Written by: Jenny Foxx, September 2013
Easily one of my favorite games from the Genesis generation, Ecco the Dolphin stands the test of time. I played this little side-scroller so much as a teenager, that I had no trouble remembering the ins and outs of its sometimes daunting puzzles when I put the cartridge in and gave the dolphin a run for his money this afternoon. Being that I’m not a first timer, I had her shut down after a mere 3.5 hours of gameplay, but it is no easy task. Ecco boasts some of the more frustrating enemies and levels I have ever encountered in games of similar nature.
The game follows a dolphin named Ecco (as the title suggests) who has lost his pod to a mysterious wind in the sky. Ecco fights his way through the ocean to uncover the secrets behind the disappearance of his family. Along the way, he gets help from crystal glyphs, whose cryptic, albeit helpful, messages guide you through the plot and help to unveil the evil Vortex –an alien race from a distant planet who feed on the sea life of Earth once every 500 years. As Ecco, you must traverse the ocean, and time, to find and defeat the Vortex queen and return your pod to safe waters.
Ecco runs into a variety of ocean favorites in his travels, including orca whales and giant octopi. Some are friendly, and some are downright a pain in the ass. Ecco is fairly easy to maneuver, though there are some jumps that do require a modicum of patience to achieve. The health mechanics of the game are built around the necessity for air, and schools of fish that you can dash into and eat to revive your dying dolphin.
The game is broken down into six environments, each with between two and four levels, and each with varying degrees of difficulty. To put it nicely, the easy levels are amazingly simple puzzles or mazes, with plenty of air pockets and fish to replenish you along the way. The medium levels are just slightly more challenging. They added a few more enemies and longer stretches without air, but not made them any more troublesome to solve. The hardest levels however, will unquestionably make you want to pull your hair out. There are virtually no air pockets, frustrating currents, and a heavy smattering of nuisance enemies to knock your life down when you need it the least. Oh, and no to mention the fish are all scared of these levels too. They are nowhere to be seen. There are no checkpoints, so with every death you will start the level over. This becomes increasingly frustrating during some of the more challenging areas. Ecco also does not offer lives or continues, instead working on the level password system, allowing you to return to the start of the level you last played, you know, for the times when you feel like shooting someone in the face.
I can’t really offer much commentary in the ways of graphics, given that this gem was released in 1992. I don’t recall if I was amazed by it back then, or whether I thought it of no importance. I will say that the areas are rich in color and offer vibrant renditions of life on the sea floor, but most of the time you are looking at rock and water. In the Atlantis areas there are more distinct and detailed backgrounds, which makes up for the completely bland ice zones that are nothing but chunks of white all over the screen. I feel I can offer, however, a valid opinion on some of the sound. The level tracks themselves are genuinely catchy. In certain areas, they are almost strategically relaxing. I find them all to be a solid fit for the environments and goings on of the levels they are featured in. My favorite among them all happens in the Jurassic levels. It reminds me of a percussion ensemble; precise and rhythmical, yet delicate. That aside, this is one game where I would kill for a volume option and the ability to filter out sound effects. Ecco makes some of the most obnoxious sounds when he is hurt, it almost forces me to play with the sound off completely.
Overall, you will hear me say that this is one of my favorites when I talk about classic games, but what you should hear is that this is a game I can play once every few years. I love it on the outside, but it doesn’t take long before I remember why this game gets set down easily. It is definitely one of the games people are referring to when they say things like “do you remember when games were hard?” Cause it is. Incredibly so, at times.
Jenny’s Bottom Line:
Story: Interesting concept. Dolphins v. Aliens. Who would have thought?
Graphics: Often times you get lost in the water/rock combo and lose your sense of direction. Appears as though some levels got more attention than others.
Sound: Super music, horrible effects. For best results, unleash the ipod.
Mechanics: There is really only one memorable spot where you will curse the dolphin rather than the baddies. And believe me, you’ll do that a lot.
Replay: It’s good for nostalgia, but the ever frustrating death count leaves much to be desired. Hooray for cheat codes!
Score: 8.5/10Read More