that the thrift store had a better, and more varied, selection of Halloween wigs last year, but, beggars can't be choosers, and I did end up with a decent assortment. Perhaps I'll invest in some more next Halloween . . .

    I daresay that the Sophie population at my place is beginning to get a wee bit out of hand . . .
    Longtime readers may recall that, once I had acquired all five Liv girls, I commented that, because the dolls are all more-or-less the same, I didn't really need to buy anymore. Obviously, my self control is lacking in that regard.

    I don't care myself, as I only wanted it for display, not play (I don't even like fixing my own hair, let alone a doll's), but I noticed that, online, several buyers/parents complained that the original Liv wig doesn't stay on Sophie's head very well, which is obviously a big a problem if you want to style it (i.e., when you go to brush it, the thing just slides right off). Ideally, Spin Master should have used velcro, or something along those lines, to secure it. My first thought was that they could have used a peg/hole arrangement, like on the dolls, but then you wouldn't be able to share the wigs with people (at least not comfortably), which was one of the main selling points of this item.

    Even though I don't care for fixing hair, I do enjoy having styling heads; the only downside is that they take up a lot of room, so storage space will quickly become an issue if you acquire a lot of them (of course, you can always mitigate that by collecting the miniature variety). Like the Liv dolls, arguably the best thing about this toy is the ability to easily swap wigs whenever you want a different look (I don't know about you, but I'd rather simply pop on a wig that's already styled, rather than doing in the hard way with hair that's permanently rooted into the styling head). If nothing else, Sophie's head makes a cute, and relatively inexpensive, stand for real wigs if you happen to wear said hair pieces yourself.

    Toy line: Care Bears: Cuddle Pairs.
    Manufacturer: Play Along for TCFC (2003).
    What I paid: Twenty-five cents on 11/4/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
    Size (arms open and excluding hair tufts): 21.0 cm (8.3") wide x 9.0 cm (3.5") deep x 18.5 cm (7.3") high.
    Articulation: None, although their soft nature allows you to bend them enough to join their hands.
    Notable features: Two-figures-in-one with velcro "hug" hands.

    Like Strawberry Shortcake, the Care Bears are another popular American Greetings franchise (licensed here under their TCFC, "Those Characters From Cleveland", research and development division) that branched out from the greeting card industry into toys, cartoons/films, and other media. Illustrated by Elena Kucharik, the colorful bears first appeared on cards in 1981. After the bears themselves proved highly successful, the line was further broadened, and diversified, with the addition of the "Care Bear Cousins", an assortment of other critters (lion, penguin, rabbit, etc.), in 1984.

    I used to watch, and enjoy, the Care Bear cartoons when I was a kid. However, given my love for monsters, instead of the protagonists, my favorite character was one of their adversaries, the incompetent Beastly.

    With the Care Bears: Cuddle Pairs ("bears" and "pairs" rhymes if you didn't already pick up on that) assortment of plush toys, you get two of the characters permanently sewn together--in this case, Good Luck Bear and Playful Heart Monkey. Circular velcro pads, on their free hands, allow you to bind the two even closer in an adorable hug. As such, they'd probably make a great Valentine's Day gift!

    The duo are both constructed/sewn superbly from quality materials. Even after careful inspection, I couldn't find a single bad stitch or flaw anywhere on either of them. In the past, I've often commented on how most stuffed animals are flat-shaped in profile, but not these two! They're pleasantly rotund with nice volume from all angles. I also like the little tufts of wispy hair on the tops of their heads.

    Good Luck Bear, as you'd expect, enjoys extraordinary good fortune and can produce four leaf clovers at will. He's always upbeat and strives to fill others with confidence, encouraging them to "make" their own good luck through positive thinking and action. He was one of the ten original Care Bears created by American Greetings. In stereotypical fashion, sometimes Good Luck Bear's voice actor/actress speaks for him with an Irish accent.

