We all love Ecco the Dolphin, and I think we can all agree on why we do; the atmosphere. The music and the visuals pair up so well it’s a match made in heaven. Or the ocean. I still remember when the game came out and the magazines were raving about the game, gushing with praise for the environment it sets, the gorgeous soundtrack, and the creepy unimagined horrors that were to come to any gamer playing it for the first time.
Countless other writers have discussed how cool that opening sequence is, and how misleading it is with the calm it represents before all hell breaks loose. It’s a fantastic opening set-piece which truly sets the tone for the unease you will now have to endure throughout the rest of the game. One minute all is fine, and the next it’s so lonely with Ecco deciding to set out and find out where his pod went to when they suddenly got sucked into the sky.
The game is extremely difficult to get through, and you’ll be constantly restarting levels due to dying over and over again. It’ll frustrate you too because there’s quite a few annoying moments you have to pass to continue, but there’s always that nagging desire to see what craziness and special moments the next level might surprise you with that keeps you plugging away. Whether it’s meeting the Big Blue for the first time, latching on to the aimless pteranodon, or trying to traverse the labyrinth of the ‘Machine’, each level brings with it cool visuals, different melodies, and a constant challenge.
It’s a beautiful looking game. Other than some of the odd objects you have to interact with as part of the games puzzles, and of course those last few levels, nothing seems out of place in the game. Everything looks exactly how you would imagine under the ocean should. Jellyfish are bobbing about, sharks roam the waters, and the seabed is covered in all different kinds of coral and anemones. It’s so beautiful and yet dark at the same time. The sea-life is immaculately detailed and even above water the backgrounds are well designed. The last few levels are a bit of a mess aesthetically, but a small complaint in what is overall one of the Mega Drive’s best looking titles.
The in-game audio is truly a work of art. Every level has it its own tune to play along to, and it feels like the development team nailed it with every pairing of level and track. The opening intro is the perfect example which absolutely nails calm peace with family and friends which is suddenly disrupted by your worst nightmare. The loneliness that accompanies Ecco’s sudden predicament is so hopeless and the song that accompanies the moment is truly harrowing. You know you’re in for a rough ride. Sound effects, whilst few and far between feel right. The splashing of water, the clicks between the dolphins, and the sound that comes with Ecco kicking ass, it all works just fine.
And there’s Eight Arms. Truly the stuff of my nightmares. I swear when I was a kid it felt like the whole octopus was moving, he felt so real. He was terrifying. I look at it now and while I realise it is actually just a single tentacle that is doing the moving, there’s still something truly foreboding about that eight-armed monster. You already have to swim past him slowly enough that he doesn’t take a swing at you, which means he sits on your screen for longer than you want him to be there. You also have to factor in the consideration for your oxygen which is depleting as you take your time. His stillness is so unsettling. Argh, horrible, horrible creature. And he appears at least three times in the game!! FFS!!!
I think it says a lot about the game when I’m sat here typing this up, and I have the opening scene playing on Youtube before Ecco’s pod get sucked into the vortex, and my wife who’s sat across the room on the sofa says, “That sounds really cute.” If only she knew… and that’s the great thing about Ecco. Look at that game cover, one of the most mis-leading covers in gaming history! Make the most of that dolphin’s happy face, for you’re about to experience a world of pain with this poor sod. Gamers who’ve never played it might pass it off as just a kiddy game about sealife, and they couldn’t be further from the truth. One of the most difficult games to complete on the Mega Drive, even with passwords, you’re a fool if you’ve never played this true classic.
See me swimming ever so slowly past Eight Legs @auto2112