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Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future

 

  Ecco the Dolphin first graced our screens back in the late 80’s early 90’s on the Megadrive/Genesis.  The style of play was very different to games around, then and now.  Instead of the furious fighting or platform games that seem to be most popular Ecco is more docile.  Docile, but very infuriating- the difficulty level on the Ecco games is always harder than on most games.

Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future takes you back to the ocean in yet another underwater/futuristic/mid-air adventure.

  The basic story line is that in the future humans and dolphins have learned to communicate with each other and as a result have learned to co-exist along side each other.  The great alliance soon sees man and dolphin taking to the stars-traveling through space. They offered friendship to anybody that would accept it as they traveled into the unknown.

  Left on planet Earth are a few guardian or caretaker dolphins, seen to protect the Earth from any one that may try to invade. The FOE-men and dolphin’s only enemy would take this opportunity to strike at the Earth. The FOE were the undefeated rulers of the universe, but the men and dolphins managed to defeat them and set them on the brink of extinction.  The FOE sought revenge. The dolphins were left with one form of defense- the Guardian (A large crystal in the sea), shielded the Earth and prevented anybody from attacking.  The FOE doing, what looks like, Kamikaze dive-bombs on the shield, finally find a point of weakness and shatter the Guardian.

  This is where you enter the game. Most things appear to be normal- but the Guardian tells you that it has been shattered and that all is not right and on the first few levels, as you get used to the controls, you just have to help other dolphins and friendly sea goers- like the good Samaritan that you are.  But later on you shall find the story unfolds (not really having any twists-as the only real character in the game is you- nothing is mentioned about the other dolphins really) in an interesting way- compelling the player to continue. 

 

Graphics:

  What can I say? WOW!  These are some of the best graphics I can possibly imagine.  Even by today’s standards the graphics are amazing.  When I first saw the graphics in a magazine, I thought that I was looking at pictures from a cut scene.  They are so smooth that it easy to mistake them for FMV.

  All of the animals that you encounter are beautifully designed-looking very realistic, especially the turtles-which I followed around for ages.  The creatures are modeled perfectly- they move freely with no visible joins whatsoever.

  There is fogging in the distance, underwater and above- but this can easily be forgiven.  The fogging underwater- adds to the effect of being under the ocean and it is far enough in the distance to easily forget about it (unlike Turok-where you are constantly aware of it-but even there it adds to the feel of the game) and above water- the fogging is even further away.  You don’t often need to go and search above water, sometimes you do, but mainly you go up for a nice big gulp of healthy air then back down to fight a hammer head shark or three.

  The scenery is lavish- tropical aquatic plants, rocks, brightly colored fish, jelly fish, the turtles (Oh those turtles) –basically everything that you’d expect to find in the shallower parts of the Big Blue.  After a while you might get a little bit bored of idealistic tropical sea.     Have no fear (Ill try not to ruin anything-but the title suggests it) you will venture forth in time, backwards and sideways in time (if that’s possible) you will go from perfect seas to murky green, water filled tanks of the disastrous future or past, I can’t remember and into the FOE’s craft.  All areas of the game have the similar ‘watery’ look about them, but they are so different from one another that it keeps the game interesting.

One of the most impressive levels in the game- is where you are jumping between water pockets, suspended a few hundred feet above a large island- really quite breath taking, nothing like anything I have seen in any other game.

 

Gameplay:

  As mentioned earlier, when I first saw the game in development, I thought that I was looking at FMV and that even if the graphics in the game were ‘that’ good it would never play well.  My fears went to a new level, when the Official Dreamcast Magazine released a preview of them game on their demo disc and the preview was only a slide show! At the time I was thinking the absolute worst- the graphics were great- but why were they only showing pictures of the game?  Surely it should be near completion- perhaps the game doesn’t run very well.

  I have to say being pessimistic does have its pay off.  I bought the game on the day of release and was greatly surprised.  Not only were the visuals better than first previewed- but the game was/is unbelievably smooth.  Ecco glides smoothly through the water like, well a dolphin.  All of animations in the game are perfect.

