Guilty Party – Retro Redress

Crime – never giving Ecco The Dolphin a fair chance

Redress – Retro Redress will actually play Ecco The Dolphin and judge the game based on his experience, not just hate it because there is no violence, explosions or ninjas.

As a child of the late 80’s/early 90’s, I was raised on big, violent arcade games. Golden Axe. Alien Storm. Final Fight. Street Fighter 2. Even to this day, I’m drawn to a game if it lets the player beat up thugs and explode things. You can add 50,000 points if ninjas are involved. No matter how bad a game is, I’ll always give it a chance if there are ninjas involved.

Therefore, Ecco The Dolphin never stood a chance with me. That’s the problem though… I’ve never given it a fair chance. At best I’ve played Ecco for five minutes. It’s impossible to judge a game based on a few minutes play, but I’ve done that with Ecco. I’ve mocked Ecco to others, for over twenty years, based on roughly five minutes of gameplay.

With the birth of  Retro Redress and a (enormous) list of games that I’ve disgraced, Ecco The Dolphin is finally due some redress. Let’s give Ecco a try and see if it is as bad as I’ve been telling people…

I’m loading up Ecco with no knowledge of the game’s story at all  – I can’t remember anything from my previous brief attempts to play it. I saw Wikipedia mention something about time travel and aliens, but I’m not believing that. I’m still surprised you can control a dolphin in a video game. Not a cartoon ninja dolphin, not a mutant dolphin with guns, but an actual, underwater, swimming dolphin. To give Ecco The Dolphin credit, a realistic animal is a unique main character in a game, especially in the early 90’s. I would have preferred a zebra myself, but then there’s a reason I talk rubbish about games instead of making them.

1

So I take the plunge (pun intended) and fire Ecco up. Again, to give credit to Ecco The Dolphin, it’s a very good looking game. Ecco’s animation is fluid and the backdrops are perfect for the setting. I’m not sure about the jazzy music, but I’ve heard worse. My early exploring teaches me that Ecco can fire sonar waves with ‘A’ and charge with ‘B’. Neither of these skills can help me with this wall though so I need to figure out what to do. There are lots of other dolphins around, shall I talk to one of them?

2

Erm…thanks mate. I’m not sure how this helps me get past the wall? In all seriousness, I’m not keen on cutting away to a different screen just to read a line of dolphin dialogue. Couldn’t we just have used speech bubbles or had the text above the other dolphin’s head? It seems a bit of a waste of memory and to be honest, I’ll forget this advice once we go back to the main gameplay screen too. I’m using the word ‘advice’ in the loosest sense of the word.

3

Well, the sun is in the sky, so maybe I should jump out of the water,towards the sky? I give it a try and notice weird things happening when I press A or B. I decide to try them both together and BOOM. Red flashes, fish flying out of the sea, some really good sinister music…and the wall that was blocking my path has gone. It doesn’t seem a fair swap- the other fish looked much happier before they were teleported out of the sea. I feel kinda bad to be honest. Ecco The Dolphin was a pretty dolphin simulator until I *had* to press A and B together. Some dangerous thinking there.

4

The path where the wall used to be takes me to a new piece of sea with some jellyfish that can hurt Ecco and need to be charged to kill them. I’m just nonplussed now. Imagine buying this game in 1992 and trying to make sense of it. Imagine if you had bought Ecco The Dolphin with no box or manual in 1992. You would be very confused indeed. I’m determined not to use a guide or Wikipedia though; the best thing about playing  Ecco so far is how surreal the game is. Normally, you would be chasing the bad guy trying to take over the city or who stole your girl. In Ecco, I’ve just had to recreate the ‘Free Willy’ jump to progress further into the game, a game where all the sealife has been teleported away.

5

Deeper underwater and the ‘Free Willy’ jump is back….I have a feeling that this mechanic is going to be a regular thing. It’s not fun to execute, dashing with B, then hitting Up and B to leap over the rocks seems very hit and miss. I guess there isn’t much you can do with a game featuring a dolphin underwater. I notice spikes in the wall in the underwater caverns…which hurt Ecco when I even go near them, never mind actually hit them. For all my curiosity at how the game is progressing, I’m remembering why I dismissed Ecco The Dolphin back in the day; I always find underwater levels  dull and/or difficult. I blame the Labyrinth Zone from Sonic 1 for giving my generation a fear of underwater caverns.

6

I then encounter a big crystal and a shark, who explains that he’s not sure what’s going on, but to look for a whale in the underwater caves. I’m surprised by the clarity of his remarks, but then I’ve always thought sharks were fairly honest. Vicious predators, but fairly truthful all the same. They don’t seem like the type of animals to lie, like say, a rat or a car salesman. I also notice that the crystal seems to reduce my energy, so I decide to move away from it and go look for the whale.

However my whale hunt is sadly cut short by an encounter with another crystal; I’m told to find a key. Then my health confusingly drains and I ‘die’ and have to restart by the first ‘Free Willy’ jump. You don’t really die in Ecco, the screen just fades to black and you respawn back at the save point. I have no idea why my energy went down. I can’t say I’m too fussed either – Ecco isn’t really grabbing me. I’m respecting the game’s scope and ideas, but the constant caverns aren’t inspiring me  Another attempt to find the whale just leads to Ecco dying via Jelly Fish attack, despite having a fair bit of health. I have a feeling that Ecco needs oxygen – I’ve just remembered that dolphins are mammals.

7

Ah, screw it. I think I need insight on Ecco The Dolphin.

The player character, Ecco, is a bottlenose dolphin who travels through time to combat hostile extraterrestrials in Earth’s oceans and on an alien spacecraft.”

That is just.. How do we end up fighting aliens? How come no one ever mentioned this to me when we were discussing Ecco The Dolphin previously? I think ‘Dolphin fights aliens’ is something you would mention, right? Wikipedia also confirms dolphins are mammals too, so I’ll need to keep resurfacing to get oxygen. I should know this really, but it’s late and I’m tired.

I try and swim around a bit more, try and find the key that Ecco needs to progress…but to be honest. I’m not feeling it. Maybe it’s tiredness, maybe it’s just a game that isn’t grabbing me. I end up reading Ecco’s Wikipedia entry more and read about the creator Ed Annunziata.  He seems a good guy and his honesty about making the game hard so kids couldn’t beat Ecco The Dolphin on a rental makes me respect him. I realise that word sums up my feelings on Ecco The Dolphin – respect. I respect Ecco The Dolphin for being something different, a game of substance, a challenging game. However, I can’t say I want to play it. Nothing about Ecco inspires me. I want more colour and more action from my games.

With that conclusion reached, I turn Ecco off and go to bed, to try and get some sleep…

Verdict – I’ve had a decent go of Ecco The Dolphin and I will admit I was wrong. I personally find the game rather dull, but I can see how other people would enjoy it. The atmosphere is great and there is a really deep, different game here. I would certainly recommend people try Ecco for themselves. However, I’m probably going to stick with games that have ninjas in them.