# 11 – Ecco the Dolphin (Flipper meets Eldritch Horror!!)

System: Sega Genesis

Release Date: July 29, 1993

First Played: ????

Status: DEFEATED – October 13, 2014

Sometimes, video games tend to blend together. The plot is usually save so and so from the bad guy, or it’s the “lone gunman” versus impossible odds! To mix things up a bit, sometimes a human protagonist is replaced by an animal, like a hedgehog, or a gorilla or a bandicoot, but story wise they can be all very similar. So how do you make a game stand out and not fall into these typical categories? Well first you need a unique setting, like the ocean, or better yet IN the ocean! How about an unusual protagonist like a dolphin? Who doesn’t like dolphins!?! They’re fun to look at and are smart and adorable, but you wouldn’t think of them as the adventuring type…right? And what if you then took this simple, loving creature and threw him into a bat shit crazy story??? Something that would drive any human to the brink of madness…what would happen? Well, you’d get this game, a game that blurs the line between beauty and horror, the unknown and the not-meant-to-be-known, fun and overwhelming frustration, between Ooooh! and GGYYAAAAAHH!!! But enough with the build up, let’s…DIVE IN…shall we???

When First We Met…

My memories of Ecco the Dolphin are so vague; this is a first for me! As you have seen previously in this Quest (or if you haven’t, check it out!!), I am able to recall when and where I played it and even major events of the game, especially the ones that were impossible to beat at the time. But for Ecco, it’s more like a dream…I remember swimming, with a beautiful back drop of the ocean filled with fish you could swim up to and eat! I remember being able to dive deep into the ocean, watching as the scenery changed into a sinister and foreboding world of darkness, only to swim up impossibly fast and launch myself into the air!!! I remember defeating sharks by ramming into them and flipping along the ocean’s surface with my dolphin friends as we sang our dolphin songs….but most vividly I remember this…

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Swimming through the sky!!! I remember this so well!!! What level it was, I couldn’t tell you. What’s was the point of the game, who cares, I’m a dolphin!! I remember loving every second of it! So, there’s nothing more to say really. My memories of Ecco the Dolphin were like visiting a tropical island when you were a small child. You “remember” having fun, but it’s more a feeling than actual images. However, my dreams were soon to become a reality……and a nightmare…

Meanwhile in the Present…

In the summer of 2014, my wife and I decided to spend a day in Toronto’s Kensington Market. It’s an amazing part of Toronto with so many unique shops, architecture and people. Naturally, I managed to stumble upon a retro video game store, where within I found….

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Oh my God! I remember this!!! I remembered swimming through the sky and the simple pleasure of being a dolphin; a warm nostalgia feeling came over me. How could I not pick this up??? So, $9.99 plus tax later, I was in possession of the key to unlock these clouded childhood memories. A few days later, I took a break from one of the games that I had chosen for my Quest and gave it a go. It opens to a view of the ocean, the camera moving along the surface of the water as dolphins dive in and out as they speed past, then one Dolphin stops to look at the camera…

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Oh! Hello Ecco! What a happy little dolphin he is! Right away I’m impressed by the visuals. Everything is so bright and vibrant, and the movements of the dolphins are so fluid and natural. It doesn’t have that sometimes clunky feel you get with some characters in older games. When you press start, you’re in an underwater cavern, going left will bring you to a password screen (YES!!) and right will start the game. Right it is then! You start in a lagoon surrounded by your dolphin pals. Everything seems happy enough, no dangers nearby, so I try out my dolphin skills. “A” is your sonar, or “Ecco” location, it appears as curved lines that shoot out from your face. You use this to interact with sea creatures you want to talk to (it can’t deal damage though), but it also is used to provide a map of your surroundings by pressing and holding “A” until your sonar bounces back to you. You’re then shown a screen that shows a portion of the map; I would soon discover that this would be a necessary tool throughout the game. “B” is your main attack; it’s a ramming attack but can also provide an extra boost of speed that you might need to fight a strong current or to get extra height for a jump. It’s also used for eating fish! Just ram through a school of fish to replenish your life (I like the little “Gulp” sound that happens when you eat a fish). “C” is used for swimming; the faster you press “C” the faster you will go.

