SEGA Sequel Saturdays: Ecco the Dolphin

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?


22 responses to “SEGA Sequel Saturdays: Ecco the Dolphin

  1. cube_b3 says:

    You should've consulted Sanus for this write up.

    I am just going to wait for him to hit the comments.

  2. CrazyTails says:

    You just made me want to finish the DC game. Wow that music is just beautiful

  3. CrazyTails says:

    I have never been able to finish the game too. It was just not always clear what to do. I was stuck inside this cave stage where it was just so friggin hard to survive while finding out what to do. It was tedious, but I honestly don't want to blame the game. The ecco series have always been vague and maybe I should've just been more patient.

    Yeah I defenitly need to play it. Still got the original copy at my parents's house.

  4. -nSega54- says:

    Yeah that's what's making me want to seek out the DC version again, that music.

  5. Sega Uranus says:

    The Genesis games are deeper, not just gameplay wise, but story and artistically too. The music was done in the wrong style too, one of the original musicians actually made music for Defender of the Future that was cut.

    The first game is my favorite of all time, but I cannot stand the Dreamcast release. It is strangely designed, breaks or uses concepts the original games were purposely designed not to have and was not even developed the same group that made the originals. Worst of all, Ecco II ends in a cliffhanger. How would you feel if a new Shenmue was made in an entirely different universe? The creator of Ecco, Ed Annunziata even has plans for a potential Ecco III, if he is ever able to do them.

    As the Genesis/SEGA CD/PC games are easily the most popular and well known, it is weird how you barely mentioned them here. Stuff like the Asterite lifeform was an incredible concept. It is also worth noting that much of the original games were inspired by everything from Metroid to The Terminator.

    Personal opinion aside, there is a lot of incorrect information here. It bugged me with the Yakuza article, but here it is a whole new monster!

    It should be noted that Novotrade was a second party to SEGA when Ecco was created, the team was composed of only people who worked at SEGA prior. They only split because with each release, the teams spread out more and more. For instance, they had teams that made everything from The Adventures of Batman & Robin on Genesis to Three Dirty Dwarves and Mr Bones on the Saturn.

  6. Centrale says:

    I too was stumped pretty early on in the DC Ecco. It was beautiful, but the fact that so many people had the experience of not really being clear on how to progress, indicates some gameplay design flaws. But I would love to see the series revisited.

  7. -nSega54- says:

    "Personal opinion aside, there is a lot of incorrect information here. It bugged me with the Yakuza article, but here it is a whole new monster!"

    Hold on, wha???? What was wrong with the Yakuza feature? I'm a pretty big Yakuza fan so the fact that you're saying this really surprises me, I wish you'd spoken up then if there was anything wrong with my last feature.

    As for Ecco….I made it pretty clear I am not the most experienced Ecco player, and that's why I deliberately avoided going too in-depth, especially for the Genesis titles, which I was too young to really remember. So since I stayed away from facts (and the ones I used were double-checked) I'm not sure what was factually incorrect about this feature.

    Novotrade may have been a SEGA 2nd party back when they developed the 1st Ecco but that wasn't the case for long. Ecco came out in 1993, but then Novotrade developed an adventure game called Museum Madness, which was released on the Mac in 1994, published by MECC. And when they became Appaloosa Interactive (and developed the DC title) they were of course thoroughly separated from SEGA: the PS2 port of Defender of the Future was published by Acclaim!

    "As the Genesis/SEGA CD/PC games are easily the most popular and well known, it is weird how you barely mentioned them here. Stuff like the Asterite lifeform was an incredible concept. It is also worth noting that much of the original games were inspired by everything from Metroid to The Terminator. "

    I certainly never questioned that. All I said was that the developers actually hired a novelist to write the plot for Defender of the Future, I never said that the Genesis games had bad storylines. I didn't go in depth with them not because it was my intention to diss them or to offend you, I just haven't played much of them and so there wasn't much I could say.

  8. cube_b3 says:

    @-nSega54- : I think you jumped the shark with this sequel (Get it, Jumped the Shark :P)

    I don't know who is correct here, I've barely ever played the Ecco games, but Ecco is like Sanus's favorite game and he's spoken to me about it for hours and I knew he'd flip ( 😛 ) after reading this.

  9. CrazyTails says:

    Maybe it'd be cool to get a second opinion article? Just a suggestion :p

  10. -nSega54- says:

    hahaha all I said was that I'd love to see a new Ecco game, I didn't say anything that I think anyone could argue against. I never said the DC version was better than the Genesis games, I just said that I feel the DC game has some ideas worth expanding upon.

  11. -nSega54- says:

    That said, I'll tell you guys what. If someone wants to write their own Ecco Sequel Saturdays article and Private Message it to me, I'll post it next week. :]

  12. CosmicCastaway says:

    The Ecco the Dolphin series is one of my favorite SEGA franchises. I love the Genesis titles as well as Defender of the Future, which is one of my favorite games ever!

    I have played through the DC & PS2 versions multiple times and it's a great experience each and every time. Beautiful music, stunning visuals and very challenging stages. I should mention the PS2 version is slightly easier because of the new feature when you press L3, Ecco will face the direction of the current objective. 😉 So yeah, I love Ecco and I think with today's tech a new entry in the series could be one of the most beautiful games ever made.

  13. -nSega54- says:

    " I should mention the PS2 version is slightly easier because of the new feature when you press L3, Ecco will face the direction of the current objective."

    Oh wow, really!?!?!?!?!

    Damn, that might be the version to for me to try again then. I really do want to give the game another shot.

  14. CosmicCastaway says:

    Defender of the Future has some fantastic levels later on like the Shrine of Controversy and the Hanging Waters, great stuff. I actually did a "My Thoughts On" video about it shortly after I played the PS2 version around a year ago if anyone wants to check it out.

  15. -nSega54- says:

    Nice video review. Good stuff. :]

  16. cube_b3 says:

    Did you know a sequel to Defender of the Future already exists for Dreamcast, it was never released though but development got significantly far.

  17. -nSega54- says:

    Yeah I had heard something about that. It's pretty crazy that it was able to get so far in development considering how short-lived the DC was.

  18. cube_b3 says:

    I think it was developed via a generator…

  19. nuckles87 says:

    I actually beat the Dreamcast game XD. I should a write up for this, as I actually had a pretty extensive idea for a sequel back in the day.

  20. -nSega54- says:

    Alright Sanus hasn't gotten back to me, so Nuckles, guess this week's is open for you.

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