    Playful Heart Monkey is a fun-loving prankster. While he never means any harm, occasionally his tricks and jokes have unintended consequences that get himself, and others, into trouble. For example, one time he pretended to be a swamp monster, in order to scare the others, but when a real bog beast showed up, his shenanigans weren't so funny anymore. Interestingly, the character was originally brown (which is the hue I prefer), but, over the years, the company has changed him to first orange and now yellow. Maybe the primate spends too much time in the sun and his fur has bleached over time?

    Similar to My Little Pony cutie marks, all Care Bears have unique "tummy symbols" or "belly badges". Given his coloration and Good Luck moniker, it's no surprise that the green bear sports a four leaf clover. And Playful Heart Monkey's torso is adorned with a heart-shaped balloon topped with a party hat (the older design also had confetti, in addition to the hat, but that's a fairly minor change). Another cute touch that I like is that both animals have a plastic red heart button on their posteriors, denoting their sub-group affiliation.

    Surprisingly, other than a couple of fast food toys, this is the only Care Bears item I currently own. I really like the novelty of pairing two plush characters together like this (indeed, that's the primary reason I bought the item--despite their quality, I'm not sure I would have purchased either of them as separate toys). I'm very pleased with this lime and lemon set and I would likely pick up some of the other plush bear/cousin combos if the opportunity presented itself.

    Toy line: Sega Game Gear.
    Manufacturer: Sega (1991-1993).
    What I paid: One dollar (each) on 10/17/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
    Size: 6.7 cm (2.6") wide x 1.1 cm (0.4") thick x 6.8 cm (2.7") high.
    Articulation: None.
    Notable features: Portable handheld video game cartridges.

    Sega's Game Gear was the company's first handheld video game system. Designed to compete directly with Nintendo's original gray-scale Gameboy, the Game Gear sported full-color graphics and a back-lit screen so that you could play it in the dark. It was essentially a portable version of Sega's 8-bit Master System television console (if you have the Master Gear Convertor, like me, you can even play Master System cartridges on your Game Gear, substantially increasing the library of available games). It was also possible to watch television on the thing if you had the expensive TV Tuner add-on (which, alas, I don't). Unfortunately, unlike the Gameboy, the Game Gear required a lot of power, so it chewed through AA batteries (6 of them at a time) like mad, so, smart owners invested in the AC adaptor.

    As I hadn't seen any in many years, I was excited to run across a quartet of Sega Game Gear cartridges at the thrift store (and they all had their transparent plastic cases to boot). In addition to the two that I did buy (Columns and Ecco the Dolphin), they also had Winter Olympics - Lillehammer '94 and, bizarrely enough, Japanese Puzzle Bobble (the Game Gear port of said title was never released in North America). I'm not a big sports fan, so, I wasn't interested in the Olympics one, and, while it would have been kind of neat to add a Japanese Game Gear cartridge to my collection, I'm not terribly fond of Puzzle Bobble either, so, I left both of those behind. Interestingly, over a decade ago, back when we still had a local K-mart, they actually did sell used Japanese and European video games, which I strongly suspect is how that copy of Puzzle Bobble found its way from Japan all the way to Michigan.

    Sadly, when I got home with my purchases, and dug my Sega Game Gear out of storage, which I hadn't played in years, to test the cartridges, I made the unpleasant discovery that my machine was almost completely shot. The screen is messed up (all you can see is solid red at mid-to-high brightness levels) and the speakers aren't working properly either. By turning the screen brightness dial all the way down to the lowest setting, and tilting my Game Gear at a very sharp angle, pointed towards the floor, I was finally able to get a view that was (somewhat) clear enough to play the games, but, that obviously wasn't a very comfortable position, and I developed a headache and a stiff neck after subjecting myself to about half an hour of that. Thus, I called it quits and packed everything back up and haven't messed with my Game Gear since, except to shoot the photos for this review.

