The best moments in games, all games, are the ones that affect you. Good games make you laugh like a maniac, wave your arms in victory or throw something in defeat. The really good ones make you think. The best ones make you feel.
There’s a moment in Ecco the Dolphin 2: Tides of Time where you come across a cave full of jellyfish gently pulsating upwards. Trapped in deep water, the only way to progress is go up, but the passage is too narrow for your bottlenosed body.
Instead, you head over to a nearby morph ball and are transformed into jellyfish yourself, joining the teaming swarms rising through the rocks. And that’s all you can do, gone is the freedom that you enjoy through most of the rest of the game, all you can do is pulse upwards, or wait the seeming eons it takes to drift sideways or down.
About halfway up you encounter a serious threat- another bottlenose, taking pot shots at the passing jellyfish through a crack in the rocks. Timing is everything, as other jellies are wiped out all around you by this casual malevolence. Sink, wait, push, sink, wait, push as you inch your way painfully closer to the surface.
And what greets you there is not better, as each one of your remaining brethren breach the wave they flash and die. It’s all you can to do to hope that touching the air won’t do the same to you and see you revived at the bottom of that nightmarish hole, facing another trip upwards.
Moments like this, and similar, are peppered throughout Ecco 2, used sparingly enough to keep the mechanic from getting old, while always having their own miniature narrative entwined. Becoming a seagull to crest high cliffs leaves you horrible exposed to swooping eagles, while a manic stint as a shark shows off the darker side of some of Ecco’s usual kin.
If anything, Ecco 2 exemplifies all that was great about late era 16 bit gaming. The original is still an excellent game in its own right, and one that did a lot new and different in an environment that was filled with samey shoot’em’up and platformer fare, but its Tides of Time that really shines. A sequel in all the right ways, it was not only far prettier than the original, but was a much bigger and more varied game, with new ideas on how to keep the formula fresh and interesting. Aside from the morph balls, there are the gravity defying skytubes and some great transit sections that have Ecco racing away from the screen to get from location to location.
It’s a shame then that many people were put off the series because of the nature of its protagonist. It has always remained a mystery to me why people balk at the idea of playing as an ocean going mammal but are perfectly content with the role of regionally confused plumber in Mario or a gruff regenerating mutant as in Call of Duty et al. Or Batman. Everyone’s happy to be Batman.
It’s possibly for this reason that all has been quiet on the Ecco front since the Dreamcast game Defender of the Future (which I won’t go into here), but recently Sega has announced that they are in talks to bring back our intrepid cetacean hero in a more modern guise. While the involvement of some of the original Novotrade team bodes well, Sega’s other attempts at reinvigorating their mascots have not gone quite so well, so you’ll forgive any trepidation. With that said however, I’ve always felt that Ecco provides a novel setting for gameplay and story, and has so a lot to offer the gaming landscape.
Go dig them out on your platform of choice and see for yourself.
- Sam Crisp