Ecco The Dolphin: Defender Of The Future
|a game by||Appaloosa Interactive Corporation|
|Editor Rating:||8.9/10, based on 4 reviews|
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This is definitely not a game you would want to rush through," said Gergely Csarzar, producer of Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future (due this fall). "It has its own pace, and the focus is on enjoying the environments, exploring them, and learning new things."
To hear Csarzar explain it, Ecco sounds like it's half adventure game, half something you'd see on the Discovery Channel. Heck, the development team at Appaloosa Interactive even scoured nature documentaries and taped 50 hours of dolphins in the wild to help nail the game's true-to-life look. "Our goal is to create the visuals to match the quality, the colors, the beauty of National Geographic," he told us. But that's not to say Ecco's some touchy-feely edutainment title. At its heart you'll find the same gameplay basics established by the original Genesis Ecco games. You'll turboboost into enemies and jab 'em with your bottlenose, as well as manipulate switches and other obstacles to solve puzzles. You'll master Ecco's jumps and mammal-outa-water acrobatics, including tailwalks across the ocean's surface. You can morph into other animals at key points to pass obstacles. You'll encounter futuristic machinery, blasting currents and an enormous variety of sea life you can tickle with Ecco's sonar. "You can talk to all mammals in the game," Csarzar said, "but turtles, sharks--especially enemies--won't communicate with Ecco via text. Depending on Ecco's actions, whether he sonars these animals or bumps them or charges or swims around them, they'll change their behavior accordingly."
Appaloosa has essentially created a living environment teeming with intelligent sea life, and it's your job to figure out how to coax these creatures into helping you solve the game's many puzzles. During the course of your adventure, you'll explore four oceans--and these seas are massive. The coral reef in the first world, for instance, stretches a mile-and-a-half long and one mile wide. Some levels can take as long as six hours to complete.
In all, Ecco should pack about 50 hours of gameplay, said Csarzar. But with such novel gameplay, fascinating worlds and a story crafted by sci-fi author David Brin. Ecco seems like one game you won't want to end.
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For those of you old enough to remember, Ecco the Dolphin made his first appearance on the Sega Genesis back in 1992. Appaloosa Interactive plans to bring back this classic for a new adventure (to be published by Sega) on Dreamcast in April 2000. The game is set in a future world where dolphins and humans live in peace. But when a band of evildoers travels back in time to prevent peace from being achieved, only Ecco can stop them. As you progress through the game you'll travel back and forth through time, seeing both peaceful and chaotic versions of the future. Gameplay will be very reminiscent of the first two Ecco games--this isn't the first time our dolphin friend has had to travel through time. Along the way you'll meet aquatic friends (turtles, other dolphins) and enemies (sharks, jellyfish and squid). Appaloosa has done extensive research to make the game look as authentic as possible.
After a couple of hours with this game I was convinced I'd have to score it low--the learning curve is so steep! But here's the catch: No matter how frustrated I got in any level, I was always compelled to keep trying until I succeeded in taking the lovable little mammal to the next challenge. The at speaks volumes about the quality of Ecco. It's not often nowadays to get a game so welt designed that a high difficulty doesn't totally destroy the experience. Ecco's also easily the most impressive-looking game to date on this system, from the beautiful underwater scenery all the way up to the surrounding landscape above the surface. The quality of design and production in this game is simply second-to-none. Complementing the look perfectly is the enchanting soundtrack, which rivals the superb job Spencer Nilsen did with Ecco on the Sega CD what seems like ages ago. The wonderful level design and graphics would still be nothing without a great story, but Ecco excels here as well. The plot feels like it belongs in a movie, yet another reason to keep playing even after reaching what feels like an insurmountable challenge. The conversion from 2D to 3D hasn't hurt that classic Ecco feel either, as this game controls perfectly. Defending the future is a long (over 25 levels long, in fact) and arduous task, but it's enjoyable every step of the way. You hardcore types out there should love this.
Ecco raises the bar for graphic quality and detail on the Dreamcast. No other game, except maybe Resident Evil Code; Veronica, comes close. The visuals are simply breathtaking. The dolphin and sea creature animation is unmatched in its degree of realism. It's so real that I'd scream in pain and jump out of my seat every time I got hurt. The developers also did a great job translating the balance and feel of the old Ecco games into 3D. Even the music has that Sega CD Ecco feel to it. Control becomes second nature after a few hours getting used to your new fins. This is a must-play. It's almost enough to make me forgive Appaloosa for those Contra games.
There's no question this is a pretty, pretty game. In fact, it's easily one of the best-looking home games ever. But, at the same time, it's also one of the most frustrating. To be honest, I haven't gotten this pissed off at a game in years, in some ways it's great that you're thrown into levels with no real direction; it forces you to think and fully explore before moving on. But at the same time, being stuck in a series of tunnels with no apparent way out or dying again and again while trying to perform some insane jump isn't exactly fun. If Ecco played half as good as it looked, it would have been a truly incredible experience, instead of just an aggravating one.