    According to some acquaintances of mine, from an online gaming forum that I belong to, Sega used cheap capacitors when they manufactured their Sega Game Gears, which have a tendency to fail over time, and that's probably the reason that the screen on mine isn't working properly anymore. I'm told that, with new components, and a bit of soldering on my part, it's a relatively easy thing to fix, but, I'm not going to try said repairs anytime soon, if ever. In all likelihood, I'd probably just end up messing up my Game Gear even worse than it already is (i.e., it won't work at all). Instead, I figure that, if I feel the need to play my Game Gear library, I can just employ an emulator (which is what I used to capture the following screenshots). Up until I bought these two games, it's not like I was using the handheld unit anyway.

    Columns is a puzzle game where you must match colored gems (in horizontal, vertical, or diagonal lines) in order to score points and make the jewels disappear. If you allow the rainbow-hued crystals to reach the top of the screen, it's Game Over! Alternatively, in "Flash" mode, your goal is to simply work your way down through the pile and eliminate the special, blinking jewel, at the bottom of the screen, as quickly as possible. If you have a friend with a Game Gear, another copy of Columns, and a link cable (which is pretty unlikely at this late date), you can also play 2-player versus games. The graphics are relatively basic, but clean, and the three classic Columns chip tunes (Atropos, Clotho, and Lachesis, named after the Greek trio) provide the perfect ambiance while you play. I also like that you can change the shapes/style of the jewels on the option screen to add some visual variety. Columns was the original pack-in game for the Game Gear too (much like Tetris was for the Gameboy), but, as I got mine later (and secondhand to boot), Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is what came with my system.

    Let's see, I've also got the Sega Genesis version of Columns on the Genesis 6-Pak compilation cartridge; Columns, Columns II, Stack Columns, and Columns '97 on the Sega Saturn Columns Arcade Collection disc (which I imported from Japan many years ago, as it was never released in North America--I remember that the guy I bought it from charged me an absurd amount of money to ship/insure the thing too, something like $15-20); and the Genesis version of Columns, again, on the Playstation 2 Sega Genesis Collection compilation disc. So, even with my Game Gear on the fritz, I still have a variety of ways to get my Columns fix.

    Ecco the Dolphin is an undersea adventure game. You guide the titular aquatic mammal through a variety of stages, solving puzzles and fighting hostile sea creatures (the player can also devour smaller fish to regain their health when injured). Because Ecco is an air-breathing dolphin, you must also keep an eye on your oxygen meter, in addition to your health bar, to make sure that he doesn't drown (breaking the surface of the water automatically replenishes it). The slippery hero can dash through the water (which, in addition to traveling faster, is necessary to achieve the velocity you need to leap up and out of the liquid and over obstructions), ram food, foes, and objects with his snout, and emit a sonar wave to manipulate various items, gain clues, and view the map of the current stage. There's also a handy password feature, so that you can resume play at any level you've reached/completed. The music and graphics are both pretty nice, and the mix of combat/exploration works well, but I've never been too enthralled with the Ecco games (and yet, I keep buying them anyway). I've always found it annoying to have to keep replenishing a video game character's oxygen when they're underwater (Sonic the Hedgehog is especially irksome in that regard).

    I also own the sequel, Ecco: The Tides of Time for the Sega Genesis, and I have emulated versions of Ecco the Dolphin, Ecco: The Tides of Time, and Ecco Jr. (an easier "kids" version) on the Playstation 2 Sega Genesis Collection compilation disc. As such, like Columns, I still have other options to play Ecco, even if I can't enjoy this one properly.

    It was certainly a bummer to find out that my Sega Game Gear is shot (R.I.P., digital buddy), but, that aside, these are both solid games that I'm sure would have gotten a fair amount of play under different circumstances. I'm just thankful that I didn't buy all four of the cartridges that the store had (which was my first impulse), as I would have ended up wasting four dollars instead of two.

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