First off, have any of you played this game? It came out for the Dreamcast back in 2000 and later re-released for Playstation 2 in 2002. The PS2 version has slight improvements such as: A better map, level changes and minor improvements to the graphics engine.
I always had a passing interest in this game and never actually played it until now. With so few original games to play, my peaking interest gave in and I purchased the PS2 version. Let me give you my thoughts. To sum the game up:
"Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future is a beautifully crafted game that will allow you to lose your imagination in its wondrously crafted undersea world, while at the same time, drag you down into the dark depths of the ocean’s dark abyss."
The strongest point of this game is its beautiful graphics. Every surface, every object is painstakingly detailed and brimming with vibrant color: swirling sands, bio luminescent jelly fish, lush coral reefs, to Atlantean and alien architecture, containing an array of elaborate designs.
There is one level where you are swimming in the sky moving across levitating water streams and floating up high, surrounded by large water bubbles! Unfortunately, this is were the cons of this game come in…
"The developers made such a jaw droppingly beautiful world that is poorly constructed and marred with frustrating and unpolished gameplay."
The developers captured the movements and animations of a real dolphin perfectly. Ecco can swim, gradually gaining speed as he goes, do a few barrel rolls as well as jump out of the water at blazing speed! All of which feels very fluid at first. Besides this, he can use sonar to bring up a map, talk to other dolphins and interact with objects. Various power ups: all of which you can’t keep, allow him to shoot sonar waves, swim past currents, become invisible and grant extended life and air. Now, playing as a real dolphin and keeping that gameplay fresh and unique, is another story.
Ecco can swim through the water well enough, but when he has to attack an enemy, everything falls apart. Your only attack is a thrust forward, which when aimed correctly, damages your designated target. Now, the problem is: you have no control over the speed of this action. Many times, I went haphazardly past my target from loss of control.
Also, there are times when you need to use your sonar to attract and lead schools of fish through tunnels or to certain characters. If you swim too fast you will lose these fish. You have to swim at a snails pace In order to keep them with you! This as you would guess, becomes very annoying. Why not swim at any speed, all the while keeping the schools of fish with you? And it doesn’t help that most times you lose sight of them, trailing behind you, due to the game’s camera.
This is a game where a definite lock-on ability was needed. The camera only follows Ecco and if you are trying to attack a single enemy, it can be very frustrating when you miss your target and lose sight of that enemy altogether! And more often than not, Ecco will zoom forward at an uncontrollably high speed, completely missing the enemy, causing it to go out of sight! Locking-on to and surrounding a foe would have been the way to go here. My next gripe with the game would be the level design, concerning game advancement.
"An hour has gone by…What am I supposed to do again? What is the goal? I guess I’ll just admire the scenery…"
In many of the game’s levels, It’s very unclear as to what you are supposed to do and where you are supposed to go. There are crystals you can interact with that give you hints. Unfortunately, these hints are extremely vague and in the form of riddles. There was a certain level I was supposed to destroy a rock wall to advance. This wall was far off in a small alcove and didn’t have any indication that I could actually destroy it…Another example would be having to press a certain switch on the side of an object, thus activating something in the environment. Many of the game’s objects have little to no indication they are interactable or lead to something important. Many of the levels are maze-like as well, so this can become quite frustrating when you are constantly getting lost. And the sub-par map isn’t the greatest visual aid either.
"The music is a delight to listen to though: makes me feel like I’m in an undersea dream."
The soundtrack is another pro for this game. Just the music alone will make you bare with the frustration of its design. Very atmospheric and relaxing. I talked about how music is best when it feels organic to the subject matter: this game’s music is a prime example. Everything just flows like water…
In conclusion, I really wanted to love this game, but just merely “like” it. I’d give the game somewhere around a 7.5. If anything, I’m astounded at the level of detail regarding the visuals! There was a point near the third quarter of the game, where I actually had to use an unlock all levels code! The level was called “Hanging Waters”. While beautiful in it’s own right, the level design was unforgivably atrocious, as far as navigation and goal advancement go. My death count was painfully astronomical! I had to draw the line. If you are interested I still recommend playing this imperfect game, if not to admire it’s visual charm. Be warned, it’s not without its flaws and frustrations. After the sun sets below troubled waters, if you can take the time to crawl up form the dark depths, you might see the morning light shinning through the waves!