Those of you who remember the original Ecco games on the Genesis are about to swim into world of high quality 3-D. The original games were a lightyear jump in graphics for the Genesis and the Dreamcast version does not disappoint.of the Future is a graphic masterpiece and the most hair pulling, controller throwing, mind numbing game I have ever played in my life. Did I mention it was hard? Right out of the gate I thought... there is no way this should be so difficult. And that was the first level. A straight up quality game that is sooooooo worth the frustration, you just won't realize it until you walk away and miss playing.
The storyline was developed by Nebula and Hugo Award winning science fiction author, David Brin, whose novels include Startide Rising and The Uplift War. Those books involve cooperation between Man and Dolphin, a theme which is used very effectively in this ecologically friendly game. Man and Dolphin have achieved a blissful, harmonic existence and, since the game takes place 500 years in the future, this existence has been brought to countless other worlds. But, as in all good adventure games, there must be an antagonist and in this case they are called the Foe. It seems the Foe didn't like the fact that the human/dolphin peace machine ran roughshod over them and all but stopped their evil intentions. Now the last of the Foe hide and watch in an attempt to take over the greatest prize of all: The Earth. And so begins our adventure -- as Ecco, the chosen protector of Earth, you must complete a series of quests and tasks to repair the device that shields the Earth from attack (thanks to a kamikaze Foe spaceship). Oh, did I mention that this game is very, very, very hard?
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Defender of the Future has the common 3/4 view from behind which is reminiscent of Sonic Adventure. Using the analog control stick on the controller you learn that down is up and up is down. "A" makes you swim and "B" lunges you forward very quickly. Since dolphins are a pretty quick mammal you can imagine coral reefs, sharks, and other perils flying by at a blistering pace. Now I know what you're thinking: how can a dolphin take on such nasty critters as great white sharks and stingrays? Oh ye of little faith. Dolphins are among the smartest creatures on Earth (true fact) and we all know that brains will always beat brawn, which brings me to one of the neatest facets of the game. As you progress Ecco is taught various songs which are, in effect, sonar. Sonar being the high pitched noise dolphins emit in order to communicate. The shark song messes up their equilibrium, making it easy to smack 'em with your bottlenose. The fish song makes schools of fish follow you, which is particularly helpful when navigating a pitch black tunnel since glowing fish are usually nearby.
Ecco has a picnic basket full of moves like the waterwalk and hairpin turn, all of which are useful sooner or later. But, as cool as waterwalking is, it pales in comparison to the gifts you can receive called "Powers." Having the power of Vigor temporarily increases Ecco's strength while the power of Sonar alters the pitch, which can in turn shatter some objects revealing hidden secrets. My only real complaint of this game is the Yoda-like hints you receive from shards of crystal which guide you though the game. One must "think outside the box" in order to get things moving along and let me tell you that this can be really frustrating. Did I mention this is a difficult game? Defender of the Future is a one player game, but you might as well get all your friends and family to gather around you since you'll need all the help you can get with the "so obvious that I missed it" and "holy cow... I would never have thought of that" type of puzzles/mini-quests. My only fear in writing this review is that some nine-year-old will think I'm nuts because he beat it in one afternoon with no problems. Well, Up Yours Kid! This is one tough game! But a very good one. I like the idea of levels that have that panic feel to them since there is little air to find (yes, dolphins breathe air) and you're swimming around in a panic looking for an air pocket because it's kinda sad to watch poor Ecco drown.
Switching gears, it's only fair to warn you that you need a VMU for saving purposes. Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future has an auto save feature that constantly updates your current position in the game and trust me, it's a blessing. With as many times as I died and came back almost in the same spot where I had just died, it made this tough game a little easier.
Graphics & Audio
Defender of the Future was made by Appaloosa Interactive and let me tell you... they delivered. The lighting effects are awesome and the fish mannerisms, accurate. When developing this game, they studied actual dolphin and shark movements and sometimes I could have sworn I was watching the Discovery Channel. Defender of the Future screams at 60 FPS and the water looks real with creatures fading in and out as they swim. With all these goods, my only question is: Why does this game have disappearing/reappearing mountains when Ecco is out of the water breathing? Not that this affects the high quality underwater graphics, it just seems to me like they went at the out of water graphics a little less vigorously. On another note, this game came though my surround sound system beautifully which really increased the whole gaming effect. Turn down the lights and turn up the volume, you'll think you're scuba diving.
Unless you don't read English you will have noticed that I thought this game is hard, but there is nothing wrong with a challenge. So what if it takes you four months to beat this game! Get it! Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future has an "Everyone" rating that will undoubtedly appeal to the younger kids, too bad they won't get that far without being a card carrying member of Mensa or using a walkthrough. This is a cool, hard game and should be a staple game for any Dreamcast library. The feeling of relief you will have when you figure out a tough quest is unparalleled in videogame-land. With its fluid controls, phenomenal graphics, and "challenging" quests, no self-titled gamer can afford to not have this game spinning in his or her Dreamcast.