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At the top of the screen are two bars, the top is my health bar and the bottom is my air gauge (as dolphin need to breathe air don’tchaknow?) Now that I’m fully aware of my Dolphin body, let’s go talk to my pod! As you talk to different members of your pod, they ask you to perform different moves (it’s basically getting used to the controls). Can you eat fish? YES! Can you swim fast? SURE! How high can you jump? LET’S FIND OUT!! (I’m guessing this is everyday Dolphin small talk) I keep jumping higher and higher, this is so nice, it’s like I’m playing a relaxing screen saver! I manage to time my ram to get an extra boost of speed and I fly incredibly high into the air!! Then…

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Eat your heart out shark-nado!

The screen starts flashing and a sickly mechanical drone startles me! A giant tornado appears and starts sucking all the life out of the ocean!!! What the…?!?! I see my pod get sucked up into the sky as I’m flung off the screen! As quickly as it came, the anomaly vanishes…I’m alone in my lagoon, once so vivid and full of life it is now dark and stagnant. WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?!!? I explore, nothing is left…ooooook…eventually I find a section that I exit from and start the next level…wow, shit just got real! I’m given a password as well as the title of the level….Medusa Bay…this doesn’t sound threatening at all! Nothing tells me what I need to do in the level, so I start to explore, where I run into a dead end. My sonar tells me that there is more ocean on the other side of the wall, so I build up speed and jump over it, doing a fun somersault in the process! Fun! It’s not long before I run into the most common enemy of the game, the jelly fish!

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They are dispatched easily with one hit. So far, I like this game, however, I discover the only downside very quickly, which is the sound you make when you are damaged. It’s like a Warbling High Pitch Shriek that pierces the centre of your brain! Ecco will keep making this sound over and over as long as you are touching whatever creature or obstacle is hurting you….I really don’t want to know how they came up with the sound of a dolphin being hurt…

Dolphin Noise Technician – Hmmm, I wasn’t crazy about that last one…try using the sledge hammer again…

I guess this just adds incentive not to get hurt! I swim around and find a giant crystal floating in the water. Hmm, what’s this…I touch it and am violently pushed back! Yeesh! My sonar does nothing and I can’t ram it. Ok, crystal bad! I swim some more and eventually discover a killer whale…do killer whales eat dolphins??? It’s just sitting there not trying to kill me, so I try talking to it…and it answers! It doesn’t know where my pod is, but I should go find “The Big Blue”, he might know.

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Thanks for the tip Willy!

I then notice another crystal floating nearby; I try to avoid it but can’t; I touch it but this time these blue rings come out of it and get absorbed into me…thanks? I refill my air and explore some more, killing jelly fish as I go, how do I get out of this place? I soon run into that first crystal…hmmm, I try my sonar again and the crystal drops away off screen! OOOOOOHHH, so I need to find a crystal that has a “key” in order to pass certain crystals that block my way! This is a theme that will be ever present throughout the game. Close by is the exit, which brings me to a screen with another password, level title…

From here, the games difficulty goes from mind destroying hard to cake walk. There are a couple of levels that have you hunting for lost dolphins and returning them to the “Sad Dolphin” that asked you to find them. Now, here is my issue with this. Ecco the Dolphin…is a dolphin; a regular, everyday run of the mill dolphin. No super powers, no laser beams attached to his head, just an air breathing fish. The Sad Dolphin…is also a dolphin…but sad. Sad Dolphin has the same abilities as Ecco….SO WHY CAN’T YOU FIND THEM YOURSELF???? These levels are so frustrating, some involve having to push a rock against a current (which takes forever) or trying to find a strange ring of spikes that can break rocks (which can only be moves via your sonar…I have no problem with the sonar sound…but when you need to press it rapidly for 3 minutes straight, it starts to wear your brain down to a fine paste) all while trying to find air pockets, dodge jellyfish, GREAT WHITE SHARKS, dick crabs (not literally dick crabs, I’m calling them dicks…don’t Google it, there is no such thing as a dick crab) crystals, oh, right and this thing…

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A giant Octopus (or 8 arms as the dolphin call them). And once you reunite the missing dolphins, they won’t help you look for yours! And then you have your cake walk level…

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“SO MANY SHARKS!!”, but I just swam at the bottom of the screen and dodged them all…..so yeah. Eventually your travels bring you to the icy domain of the big blue…

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Weeeeeeeeee!!!!!

