This will actually be a short one because all things considered, I haven’t spent a ton of time with this series. (And welcome to Episode 12.) I remember my first experience with Ecco was on the Sega Genesis with Ecco: The Tides of Time, which was actually the 2nd game in the series. As a little kid I struggled to get a grasp of how the game worked, and after many tries, I was finally able to progress through several levels, but was never able to finish it. I was a little older when Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future hit the Dreamcast, but found myself making even less progress, taking countless tries at the demo (which was the game’s first level) before finally getting to level 2.
Immediately after I did that, I rented the full game and attempted to play through it, and the 2nd level was as difficult to figure out as the 1st. As it would turn out, I never got past the 2nd level. But what a seriously good-looking game it was. It’s actually pretty impressive, in hindsight, that Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future carried several traits of, well, an open world game, and keep in mind that this was in the pre-GTA3 era. With the “open world” element having now become a staple of modern video gaming, it would be interesting to see this series given another try.
Even though I only got a taste of the two Ecco the Dolphin games that I managed to play, there were a couple things that stood out in my mind: the incredible graphics, the amazing music, and the mystical storylines. To see these aspects brought to the next generation with maybe a slightly more streamlined approach would be exciting and likely very nostalgic for those of us who remember trying to play this series back in the day.
Ecco himself was a memorable character; who doesn’t love a dolphin with powers? For Genesis games the plots were taken surprisingly seriously, and the Dreamcast game took things even further, with a storyline written by science fiction writer David Brin. Plots involving saving the world, traveling through time, crystal guardians, dolphin/human cross species societies, oceans developing minds of their own and creating sky waterways….all sorts of crazy stuff exists in these games’ storylines. There’s really been nothing else like it.
I’m going to now focus on the Dreamcast Ecco game for a minute because it had some great ideas. Levels each took the form of open world areas where you’d wander around, socialize with the surrounding creatures, and try to figure out what to do next. With a bit more guidance, Defender of the Future could have been a pretty fantastic game. I’m not saying the Ecco series would need to be dumbed down, necessarily, but games have changed in the sense that no longer do gamers appreciate the challenge coming from having no idea what to do next. That’s seen as outdated game design and I can understand why. I think the challenge can come from other areas, like tough boss battles and difficult puzzles, but a lack of guidance shouldn’t be one of them.
Though I only got through one level in Defender of the Future, its visuals were awe-inspiring at the time and even today, that one level remains in my collection of fond Dreamcast memories. I can’t even imagine what could be done if an Ecco game was developed on next gen hardware, but it would be one of the best-looking games on the system, if Defender of the Future was any indication.
Let’s not forget about the music. Give this a listen:
And actually, here’s another one:
If there’s one thing that this series does well, it’s the music. I thought Defender of the Future was an example of some of SEGA’s finest, and interestingly, SEGA only published, not developed, this game.
I’ve gotta say, writing this column has gotten me thinking about seeking out a copy of Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future and trying it again. As far as a next generation Ecco game goes, I’d love to see one. Big changes would have to be made in exactly where its difficulty comes from, but aside from that, I think it’d be cool to see another crazy science fiction story about dolphins traveling through time and saving the world in a beautiful underwater setting. How many of those have we seen?