You and me baby ain't nothin' but mammals...
Ah, the good old days, when TV was nonviolent and humans were one of the dumbest species on the planet. Remember all those old shows with really smart animals (and stupid people)? You had Lassie, the wonderdog who always saved the day. Hmmm... and there was also Mr. Ed, the smart-ass talking horse. Then there was also that planet... you know, the one with all those monkeys or apes or something. Oh, and of course we can't forget Flipper, the dynamic dolphin of the sea.
Flipper was the kind of pet that every kid wanted but couldn't have. He was smart, talented, and always got the humans out of their own mess. If your parents never got you a dolphin, don't fret, because Sega's latest adventure Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future will let you live out your aquatic fantasy.
Ecco the Dolphin debuted on the Genesis and is making his very first appearance on the Dreamcast. Defender of the Future takes place during the dawn of the 30th century. Man and dolphin have lived in peace and harmony and the Earth has become a virtual paradise. So of course the bad guys known simply as "The Foe" come in and ruin the party. Bummer. Just like an old episode of Flipper, Ecco is the only one that can save the day.
Sega has created an undersea environment unlike any you've ever seen. Ecco's world is truly a sight to behold, boasting some of the best graphics ever seen on the Dreamcast to date. Textures are wonderful, giving life to everything you see. Rocks look like real rocks, sharks look like real sharks, and Ecco looks like a real dolphin. Silt flies as Ecco skims the ocean floor and even the star marks on Ecco's forehead are present. A fantastic lighting effect illuminates the scenery perfectly. It's almost like watching an episode of some Discovery channel documentary. But the eye candy doesn't stop there, folks.
Every animal in the game moves just like its real life counterpart. The motions of dolphins, sharks, and fish are so eerily realistic that you'll occasionally forget they're just bits of code. You could spend hours just moving Ecco back and forth through the water. I simply can't say enough about how good this game looks. You really need to see it in action for yourself.
Most of the game involves swimming around and exploring the underwater world. Ecco has two methods of propulsion: normal acceleration and a charge which doubles as an attack. In addition, Ecco has the power of sonar, which has many uses. At first, Ecco can send out his sonar to map out the immediate area. As the game progresses, Ecco will learn various "songs" that add new powers to his sonar such as the ability to attract fish and stun sharks.
Another area Ecco excels in is control. Things are tight and responsive; in conjunction with the incredible movement, the control gives you the sense that you're really a dolphin. You can roll, flip in the air, and even tailwalk. Best of all, you can talk! I'm still trying to figure what he's saying, but I think it translates to something like this.
Even a game as beautiful as Ecco still has problems, one of which is the map. Holding down the sonar button will allow a map to pop onto the screen, giving you a better idea of your location. Unfortunately, since the map isn't very transparent, it is difficult to move around while it is on screen.
It's really a shame the map isn't more helpful since it's very easy to get lost in the underwater kingdom. While the environment is absolutely gorgeous, there aren't enough markers to piece together the world. You could easily recognize the places you've been, but connecting them is quite difficult the first few dozen times though.
There also seems to be small collision problems in certain areas. Occasionally, Ecco seems to get stuck close to the rocks. Though you aren't really wedged into any sort of crack, some mysterious force will sometimes grab hold of you, making it really difficult to move. While it never actually caused an impossible escape, some tense moments arose where Ecco had to flail for his life against some unknown object. I guess Davey Jones is at it again. What a prankster.
Defender of the Future is also insanely difficult. People with little patience will easily become very frustrated with this game. Often there are times when the objective is unclear or the answer to the riddles given by the magic crystals eludes you. On the other hand, those who love a good challenge will enjoy the riddles and the large time investment the game requires.
Overall, Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future is a very well-made game. Fans of the original game will be proud. A few small issues keep it from excellence, but with great presentation and control to go along with plenty of challenging gameplay, Ecco still looks like a winner.