Review by: Blake Nelson
Published: October 7, 2000
Every hardware manufacturer looks for and tries to cultivate mascots because successful characters not only sell videogames, they sell systems. Nintendo is the house that Mario and Pokemon built, and the Genesis was Sonic’s triumph. Only Sony has bucked the trend of a system’s sales being driven by a marquee personality, with Crash coming rather late in the PlayStation’s successful run. The short-lived Saturn did not see many of the most famous icons from the glory days of Sega make an appearance, but Sega has gone back to the heyday of their success to resurrect and update some of their strongest franchises for the Dreamcast, including Sonic and Ecco. The dolphin was one of the most unusual characters of the 16-bit era, not only because he is a marine mammal, but since his adventures were one of the few experiences that took you under the sea in the form of a 2D platform game with beautiful graphics, great sound and a novel concept. The folks at Apaloosa are trying to bring him back in grand fashion in Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future, hoping to avoid the dangerous, shallow waters of translating a 2D franchise to three dimensions and providing gameplay as deep as the ocean in which it takes place.
In Defender of the Future, the world is a utopian paradise, with dolphins and mankind living in harmony and reaching new heights of scientific and cultural achievements. So great is this union between aquatic and landborn mammals that they have reached out to the stars to carry their principles of peace and cooperation with them. Earth is left with a few inhabitants to tend to its needs and the Guardian, a powerful artifact who protects those who remain. In typical science fiction fashion, perfection breeds contempt, jealousy and avarice in evil, galaxy-threatening menaces. Known only as the Foe, an evil force descends upon the idyllic planet to take revenge for the defeats that they have suffered at the hands–and flippers–of the union of man and dolphin. The Foe seeks to destroy the home planet of their archenemies, threatening Earth’s existence and undermining everything that the cooperation between the two dominant species has created. As one of the few left behind, it is up to you to save the day and preserve the future.
During the course of your adventure, Ecco will have to navigate the ocean of his own world as well as those of three disastrous possible futures where life has been corrupted by the control of evil men, dolphins or, most menacing, the Foe. Ecco explores worlds both real and fantastic, with each scenario representing what the future will look like, from the bright coral reefs of Earth to the streets of Atlantis to the rusted out hulks of sunken ships. The denizens of the deep behave like you would expect them to–especially if you have watched a lot of Jaques Cousteau–with schools of fish darting in a synchronized ballet, hulking whales pushing powerfully through the surf, sea turtles paddling along, and dolphins leaping, diving, splashing and playing.
The Guardian provides guidance on your quest to save this idyllic world in the shape of information shards, which furnish clues regarding what you are supposed to do and how to accomplish it. Finding these cryptic pieces of data consumes a lot of time because when you enter the water, there are no indications as to where they are located and, like the sea itself, the levels are large with limited visibility. Armed with your hints, you will then have to search even farther for the objectives you need to complete. Standing in the way of success are vicious denizens of the ocean, from ubiquitous sharks and harmless looking poisonous jellyfish to formidable bosses and their queen. Ultimately, you will have to utilize every trick at Ecco’s disposal to progress, so your ability to avoid and deal with danger is the key to success, and you have some pretty good looking tools to work with.