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3D Ecco The Dolphin (3DS eShop)

Game Review

3D Ecco The Dolphin Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Conor McMahon

A bit grim beneath the surface

Ecco the Dolphin has always been something of an oddity. At the time of release, the Mega Drive / Genesis platform was defined by its solid arcade ports and action-packed titles such as Golden Axe and Ghouls 'n' Ghosts, so when a dolphin-based adventure came along it was a totally original concept for players to take on board. It still stands out today in a market continually dominated by shooters and action games, and this recent 3DS release may prompt a whole new audience to take the bait. The title has been praised for its emphasis on atmosphere, its rich art style and unique gameplay, but make no mistake; it isn't all smooth sailing.

You play as Ecco, the titular hero on a magical adventure to make some new friends — or at least you'd be forgiven for assuming that based off the gorgeously colourful box-art by Boris Vallejo. The game's opening does indeed match up to this idyllic vision as you swim around with other dolphins, leaping out of the water to take in the sights above the surface, but it doesn't last. Things take a sharp turn early on, setting a surprisingly gloomy tone with the arrival of a catastrophic whirlwind that tears through the ocean, causing absolute chaos for all within. You may think you're in for a joyous, carefree adventure, but Ecco is actually far from it. Take that literal whirlwind as a metaphorical one as well; your preconceived notions will be quickly whisked away for a harsh awakening. The quest to rescue your 'pod' — which as it turns out is another name for a group of dolphins — will not be an easy one.

Your journey takes you down into the depths of the ocean, through ancient ruins and labyrinthine caves that will have you swimming in circles. Imagine a platformer that takes place entirely underwater, and it's somewhat close to the experience Ecco provides. There's an emphasis on exploration, and you won't really be receiving much guidance other than the occasional obscure hint from a passing dolphin. Puzzles require a bit of thinking, but usually boil down to either matching key glyphs or manoeuvring through harsh currents and surviving enemy encounters. There are a lot of enemy encounters. Nearly every other creature you come across will be out for dolphin blood, and Ecco quickly seems very vulnerable indeed. With only a charge attack to defend yourself with initially, death will come fast and often, not least because it's actually quite difficult to move around properly. Dodging flying crabs and squeezing through ridiculously tight passages lined with spikes is far more challenging than it has to be due to the demand for absolute precision from the player. Ecco is fast, but needs to be lined up exactly right to make certain moves. The sense of speed is lost when you're forced into ambling along at a snail's pace just to avoid the many hazards.

Creator Ed Annunziata himself stated on Twitter that the game's difficulty was a preventative method to stop kids beating it over a weekend, though it may have prevented the majority of them from ever beating it at all. It's a stressful experience, made all the more potent by the ever-present oxygen meter. Being a mammal, Ecco can't stay down there for more than a minute without needing a breath of air, so every puzzle in the game is held down by a sort of time limit. You'll spend a lot of time darting back and forth from air-pockets and obstacles, adding to that sense of pressure. The mechanics haven't held up too well, and the core game is in need of some tweaking.

Luckily this recent 3DS release brings significant changes, making it stand out among many other previous versions. It definitely benefits from M2's input, though it isn't a complete solution. 'Super Dolphin Mode' is arguably the biggest overall change to the gameplay experience, and serves as M2's answer to complaints about the difficulty. When this option is toggled, Ecco is completely invulnerable and his air gauge will never drop, making things substantially less taxing on the player. The idea is that the puzzles go unaltered, and 'Super Dolphin Mode' will allow players to solve them at their own pace. On paper this sounds like a welcome alternative, but in practice it blurs the lines between actively playing the game and just going through the repetitive motions of each stage with no struggle at all. It's a nice idea, but leaves a lot to be desired when it removes all semblance of challenge. Ecco is either a little too tough or a little too easy. There's unfortunately no real middle ground.

On the visual end of things, it's a much happier story. Ecco was a visual marvel at the time of release, and recent ports haven't quite done that justice. It looks fantastic in 3D though, and there's enough graphical variation in the stages to keep up the appeal. The pop-out effect adds the feel of a diorama or — quite suitably — an aquarium to the game, and what was impressive sprite-work at the time has been polished to a near-gleam here. This, alongside the fantastic soundtrack, makes playing through the title a lot more enjoyable. The 'classic' visual mode is an odd addition that simulates playing the game on an old CRT television when toggled, adding a blurry filter which only takes away from the colourful scenery. The option to play the Japanese version has also been included which carries a few minor adjustments of its own, as well as a save feature that removes the punishing lack of checkpoints but can feel a little cheap at times. A combination of the Japanese version and save points can tone the title's difficulty down, but never to a wholly satisfying result which really affects the overall adventure.

Conclusion

Ecco the Dolphin is a flawed but brave venture by Sega that still deserves recognition as a title that was unafraid to try something completely different. It's still possible to recommend to anyone who knows what they're in for and this 3DS release is the best version of the title to date, with multiple options and tweaks to play around with to refine the experience. Some might relish the challenge, so if you've been waiting for the right chance to take the plunge, this is it.

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Check out our coverage here: http://www.nintendolife.com/games/3ds-eshop/3d_ecco_the_dolphin Purchased using Nintendo points kindly provided

User Comments (33)

Swiket

#1

Swiket said:

I pray for the day that Ecco the Dolphin for the Dreamcast gets the HD re-release treatment.

Dinosaurs

#2

Dinosaurs said:

I love Ecco. One of my favorite games from the genesis. For Ecco fans, it doesn't get any better than this right here! :)

uhhhhhhhh

#3

uhhhhhhhh said:

This game is way better than the reviewer gives credit for, IMO.

