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Ecco the Dolphin

By: MissM

I grew up at just the right time in terms of the advent of video game consoles. Atari had already been out and my Nana had somehow owned an Atari with my step grandfather and after they were tired of it they just gave it to us. It was interesting to be certain, but when the original Nintendo came out everything just seemed destined to never be the same.


Video games were a big part of my life. It all sort of fell into my life unexpectedly though. I was born with a rare genetic disorder. Growing up I was incredibly sick and once I was diagnosed with my disorder, a treatment had not been invented yet, and I just got more and more sick. So while kids my age were involved in dance class or gymnastics or whatever, I was essentially shielded from outdoor activities for fear of rupturing my liver or spleen as well as breaking some janky brittle bones.


Reading comics and books helped to pass the time, as did taking my toys on wild crazy adventures. Video games though really created a visual world that I could go out and experience, from the safety of my room. I loved video games. They were simply magical. While my body was rickety and busted, I was proud to have a sharp mind thanks to so many games with their tricky puzzles or figuring out strategies for defeating difficult bosses.


There was one game though that came along and made me feel like the dumbest person alive because it was just a difficult game. I’m of course referring to Ecco the Dolphin. Released on the Sega Genesis in 1992, Ecco the Dolphin was an ambitious game.


The cover of the booklet and the same for the game make everything seem so simple. Who wouldn’t want to play a game that appears to be about a bottlenose dolphin swimming in the ocean and battling against sharks? It just sounds so cool. However this nice looking cover gives nothing away about the outrageous plot of this game. The player controls Ecco, as the dolphin travels through time to stop extraterrestrials in the ocean and even in a spaceship. Do not adjust your LSD; this was the actual story line.


I never owned this game as I could never understand it when I was younger. This was one of those rental games that didn’t come with a booklet and as the game started with Ecco right in the water, I had to figure out a great deal of stuff on my own. That poor dolphin died. A lot. Luckily thanks to compilation games and the virtual console, games like Ecco the Dolphin are given a second chance at life. And wouldn’t you know? It is possible to find nice quality instruction manuals on eBay. I finally have the keys to success with Ecco the Dolphin. Only the game is still very difficult.


A two paged introduction really explains the world of Ecco the Dolphin. I do really like this story. I may poke a little fun at how crazy it all sounds, but I also geek out over cartoons with characters named Peekablue and Flutterina, so I have no room to judge.


Other important things to pick up in Ecco the Dolphin are the various skills that Ecco possesses: like staying healthy. The player had to charge into schools of fish or other edible creatures of the sea to keep those health points intact. It was an interesting way to replenish health because there was always something to eat. However you had to time the feeding just right. If not, Ecco would just swoosh by.


One thing I loathe in video games is the playable characters that have somehow been unable to evolve and breathe under water. I understand that instant death has to occur if one falls down a deep abyss, but really video game characters? No one knows how to breathe underwater? (I’m looking at you Sonic. At least Mario could breathe underwater.) Nothing filled me with more anxiety than a video game character unable to breathe underwater. Ecco was no exception. You had to be paying attention at all times when getting the dolphin to air; which I know what you must be thinking, “But Miss M, he is a dolphin. Dolphins need to come up for air; the game was just trying to be accurate.” I don’t buy that because if the game had to be accurate, why have Ecco saving his family from aliens? If we’re going to suspend our disbelief that a dolphin is pitted up against time travel and extraterrestrials, why can’t he also just breathe underwater? I just really get anxious over the whole breathing underwater issue. I get fired up over it.


Songs were the way in which Ecco understood his world and communicated with other sea life. It was a really cool feature in the game and one that really tried to bring the dolphin elements to life. I have read before that the creators of the game did a great deal of research on dolphins and wanted to incorporate those elements into the game. That attention to detail does make the game special, no matter my thoughts on the breathing underwater debate.


Certain songs could also create a map for Ecco. Sadly I have still been unable to do this as I have continued to have a difficult time with this game. It was a really difficult game! The saddest part is that the difficulty could maybe be understood for my younger self, but at 32 years of age, I shouldn’t have such a difficult time with this game!


Glyphs were scattered throughout the levels and each one did something special. Searching for them could be easy while other times there would be too much confusion on what to do. I think the problem for me with this game was that it was such an open ended world to explore and there was no clear direction on what to do. At least I never understood the direction, though not for trying. I would just swim around trying to make sense of Ecco’s purpose in life while eating some food every now and then. I guess my brain isn’t as smart as I thought. Perfect to go with that rickety body I suppose.


Either way Ecco the Dolphin is a fantastic game. The graphics and style of game play felt very new and exciting in 1992. The soundtrack to the game was also very atmospheric. All in all this is certainly a fun game to try out or play again if it has been awhile.


Does anyone else recall Ecco the Dolphin? Even better, did anyone actually get far or beat the game? I want details! Anyways, I am off to search for more instruction manuals. The only negative about getting retro games from compilation discs or the virtual console is that those manuals are sorely needed; at least for the collector in me. Take care everyone!

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Benjanime Posted on May 07, 2014 at 06:24 PM

i never did play the sega genesis originals, but i rented the sega CD version of the first game from blockbuster long ago. it was okay to me, but not really my cup of tea. but if you want a game that really goes into evolution you should try E.V.O. for the super nintendo. i plan on covering it in a future article

Fulton4V Posted on May 07, 2014 at 06:18 PM

I liked ecco the dolphin but it was such a hard game. I would get frustrated by it all the time. The grafix were very good for the time.

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