Here we have an interesting change of pace. To navigate some of these levels, you need to slide along the surface on the ice till you find a hole to splash into. This fun does not last long as you soon run into tiger sharks and giant arctic crabs!!!

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The enemies are frustratingly aggressive; if a crab sees you it will follow you throughout the entire level until you kill it or it kills you. And you need to dodge blocks of ice (or “hard water” as the dolphins call it) these blocks are quick and even touching one will sometimes make the game think you were crushed by it and you’ll have to start the level over!! Not to mention having to find those blasted crystals and there counterpart!! But, my countless deaths and hours of fist shaking and crying eventually lead me to THE BIG BLUE!!

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He’s more of a purple…

Yes! Where’s my family??? He’s got no clue…but he does tell you an interesting story…he says every 500 years, a big storm like the one at the start of the game happens…well, that’s the story. Oh…..since that is the only thing he knows, he suggests I go talk to the Asterite…what’s an Asterite? Well, I need to traverse a couple more tiger shark, angry puffer fish, find the crystal, no oxygen levels to find that out…on my 20th try with no life and one oxygen bar left, I find it…and I don’t think anyone could see this coming…

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That’s the Asterite; it’s basically a gigantic DNA strand THAT CAN TALK. It’s here that I begin to question my memory. I remember swimming through the air!! Not this Lovecraftian deep sea horror show!?!? The internet quickly solves my conundrum….my memorizes were of ECCO THE DOLPHIN: THE TIDES OF TIME…THE SEQUEL………which means, I have actually never played Ecco the Dolphin before!!! Wow…ok, well, ok then. That explains…a lot. So, let’s get back to this Asterite guy. The Asterite gives me a bit more to go on than Big Blue did. It says that we have met before….nope; pretty sure I would have remembered you…The Asterite goes on to say that it can help me get my family back, but it is missing an orb. In order to get his orb back you must TRAVEL TO THE LOST CITY OF ATLANTIS AND GO BACK IN TIME AND GET AN ORB FROM THE PAST VERSION OF THE ASTERITE AND RETURN IT TO THE PRESENT ASTERITE.

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Notice the second save? “Oh, you want to SAVE save your family! Oh, well why didn’t you say so! Here they are!!!”

 Find Atlantis?? How am I going to do that??? Well, it’s the next level, so that was easy! The ancient ruins background here are really fun to look at. Also, you get a new power up! There are some crystals that will give you invincibility for about 20 seconds!! On top of that, it also refills your air and health! Finally a break! This is a must have when you need to quickly traverse tight passages filled with jelly fish with a rock that can break chain barriers. I come across a Library where I get the full back story from the crystals stored within. They explain that creatures known only as “The Vortex” come to earth every 500 years to suck up life from the sea so they can feed on it…which is what happened to my family!!! So, my pod is now intergalactic space food??

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Eventually, after a frustrating level where I need to make giant leaps over walls (though later I would discover an easy short cut) I get to the time machine…

 

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I discover my sonar is the key to get it going. As my sonar bounces back and forth between the two panels, it builds speed until I’m flung to the past!!

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Now I’m in the Stone Age!! Where I get to face the giant pre-historic ancestors of the sharks and jelly fish! And trilobites!! Who act the same as the crabs. Oh, but there is a fun part where pterodactyls carry you around for a bit!

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Thank you for fighting every natural urge in your body by not eating me!!

Everything here is darker, I’ve never really been able to call a level “mysterious” before, but that’s the word that pops into my head…these eel shark looking things and sea carrots don’t help

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Oh, and you get to face this guy, the closest thing to a boss battle I have seen thus far.

