Ecco the Dolphin (referred to on the title screen as simply "Ecco") is an action-adventure video game released in 1992 for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. The central character, Ecco, is a bottlenose dolphin controlled by the player through a progression of side-scrolling aquatic levels. The game was designed by Ed Annunziata and developed by Novotrade International, and spawned a series of sequels. Ecco is known for its high difficulty level. According to Nintendo Official Magazine, the Ecco the Dolphin series is the only Sega game series to have sold more copies than the famed Sonic the Hedgehog series. It has recently been released for Nintendo's Virtual Console, Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade, Steam,and iOS.
The gameplay is essentially side-scrolling, with horizontal, diagonal and vertical movement. Attacking enemies is accomplished by making Ecco ram into them at high speeds. Swimming could be made progressively faster by tapping a certain button, and the speed could be maintained by holding it down. Players can perform a purely aesthetic spin in the air when jumping out of the water. Two features of the game played on actual dolphin habits; one button causes Ecco to sing, allowing him to speak with other cetaceans and interact with certain objects. The same button is used for echolocation; holding it down would cause the song to return, generating a map of the area. Additionally, Ecco, being a mammal, has to surface periodically for air, or else find an air vent. If the "air meter" ran out, Ecco would lose health rapidly-this represented drowning. His health was measured by a separate meter; it was depleted by enemies or when his air meter had run out, and it is recharged by eating fish, "singing" to clams, or, later in the game, singing to special statues or crystals called "Glyphs". Ecco's song could be optionally "upgraded" at two points in the game; one upgrade allowed Ecco's song to be used in combination with a charge as a long-range weapon, and the other temporarily disoriented sharks and made minor enemies freeze temporarily. Touching any enemy by any means other than an attack causes Ecco to sustain damage. The enemies range from seahorses to giant octopodes.
Several levels contain enormous crystals called "Glyphs", which would respond in different ways if Ecco touches or sings to them. Some blocked paths, and a "Key-Glyph" had to be found in such cases to pass. Others gave information, and a few in later levels would replenish health/air and give Ecco temporary invulnerability.
The original Ecco was considered by many to have a very high level of difficulty. Among many other things, the twisting underwater passages in many levels, combined with the air limit, often led to death and frustration. Many jumps out of the water, over small islands and ruined buildings, were also difficult. The second-to-last level featured a force-scrolled maze where a mis-timed movement meant instant death. The game featured infinite tries and levels divided up with a password system. (The Japanese version of the game made the aforementioned level slightly easier and allowed the player to resume partway through if they died.)
An unexpectedly high amount of this game's fanbase expressed having played the game with fear when younger, due to the game's surprisingly dark nature; expecting the game to be a "nice, cute game with dolphins," instead they found a darker game. Some of the points that struck fear in the younger audience were the darkening waters as Ecco swims deeper, the unsuspected enemies (mainly the large octopodes) and even the music.
The second-to-last level of the game was entitled "Welcome to the Machine," a reference to a song by Pink Floyd. The sequel featured a level called "New Machine," a reference to a later Pink Floyd song.
The game begins with Ecco as he and his pod are swimming in their home bay. One podmate challenges him to see how high into the air he can jump. When he is in the air, a waterspout storm forms and sucks up all marine life in the bay except Ecco, leaving him alone in the bay. Upon leaving the bay to search for his pod, he contacts several dolphins from other pods, who tell him the entire sea is in chaos, and that all marine creatures had felt the storm. After talking to an orca, Ecco travels to the Arctic to find a blue whale named The Big Blue. The Big Blue tells him such storms had been occurring every 500 years and directs him to the Asterite, the oldest creature on Earth. He leaves the Arctic and travels to a deep cavern where he finds the Asterite. Although it has the power to aid him, one of its globes is missing, and needs it returned. However, this can only be achieved by traveling back in time using a machine built by the ancient Atlanteans.
Ecco travels to the sunken city of Atlantis, where he discovers the time machine and an ancient library. He learns the cause of the storm; it was a harvest of Earth's waters that was conducted every 500 years by an alien species known as the Vortex. The Vortex had lost their ability to make their own food, and so every 500 years, they would harvest from the waters of Earth. Learning this, he activates the time machine and travels 55 million years into Earth's past. Ecco locates the Asterite in the past but is immediately attacked by it. Forced into battle, he manages to dislodge a globe from it. This opens a time portal and he is sent back into the present. After receiving the globe, the Asterite grants him the power to turn his sonar into a deadly weapon against the Vortex, as well as the abilities to breathe underwater and to slowly regenerate lost health. The Asterite instructs him to use the time machine to travel back in time to the hour of the harvest. This time he manages to be sucked into the waterspout with his pod. Once inside the waterspout, Ecco makes his way towards the Vortex Queen, the leader of the Vortex race. Eventually, the Vortex Queen is destroyed and Ecco rescues his pod.
The game was originally released in 1992 for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis. An enhanced Sega Mega-CD version that features new and redesigned levels and an alternate Red Book audio soundtrack, composed by Spencer Nilsen, was also released, and later ported to Windows. The Windows port was further enhanced with higher resolution graphics. Game Gear and Master System versions were also released; they featured different levels to the other versions and a special intro featuring a whale song, and dolphin noises for the title screen.
The Game Gear version had some notable features in the intro that were not present in the Mega Drive version. These included a dolphin crying "SEGA" on the SEGA screen and dolphins laughing on the title screen.
Sega Genesis Collection
In 2002, Sega's first attempt to enter the downloadable retail game content business occurred on RealOne Arcade.
The first few titles released included Ecco the Dolphin, Columns III and Shinobi III were under the RealOne Arcade service. These downloadable releases came in one hour trial versions.
Ecco the Dolphin was released in Europe and Australia for the Virtual Console on Nintendo's Wii console on December 8, 2006 for 800 Wii Points. It was released in North America on November 28, 2006 for 800 Wii Points, and in Japan on December 2, 2006 for 600 Wii Points.
Xbox Live Arcade
Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection
The version of Ecco the Dolphin released on Steam is part of the "Sega Genesis Classics Pack" (it can also be purchased separately) so it is the Genesis/Mega Drive version as opposed to the earlier Windows port of the Sega CD version.
- Wii.Nintendo.com - Wii Virtual Console games - Ecco the Dolphin. Nintendo. Nintendo (2007). Retrieved on 2007-09-25
- Goldstein, Hilary (2007-08-17). IGN: Ecco the Dolphin Review. IGN. IGN. Retrieved on 2008-02-01
- Thomas, Lucas (2006-12-13). IGN: Ecco the Dolphin (Virtual Console) Review. IGN. IGN. Retrieved on 2008-02-01
- Ecco the Dolphin - Game Detail Page. Microsoft. Microsoft (2007). Retrieved on 2007-09-25
- Arkonviox.com - Welcome to the Machine and Pink Floyd.
Nintendo Official Magazine Staff (2001). Nintendo Official Magazine - Nintendo's Market Share 1988. Future Publishing. p. 35.
- Ecco the Dolphin Online - An Ecco the Dolphin website dedicated to reverse engineering and preservation of resources from the Ecco the Dolphin series.
- Ecco: The Dolphin Wiki, on Wiki.
- Significant Bits section - An article listing some of the most notable points of Ecco the Dolphin.
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