Ecco the Dolphin

Brad:Every few years, people take up some kind of environmental cause.These days, it’s global warming.You notice people don’t really talk about the rainforests anymore, unless its in the context of reducing global warming. Nobody cares about saving the whales (still endangered, by the way), or cheetahs (practically extinct), or rhinos (also not doing so well).In fact the only endangered animal you ever hear people pitching for these days are polar bears, which conveniently (though they might disagree) are having their habitat destroyed by… you guessed it – global warming. Deforestation, polluted lakes, extinctions, and overflowing landfills were all old environmental causes that the majority of people have largely stopped paying attention to these days, regardless of whether or not they ever got fixed. And we’ll all do the same with global warming in a few years. Just you wait.

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These jellyfish hate Ecco.  Soon you will, too.

Back in the early 90s, our attention was focused on our overfished, polluted oceans. In the long-term, this didn’t help much – our oceans are probably as barren today as they ever have been in human history. On the other hand, this was an absolute boon for Sega who, showing an extremely rare occurrence of foresight, released Ecco the Dolphin, a game where you play as a dolphin and save Earth’s oceans from being swept devoid of life. Sega was wise to capitalize on the zeitgeist of the time, as players were so eager to take up the environmental cause du jour that they instantly declared Ecco a classic, regardless of whether or not it had any of the characteristics we might broadly define as being “fun” or “remotely enjoyable”.

Which, by the way, it doesn’t. The gameplay in Ecco primarily revolves around puzzle solving, and in the respect, the developers didn’t exactly go all out. In most stages, pathways will be blocked by giant blue crystals, called glyphs. The only way to get past a glyph is to find a different glyph and ram it, which somehow gives you the power to kill the original glyph.This is exactly the same kind of “puzzle solving” that you might find in a game like Doom, where you have to track down various keycards to open doors. Yet nobody ever talks about Doom like its some kind of triumph of brilliant puzzle-solving gameplay. What the hell do blue crystals have to do with anything?Or was that just the first thing the developers thought of?The whole thing reeks of unnecessary backtracking to stretch out the levels, and I seriously wonder if any less thought could have possibly been put into this.

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Blue crystals?  That’s the best thing they could come up with?

The rest of the game consists of swimming around, trying to figure out what the hell you’re supposed to be doing, and getting attacked by other marine life.Apparently everything in the ocean hates Ecco – in fact, no dolphin has ever been this universally despised since Bryan Cox retired from the NFL. Enemies come at you from all sides, completely immune to the various currents that are pushing you around or – oh, I don’t know – THE WALLS OF THE STAGE, which they swim through at will. Your only weapon against this assault for the majority of the game is a dash maneuver that lets you ram your enemies. In this way, most victories are pyrrhic – you might kill your opponent, but will probably crash into some other source of damage in the process. Later in the game, you get a ranged weapon, but it’s not much more effective.

A lot of Ecco fans like to point out that the game is hard, as if that somehow automatically makes it good.Difficulty is more like a multiplier – if a game is really fun, a challenging difficulty can make it more enjoyable. But if a game isn’t that enjoyable to begin with, cranking up the difficulty just makes it even more frustrating. So Ecco isn’t good because it’s hard, and if anything, it’s hard because its not designed very well.

Stryker:Usually, when we eliminate a game that’s generally well-thought of, I don’t hate it so much as I am bored by it. You play it for a little while, thinking it must eventually get better, and then if it doesn’t, you cross it off the list and wonder what people liked so much about it in the first place. For an example on this site, check out Earthworm Jim or Vectorman. So make no mistake when I tell you that this was not the case with Ecco the Dolphin. I hated this game when it first came out, I hate it still, and I hate all you people who keep insisting that it’s great. There’s nothing inherently brilliant about making a game where you play as a dolphin, and the entire game does little more than try to coast by on this thin premise.

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Hey look, it’s one of the few obstacles that’s not a blue crystal!

Mr. Do!:As a wise man once said, “If dolphins are so smart, why have I eaten so many of them?”

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