February 26, 2002
Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future - Review
Release Date Publisher Developer Players Rating Price
Online Gameplay Difficulty Save Size Vibration 60Hz 50Hz Border

Click To Enlarge Image
Underwater lighting is stunning.
Back in the MegaDrive days Sega were on a roll. In America and Europe the company was heavily eating into Nintendo's 8-bit user base and it was a string of massive hits on the 16-bit Sega console that helped the company overtake even the new 16-bit Super Nintendo in terms of sales. Games such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Streets of Rage, Phantasy Star, ToeJam & Earl and Ecco The Dolphin were not only great games, but sold in huge numbers. Several years after the failure of the Saturn, the Dreamcast arrived and saw Sega decide to develop new 3D versions of many 16-bit titles. Following the failure of the Dreamcast, which Ecco the Dolphin was first developed on, and Sega's shift to multi-platform development, a port of Ecco to Playstation 2 was a priority.

Click To Enlarge Image
It's easy to jump out of the water.
Ecco The Dolphin: Defender of the Future has an interesting story to back up the game. In the 30th century an evil force has struck Earth, and the harmony created by dolphins and humans is in mortal danger. The evil force ripped a hole in the space/time continuum, and one dolphin, Ecco, fell through into the past. His mission is to restore the former dolphin/human paradise, save the planet from self-destruction, and win back his future. To do this, Ecco must recover the stolen dolphin-power that has been scattered throughout time and space. The bottle nosed dolphin travels through mysterious and breathtaking underwater worlds filled with puzzles, friends, foes, and danger.

As a game Ecco the Dolphin is a very hard to describe. It could probably placed in the platform game category, but one that includes a totally explorable 3D environment with 3 axis of movement (up-down, left-right, back-forward) for exploration. Being able to swim through the levels and explore the caves, rock formations, fish etc is quite an enjoyable experience. He also has the ability to communicate with the other animals while trying to avoid deadly creatures such as sharks, who are looking for a quick meal. Each of the underwater levels has items to collect, areas to explore, and tricks to perform, including some spectacular jumps out of the water.

Click To Enlarge Image
Cruising around some whales.
There are, however, some problems with this game that really make it a disappointment. Firstly, the open structure of the levels will see you spending more time swimming around looking for items or the next area then you would want. Another problem with the game is the rather poor enemy AI. At times you can swim right up underneath a shark but it's not until you swim right in front of their nose that you will be detected. If only that were true in real life. Finally, the game may simply be too pedestrian for some people. The game includes a lot of exploration and without weapons to master many may become tired of the swimming concept within a short period of time.

By far one of the strengths of Ecco the Dolphin are the very lush visuals. The Playstation 2 handles the water effects extremely well with some wonderful texturing in many sections of levels. Unfortunately close up these textures can look low in detail and resolution. The animation on Ecco, and many of the other sea animals, is actually a lot better then you would expect with dozens of different moves and jumps to perform both in and out of the water. The frame rate in the game is fairly solid although there are several instances of noticeable slowdown which can become annoying when trying to evade a shark on your tail.

Click To Enlarge Image
The underwater texturing is great.
Aurally there is plenty to get excited about with Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future, although it's not exactly what you expect from your typical video game. Appaloosa has gone for a more ambient, dreamy and tranquil type of sound with plenty of underwater animal squeaks and squawks. The sound effects are equally impressive and it all combines to give the game a very soothing and relaxing effect.

Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future is such a hard game to give a score to. Technically it's stunning to look at and just swimming around the levels is a joy, but it's perhaps a little too unconventional for many people. The AI of the enemies also needs a little work. I dare any of the developers to think they can swim directly under a real shark without being noticed. Fans of the original game will likely enjoy this quite a bit more then I did but if you're really wanting to support Sega in the coming weeks you will probably be better off with Rez, Headhunter or Space Channel 5 next month. Ecco the Dolphin is a disappointment.

GRAPHICSSome gorgeous underwater levels with excellent animation on Ecco.
SOUNDSome beautifully ambient sounds with adequate sound effects.
GAMEPLAYEcco may be a little too pedestrian for many, also has some poor AI.
VALUEIt may be tiring for many and you will be looking for more fairly soon.
OVERALLSadly, Ecco isn't as engaging as you would expect. Die hard fans only.

Talk about Ecco The Dolphin in this forum topic now.