“The marks on your head look like the stars in the sky”

Platform: Sega Megadrive/Genesis
Developed by Novotrade
Genre: Puzzle/Platform (For want of a better genre)

For everyone I knew who owned and played Ecco the Dolphin, I knew many people who had owned it and traded it for something easier! It is still very challenging, and certainly one of the more innovative titles to be released for the Megadrive. On the surface it appears to be a very calm and serene game and I remember spending a long time just jumping over the islands on some of the earlier levels. This calmness disappeared once level 5 or 6 had been reached and instead was replaced with tension and frustration having died for the 20th time in a row trying to swim past an octopus. It became the type of game you’d put down in frustration vowing that you will never play it again, only to pick it up 5 minutes later for ‘just one more go!

"How high in the sky can you fly?"

I guess I should have started with gameplay as I believe it is the most important aspect of a game, but in this case I think it was the visuals which caught everyone’s attention. Once the Sega logo had disappeared the next thing which appeared was a side scrolling view of an open expanse of water. The background with parallax effects giving an impression of distance and everything green and blue making this one of the first games with a truly organic feeling. The dolphins swan into view, and even though they were only crude sprites, they still moved gracefully across the screen with splashes and forward rolls in their jumps. Once you began to play the game you discovered that there was a whole ocean full of creatures from schools of tropical fish to a huge blue whale, each one drawn to fit in with the surroundings and look natural. The game moves through several main stages (Ecco’s home, Ice, Tropical, Atlantis and Prehistoric). Each one had distinct colour themes and styles to suit it.

"…Suddenly great winds of water…"

No collectibles, no special stages and no points total at the end of a stage. Ecco broke away from the norms that games like Sonic had put in place. Instead the aim of the game was to find your pod and therefore just to make it through the level alive. If you did not like the underwater stages on standard platform games, then Ecco is not for you! Being a mammal Ecco must have enough air to survive (Represented by the blue boxes in the corner of the screen) and enough energy (Grey boxes). Energy is collected unsurprisingly by eating fish and air can be collected by going to the surface, air pockets or it is released from certain shells. To get through the levels usually requires you to solve some sort of simple puzzle, this can range from following a heavy rock as it sinks to beat the current to using the glyphs. The glyphs are large crystals which can either give you something to help you, or block your way. The glyphs blocking your way can usually be moved by receiving a special sonar sound from a ‘key’ glyph and using it on the ‘barrier’ glyph. Generally the puzzles are not the things hindering your progress, you can usually see what you have to do but the problem is having the skill to do it.

D-pad – Used to control direction
C – Used to swim, tap to build up speed
B – Used for the dash attack to destroy enemies or eat fish
ASonar, used to communicate or held down to give a map view of the surrounding area

"I know not what has happened to your pod"

The music fits in with the mood of the game perfectly. For the more peaceful stages there is flowing synthesiser melodies and the more frantic levels come with edgy tense music. All the strange sea creatures you communicate with have their own 'song' which is quite distinctive and as you would expect the game comes with all the standard splashing and gurgles of an underwater environment. The down side is the noise which is ‘emitted’ from Ecco when he is injured, it is a kind of dolphin scream which may drive you to turn down the volume. It is unfortunate because otherwise the sound is one of the game’s strong points.

"I remember you!"

The story of a mysterious dolphin with strange marks on his head resembling a constellation of stars. Quite surprisingly the game does have a plotline and the passage of the game is not as linear as you might expect. Here is a brief summary:

Every 500 years an alien race known as 'the vortex' sucks up life from the ocean to feast on. Ecco’s pod is caught in this event so he sets of to search for them. His first encounter with a killer whale leads him onwards to the frozen north where he ‘talks’ to the big blue. Big blue tells him that there is an older creature in the sea who may be able to help called the Asterite. Ecco then travels to the Asterite (The Asterite is a creature composed entirely of globes in a double helix formation) who agrees to help so long as you travel back in time to retrieve his stolen globe. Ecco then goes to the sunken city of Atlantis where a time machine was constructed (Apparently especially for dolphins). Ecco travels back to prehistoric times and steals the Asterite’s globe (Yes, that’s right Ecco stole the Asterite’s globe to return to him in the future … Damn time travel plotlines!). He returns to the Asterite of the future who then grants Ecco the power to battle the aliens. Ecco then goes back to the time machine and to the point in time when his pod was sucked up (The beginning of the game). He is then sucked up along with his pod and hopefully, assuming you manage to defeat the large alien head, him and his pod escape to live happily ever after. At least until the sequel.

"… Of course it was you …"

Other features
Like most games of the time Ecco has a level code system allowing you to switch off the console once in a while. To enter the codes you must swim to the left in the starting cave of the game (Swimming to the right starts a new game). As with most gams there are numerous cheats, the most useful of which is the invincibility which is performed by holding A + Start when the level name is displayed and un-pausing when the game screen come up.
The port for the Mega CD version of the game contained new-age type music by Spencer Nilsen and the soundtrack was released as Ecco: Songs Of Time*

"… and it was I who sent you…"

Final thoughts…
I never quite knew if it was pronounced Eco, or Echo … Hmmmmmm…

* - This soundtrack information was from the previous writeup by PenguiN42

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