  There are only a couple of points where I have had slow down.  But I would be speeding along, usually running away from a shark or giant eel and I would try to hide in between some rocks- but get stuck. I say stuck- but I haven’t found anyway to actually get so stuck that you have to restart the level or anything.  Ecco usually slides out of any fixes with no real trouble –occasionally though, when in a very tight spot, the game will slow down a bit as Ecco frees himself- but only for a few seconds, you will not find yourself having trouble completing a level because of this.

  The controls in the game are very easy to start with, but hard to perfect.  All movements are easy to pick up as soon as you start playing- but as you progress, you may find that you need to master certain combos- like stunning an enemy- hitting them then quickly shooting off avoiding his mates and jumping high into the air, landing in a nearby pool.  There are some areas, late in the game, where you do need a certain amount of precision, especially in jumping or swimming really fast to get somewhere just in time.

  The levels progress well, along side the story- new tricks and traps are utilized, so you don’t feel the monotonous repetition that occurs in certain games (Mario Sunshine or Phantasy Star Online)

  The game is quite challenging in areas and you actually feel yourself thinking about what to do next and how you could use Ecco’s powers to defeat that giant…(I won’t give that away-but it’s a goodie)

 

Presentation:

  The game is very well presented.  Easy options menus, quick loading to levels and new screens.  The opening sequence to the game is, although a bit corny, very enthralling- it gets you into the game right from the word go.

  The layout of the game- how the story progresses etc… -is all very solid and would keep you stuck firmly to your seat for hours on end, or for a quick pick up and play.

  The sound/music score is very relaxing for the most part- becoming more intense at certain points in the game. But it all flows smoothly together, the musical score and the cries for help from fellow dolphins or bubbling sounds of the FOE layer, all complement each other, making the sound hard to flaw.

 

Replay Value?

  I must admit, I have not completed the game.  I have a very good reason for this.  I have several Joytech 4mb memory cards- that have 4 separate cards built into one- with a small switch on the side to skip between memory cards.  One of the built in cards has become corrupted- I cannot access it from the bios screen-so I cannot format the card or copy any data to another.  But some games I have seem to be able to read some of the save files on the card-so I’m not sure if I would format it. 

  But anyway – I did manage to get most of the way through the game, up to the ‘Hatchery’ level- about four levels from the end.

  But as far as I can tell- there is little point in replaying the game.  Unless your memory card is wiped or has become faulty.   There are a few bonuses in the game- and there is the collection of all the Vitalits (little, hidden health gems)-which could keep you playing on for a good while.  And I’m sure you find that it will take a very good while to initially complete the game- as it is based in about 40 large, tricky and beautifully designed levels.    You won’t be finishing this in a hurry-not like ‘Wario’ on the GameCube-which has been said to be completed in 4 hours of purchase.

You would find, however, that you might just play through certain levels again.  You can choose to load any level that you have previously finished- so once you have completed the game, you have the choice to return to any level and collect any missing items that you have not yet found.  But I doubt anybody would play through the entire game again (although I probably would).

 

Worth Buying Now?

  I would personally consider Ecco to be a ‘classic’; it shows the power of the Dreamcast-how it can keep up with the newest consoles on the market.  And with all classics, owners of the machine should purchase several copies of them and frame them.  Or buy one copy and play it to death.

  You can pick up a copy for about 10-20 pounds second hand these days (not sure how much in dollars) –which would be well worth it.  The game can be quite hard in areas- but I see that as a good sign.  Too many games these days are far too easy and this is one exception. It’s definitely not a game for kids and should appeal to the older gamers who like a challenge.

 

Sum mary:

  One amazing game, interesting- if not slightly over the top story line- unprecedented graphics and sound.  One of the few challenging games available at this time, only let down by its replay value- though that should not matter, as it takes so long to complete it.

 

Graphics: 10

Gameplay: 10

Presentation: 9

Replay Value: 6/7 –Depending on what type of gamer you are.

Worth Buying Now? 10

Overall: 9

~G~

Our favorite dolphin is Earth's final hope in the never-ending battle against the FOE .

 

In a fight, Ecco would wax the ocean floor with Flipper. It would be no contest.