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Giant Sea Horse…Or in Latin: Giantus Assholeius

That’s a giant Sea Horse (note the dead uncaring eyes, a common trait in Sea Horses) when you hit it, it shoots out baby sea horses that try to kill you!!! I spent literally days trying to beat this guy, all so I could touch one of those freaking crystals he was guarding!!! But, with teeth shattering patience I beat him…and some more Jurassic craziness later, I find the past version of the Asterite! Great! I’ll just talk to it and…it promptly kills me with lightning…BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF THE 20 MINUTE LEVELl!! GRAAAHH!!!! Luckily I find an invincibility crystal which allows me to go through some spikes and get me to the Asterite much quicker. Through trial and error, I realize that I need to hit four orbs of the same colour on the Asterite while dodging lightning bolts; doing so rewards me with another trip through the time stream and back to the friendlier Asterite! He thanks me for returning his orb. Great! I travelled and saw unspeakable monstrous horrors and experienced countless deaths…WHERE’S MY FAMILY??? He does one better…

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The Asterite gives you the ability to breathe underwater AND best of all, to use your sonar AS A WEAPON. Ecco can basically shoot laser-like sonar blasts that are awesomely powerful!! Well, it just took me over 20 levels of pain like I have never known, but this is worth it! But the Asterite isn’t finished. To get my family, I need to travel back in time again to the point of my pods abduction (The first level!) but this time I also need to be abducted with them! So, a quick trip back to the Atlantian time machine (I discovered that there is a stature that when hit with my sonar opens a wall that leads me straight to the time machine…so no more jumping over stupidly high walls!) and I’m back at level one.

I guess that Ecco replaces his past self…or else there would be 2 Eccos…quantum physics aside, I jump as high as I can yet again…..and am greeted by the same terrifying VORTEX STORM, except this time I’m captured! It leads to a level…called simply “The Tube”.

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The Tube…something about that makes me feel sick, like it’s just a part of some sort of food processing plant. An apparatus that helps organise organic material. In this level you are driven upwards at increasing speed, all while dodging or destroying debris with your sonar or ramming abilities. This level is terrible, I basically had to draw out a map on a napkin of where all the obstacles were in order for me to get past it….and once you do, you get to a level, so terrible, so frustrating, so terrifying, so paranoia driving…it is simply called…

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Welcome to the Machine…..Welcome to the hardest level I have ever played. Welcome to an uncontrollable feeling of dread, like being locked in an abandoned wearhouse with the lights off and hearing shuffling in the blackness coming closer and closer…Welcome to having a screwdriver turned sideways, dipped in hot sauce, lit of fire and ramming it up your ass!! Oh, and remember, “The Vortex”? Well, they are the ones that “Welcome” you to the machine…

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Nononononoohmygodohmygodnononshitshitshitnono!!!!!

Why hello child of Cthulu! What’s that??? You want to crack me open like a “Crunchie” bar and feast on the delicious candy innards within!?!? God can’t save me?? I will know pain and pleasure as I am consumed by your soulless acolytes!!!???!?!?! Ph’nglui Mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!!! AAAAAHHHH!!!!!!!! *ahem* These bastards can kill you almost instantly and it takes 2 sonar shots to kill them…first you kill the body…then you kill the head…they are fast and they come at you without warning from the walls of the machine itself! The only good thing is that Ecco heals very quickly. Oh, and the level moves around for you. Often I would be trapped in a dead end only to have the screen crush me against whatever wall I was stuck at. Again, this took me days…I basically had to memorize every single turn the machine would make and every spot where the Vortex/Cthulu children would pop out from. The level is at least 10 minutes of frantic dodging and manoeuvring and killing…but I did it!! I beat it!! My celebrations were cut short as….IT came…

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“It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock

The meat it feeds on.”