I'd say it looks like a case of 'too difficult for the reviewer, so it gets a 6'

Vriess

#5

Vriess said:

I got this game last week and it's a blast to play it again after all those years. For the small price it's a must buy for the younger gamers among us that want a taste of what Mega Drive / Genesis gaming was like in the early 90's.

sinalefa

#6

sinalefa said:

Still willing to try it. At least that super easy mode will help me to see the whole game if it is too hard.

Gnoll

#8

Gnoll said:

It's not SO easy, even in Super Dolphin mode: you've still got to figure the puzzles and find your way with absolutely no clues, and you can be crushed by ice blocks in the Hard Water level. On the other hand, I often thought that with finite air and health the game would be borderline impossible... When you have a game that the Japanese feel the need to dumb down for their country, you know you have a problem!

mOOgBunny

#9

mOOgBunny said:

Seems like the score is solely based on the fact that Ecco presents a challenge.
Not a good sign of the times when a game is knocked down because it actually presents a challenge to the player.
Ecco is as it always has been a sublime experience & in all honesty any effort you may have to put in is rewarded ten fold.
It looks wonderful in 3D & plays as well today as it did the day I originally bought it.
Streets of Rage received an 8 & all this got is a 6, there is no justice in the world... Especially for dolphins!
SoR is great but lets face it, penny per minute Ecco wins hands down, both are quality titles but SoR is a walk in the park & seems to have been awarded an 8 for it.

Rawk_Hawk

#10

Rawk_Hawk said:

I've had such a love/hate relationship with this game over the years, but after finally completing the game I have come to love Ecco the Dolphin. I think I will get this version just for the 3D

chiptoon

#14

chiptoon said:

" which as it turns out is another name for a group of dolphins " - to my knowledge it is the actual name for a group of any cetacean :)

JJtheTexan

#17

JJtheTexan said:

I'll definitely pick this up, thanks to the Super Dolphin Mode. The original I played on Genesis was extraordinarily, frustratingly difficult. I've been extremely happy with all the SEGA / M2 classic 3D ports so far, and I hope they sell well enough to bring us more!

Yasume

#18

Yasume said:

Best version of this title to date, yet the Wii version scored an 8/10...err?

DualWielding

#20

DualWielding said:

I'm not clear, does this have a save anywhere feature? that's probably what I need to finally beat this games (never could as a child) would be downloading anyways, love Ecco and for some reason underwater is the one thing that really works well with 3DS 3D effect

DerpSandwich

#21

DerpSandwich said:

I'll probably get the second one for my wife if they release that too. I'm generally a more experienced and skilled gamer than her, but I've seen her playing through that game, and I've got to give her mad props for it. I can barely wrap my head around these games.

JuanitoShet

#22

JuanitoShet said:

I used to have a Model 2 Sega Genesis, complete with the SEGA CD attachment and a few games. This one was one of them, though it was the CD version - I didn't get to play it because I lacked a power cord at the time, and didn't know that retro consoles & accessories were so readily available in my area.

My mom made me throw it away, insisting for months on end that it was just garbage I had stored away and that I'd never use it. One day when we were cleaning, I had enough and I threw everything away, including this game.

One of my biggest gaming regrets of my life. :'(

khululy

#23

khululy said:

Ecco the Dolphin is a hard game. Not all people like hard games.
But that doesn't mean the game is bad. I personally like it's sequel a lot more it has those snazzy travel stages and looks a bit more polished then the first. I also prefer it's soundtrack over the first.

Giygas_95

#24

Giygas_95 said:

I haven't enjoyed this one as much as some of the others, but then again, I haven't spent as much time with it. I mean...when I also have 3D Super Hang On and Shinobi 3, it's hard to fit some time in for Ecco, but I'll try!

@Yasume Well, a different reviewer is probably going to mean a different opinion.

Thats-what-shy

#25

Thats-what-shy said:

Loved this very unique game since it first hit the shelves. I look forward to adding it to my 3D classics collection.

Ryno

#26

Ryno said:

I remember being jealous of this as a Nintendo kid back in the day. Playing it now on the Sega Collection for my PS3 I don't know, I just cannot get into it.

kurtasbestos

#27

kurtasbestos said:

I loved this game for the Sega CD, mostly because the music was amazing, and it was such an atmospheric game overall. I also kinda hated it because it was so damn hard... swimming around in the deep not knowing where the next air pocket made it feel like an incredibly scary horror survival game, because the fear of drowning is something I can relate to. I can't remember if I ever actually beat the game, though I know that I at least got to the last boss a few times... but even in spite of all the flaws, I still have overall positive memories of this game. I'm just not sure if I would want to give it another try because I don't remember the Genesis version being quite as good as the Sega CD version.

Asaki

#28

Asaki said:

But is this the superior Sega CD version of the game, or the inferior Genesis version of the game?

YorkshireNed

#29

YorkshireNed said:

@Asaki my thoughts exactly. The soundtrack was far better for the CD version and there were extra levels. I got through to the final boss a few times, if memory serves, but never beat the game. The final levels were insanely hard and incredibly dark. This was my game, not SOR which quickly bored me

tj3dsXL

#31

tj3dsXL said:

I'm 31 years old and i've been waiting a LONG time for this ! Never thought it would be remade in such a cool 3d-fashion! If you love nature/ocean inspired games you ought to get this,its not for just anyone though because it takes a heart for marine life to get into this story ! I guess Im gonna wait another 33 years for Tides of Time (ecco II) to be on the eshop too lol ! Remember the BIGGEST SECRETS STILL HIDE WITHIN THE OCEAN !!!!!

xj0462

#32

xj0462 said:

probably the worst of the sega 3d classics. alteredbeast is better thand horse dump

RetroJosh

#33

RetroJosh said:

Underrated gem & one of the best mega drive games. Beautiful graphics for it's time and a stunning soundtrack.

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