My first experience of Ecco the Dolphin was way back in the days of SEGA’s Mega Drive, procured out of curiosity at Blockbuster when my parents were trying to keep me occupied over the summer holidays. An aquatic adventure swimming through the ocean as a bottlenose dolphin perhaps wasn’t exactly what they’d intended me to do, but nevertheless, I’m sure that I could be forgiven for my heroic intent.
That said, beneath the game’s admittedly cutesy marine life exterior lies a deceptively challenging experience that I was unable to best before having to return it to the store after the rental period ended.
Despite a rather serene appearance – the tranquil fluidity of swimming underwater, leaping above the surface and chasing after fish schools – Ecco the Dolphin is a title wracked with foreboding turmoil. And, true enough, the opening soon sees a violent waterspout storm suddenly appear, sucking all marine life from Ecco’s home turf, and leaving him alone to fend for survival.
What follows is a quest of hesitant exploration, Ecco discovering that the entire sea has been thrust into complete chaos and finding himself tasked with travelling to the Arctic to speak to “Big Blue,” a blue whale that will impart his wisdom upon the young dolphin as to what he must do to address the situation. That this leads to travelling back in time is as remarkably crazy a storyline as SEGA have ever conjured up, let alone the discovery of what actually caused the storm, although I’ll leave you to find that one out for yourself.
As part of SEGA’s 3D Classics line, Ecco the Dolphin is reborn on the Nintendo 3DS and every much as refreshing an experience as it was when I first slotted the cart into my Mega Drive. Ecco’s songs, which allow you to communicate with other surviving sea life whilst also warding off enemies and unlocking new songs and powers from crystal Glyphs.
In easing the overriding concern of the game’s difficulty SEGA have introduced a new “Super Dolphin” mode, granting the player invincibility and unlimited oxygen which makes the game far more accessible to a younger demographic. Although a lack of signposting can at times leave even experienced players feeling embarrassingly perplexed as to what they must do next, inevitably turning to walkthrough guides for some guidance in places.
It’s the stereoscopic 3D effect that truly makes this an exciting experience, however, breathing new life into Ecco’s aquatic world. Whereas the game’s soothing soundtrack, for which creator Ed Annunziata turned to Pink Floyd for inspiration no less, brings an eerie calm to what still remains an entirely mesmerising and unforgettable experience.