― William Shakespeare, Othello

GGRRAAAHHH!!!! WHAT THE HELL IS THAT!?!?! WHY ARE YOU HERE!!!??? THIS IS A GAME ABOUT A DOLPHIN!! A GOD DAMN FUCKING DOLPHIN!!!! I SHOULD BE JUMPING AND EATING FISH AND LAUGHING!!!! YOU SHOULD NOT BE!!!!!! A Cthulu drone is waiting for me at the top, which takes me down to half my health and then the Vortex Queen sucks me into her mouth and eats me…I’M DEAD…then…

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…………….wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAATTTTTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!!!????????????????? YOU WANT ME TO START AT THE BEGINNING OF THE MACHINE????? THE LEVEL THAT LITERALLY TOOK ME DAYS TO COMPLETE???? No! nonononono! Nope! Nope! Not going to happen!! NO!! So, I went to the internet and found a code to start at the Vortex Queen…

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Is this cheating? No, because I beat all the levels and this should be a place where the game gives you a code! It’s in the game, it just doesn’t want to give it to you! If you think it’s cheating, screw you. Sorry, but I’m using this code!! I didn’t go through hell only to be fucked over at the end of the game!! On my next go I’m able to dodge the Cthulu drone at the top and place my full attention on the Vortex Queen. The Vortex Queen’s head slowly moves in a circle around the screen, every so often she starts inhaling and if you get caught in the pull, it’s instant death. There are 3 steps to defeat the queen, which are all easier said than done, as you need to dodge balls of energy and the occasional Vortex Drone:

Step 1: Shoot your super sonar at her eyes!! With every successful hit, she’ll spew out bits of gore that damage you when they touch you. How do you know when enough is enough? Her eyes fall out…now she’s a blind furious monstrosity! Great!

Step 2: Destroy her jaw…5 times. Yup, you can knock off her jaw, but it grows back. If you attack while she starts sucking in water, then you’ll end up dolphin chow. How do you know when enough is enough? Her jaw stops growing back, so now she’s just a blind mouthless head trying to squish you! Fun for the whole family!

Step 3: Ram her head!!! Keep ramming until you can ram no more! With each successful hit, the screen flashes red!

I lost track of how many tries this took…but eventually…

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Happy Die Day Asshole!!!

YYYEESSS!!! As the queen dies, she vomits up your dolphin family!! You then lead your pod out of the Vortex ship and into your home lagoon…

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All you dolphin buds come up and congratulate you!

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You always had a way with words Daryl!

 You did it!! The Vortex are dead………….or are they?

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Thanks for the buzz kill Dwayne…!

You are greeted to some well deserved credits…THE END.

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Judgement…

This game is incredibly difficult. However, the lavish and foreboding backgrounds, terrific music selection and the off the wall never-see-this-coming story makes the pain worth it! Many times I wanted to give up, but I needed to know what would happen next! This is by far the most insane story involving a dolphin that I have ever seen! What kind of movie would this make???

The downside? This game is not for the impatient. Every movement needs to be precise, and if you’re terrible at directions, like me, then you will get lost, but the sonar map is an immense help here. My main pet peeve is the sound Ecco makes when he gets hurt. You could have put in a simple “Thunk” noise or a softer sounding whistle or something…but that noise…THE NOISE…I think I had a nightmare once where that noise was in it…Also, the enemies are relentless, especially the crabs and trilobites! I found it best to memorize their locations and just stay the hell away from them! Should you play this game? Hell yes! It is soul destroying hard, but it is so worth it. On the wikipedia page for this game, I read a comment by Ed Annunziata the game designer who said, “I was paranoid about game rentals and kids beating the game over the weekend. So I.. uh… made it hard.” That’s an understatement if I ever heard one!!!

So what do you think? Are you going to track this game down and get yourself into some Dolphin dilemmas? Are you going to try out its sequel, “The Tides of Time”? I will, as I clearly had played it before. I don’t know how crazier a story about a dolphin can get though! Sound off in the comments below!

Stay tuned next week when we take on # 10! The Iconic Blue Blur is back in his biggest adventure yet! So big that they had to split it into 2 separate games that could COMBINE with LOCK-ON TECHNOLOGY!!

It’s a bad habit of mine, but I’m ready to crack some knuckles!!

Tah tah!

Adamus Prime

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