Ecco The Dolphin (Genesis) review
"Games about dolphins are for wimps. Iím too busy exuding machismo to be flouncing about the ocean with creatures too puny to hang with the whales, too docile to swim with the sharks. Gameís like Ecco the Dolphin are made by the girls, for the girls; and itís unfortunate that men like me get caught in the wimpy crossfire. Yeah, Iíve played Ecco the Dolphin. I could have been driving really fast, or busting phat skateboard tricks like the hardcore dude I am. Instead, I flipped a flipper and went f..."
Games about dolphins are for wimps. Iím too busy exuding machismo to be flouncing about the ocean with creatures too puny to hang with the whales, too docile to swim with the sharks. Gameís like Ecco the Dolphin are made by the girls, for the girls; and itís unfortunate that men like me get caught in the wimpy crossfire. Yeah, Iíve played Ecco the Dolphin. I could have been driving really fast, or busting phat skateboard tricks like the hardcore dude I am. Instead, I flipped a flipper and went for a little paddle. Luckily, Iím so macho I havenít even bothered finishing the damn thing. Such an overtly twee premise doesnít deserve to be seen through. Iím a brute. Iím a boor. Iím a brash, young punk.
Iím a liar.
I let Ecco the Dolphin into my life, and it crushed my entire being. Donít let the adorable facade fool you; this game is tough as nails. Take this little adventure about dolphins lightly and itíll dash your brains against the rocks with some beautifully drawn, foam-crested waves.
Appearances can be deceiving. The burliest of lumberjacks couldnít resist the initial charm of Ecco. The opening screen is simply glorious. Rays of sunshine permeate the perfect white clouds and cascade over the screen. A pod of sleek dolphins frolic effortlessly through the still, blue water. One by one they launch themselves into the air, lingering delicately before crashing powerfully back into the water. This is the world of Ecco the Dolphin. Perhaps the most perfectly realised world yet seen in a game. Itís easy enough to lose yourself in the rich, saturation of Eccoís coral reefs, the jagged rock edifices that border the screen, and the murky depths of the ocean floor. Itís easier still to lose yourself to Ecco. He controls wonderfully, zipping around the screen with careless abandon, twirling triumphantly as he rockets through the sky. The world of Ecco the Dolphin is majestic, a true graphic achievement, and weíve been given the perfect agent to explore the whole thing.
Naturally, this is not an entirely carefree jaunt into the ocean. The ocean is a cruel mistress, and Ecco, soon to be cruelly ripped apart from his pod, will traverse it in search of ultimate justice. The upbeat nature of the opening is sent packing, but the level of atmosphere never once drops. The cool, placid water gives way to a darker, unforgiving sea. This is the place where dolphins donít frolic and cavort, they lay helpless, pleading for salvation. Sharks and jellyfish patrol these waters, menacing anything that nears them with a ferocious tenacity. Eccoís mission is to navigate his way past such terrors, solve the countless puzzles that the ocean throws in his bottle-nosed face, and uncover the secret behind his missing pod.
Itís a game of mystery and excitement. Through each cavern, and around each waterlogged corner comes a new surprise. Giant octopuses strike out violently at your sudden movements, spiny pufferfish catapult frantically across the screen, errant tentacles latch on to your dolphin body and hold it fast. Countless terrors of the deep stand between Ecco and his goal, and quick solutions must be devised. This oceanic world is a thing of beauty, but also constant danger. If the visual splendour hasnít already forcibly removed you of your breath, then careening around in an underwater landscape soon will. This devious game presents you with an endless string of tricky puzzles, and threatens to choke the life out of you if youíre tardy. Many a good dolphin has fallen prey to this nefarious underworld as they careen blindly upwards in search of air.
However, Ecco isnít all about laborious puzzle solving, and these departures are where the real joy comes from. The ďopen oceanĒ level features a wide tract of water, no foreseeable obstacles anywhere.
Except for two hundred vicious, dolphin-eating sharks!
Two particularly nasty specimens hound you persistently, and the only way out is a frenetic race to the right. Screen after screen of attractive landscapes blur by as Ecco weaves in and out of the sharks. Slow down for a second and youíre set upon. The action kicks in the instant those delicious visuals light up, and it doesnít stop until Ecco is safely through the veritable minefield. Frenetic elements such as these truly highlight the power this game has to move you. If youíre tasting blood, it means youíve either sunk your teeth into your lip, or your hearts simply in your mouth. Either way, Ecco the Dolphin has the power to move you like no other game can.
The game couldnít be complete though, without an amazing score. Tunes of foreboding, enchantment and all-out tension accompany Ecco as he progresses through the game. And in true style, the best is saved for last. Everything that has gone before is suddenly reduced to the role of stepping-stone, as Ecco squares off against an imposing final boss. He fills a screen, and his extremities (oh, those horrible extremities!) ricochet around the ocean in search of Ecco-flesh. All the while a pulsating tune bounces away in the background. The action is intense, the visuals and sound are intense, the result...death, and disappointment.
This is no wimpy game, the challenge is considerate, and itís an invulnerable dolphin that makes it to the end without suffering dozens of deaths. The amalgamation of tough puzzles, pugnacious foes and a limited amount of oxygen add up to an insidious little game. The ocean isnít going to let you push it around, itís going to forcibly shove you right back on your butt. The intensely challenging gameplay belies Ecco the Dolphinís unashamedly pretty demeanour. The challenge may be off-putting on occasion, but the visual splendour and incredible atmosphere make it worth sticking with. I may be tough, but this game is tougher. I may be a man, but itís certainly manlier. It may have dolphins in it...
But I think I might just have another crack at it.
Featured community review by kingbroccoli (June 29, 2004)
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