Ecco the Dolphin – 3DS Port
I think one may have to be a psychopath to play Ecco the Dolphin through to its completion. As much as this may be an exaggeration, the level of difficulty of this Sega Mega Drive original nevertheless justifies it. Game creator Ed Annunziata acknowledged this by saying he didn’t want kids “to beat the game over the weekend”. Rental was common at the time and he wanted to set the difficulty so that a mere few days just weren’t enough take Ecco all the way to the final boss. This was such a success that poor little old me would have probably never finished the journey of the bottlenose dolphin if it wasn’t for the game’s Nintendo 3DS port and its “Super Dolphin Mode”.
This invincible mode is not quite so however, Ecco can still die when crushed by various objects and platforms throughout the many levels of the game. Nevertheless, this is probably the way to play for most, as they (and me) would consider Ecco the Dolphin unbeatable in its original form. And that would truly be a shame because Ecco is special little game that looks and feels very different from its contemporaries as well as what has been made since. It comes with one of those narratives that say very little directly and yet there is much to unpack within it.
There is no sign of human existence in the game except when Ecco travels back in time to explore the sunken city of Atlantis in his quest to defeat the alien species called Vortex that invaded his underwater home. With humans being so noticeably absent from this world apart from some man-made artefacts found in the past, one could think that the technologically superior Vortex sucking up all marine life from above the surface to feed themselves may not be aliens from outer space after all. Their backstory of a species that lost the ability to provide for itself and then having to excessively harvest the ocean in order to survive make the parallels between the Vortex and humans look too precise to be a coincidence. A distorted mirror of ourselves is always somebody else’s perspective.
Beyond the subtext which provides intriguing backdrop for various events in the game, Ecco the Dolphin also (game)plays in interesting ways. This is where the “Super Dolphin Mode” changes one’s perspective significantly though. When Ecco is invincible without having to worry about depleting oxygen and dodging/killing various sea-creatures, this otherwise stressful, demanding and oftentimes frustrating experience becomes a little more Zen.
The focus is now shifted over from relentless battle for survival to exploration. The challenge then becomes the mapping of areas, solving puzzles to advance, having to perform elaborate jumps to overcome obstacles and other similarly slow-paced activities. This is all beautifully underlined by one of the most defining features of the game: the music. Although the Sega CD version of the game got new soundtrack that is also great, the Nintendo 3DS port rightly got the original Genesis tunes. This Pink Floyd inspired trippy computerized sound adds tremendously to the pulp nature of Ecco the Dolphin.
But this is not just a pleasant trip back in time while wandering through Sega land. There is a story here that maybe a little more than just a silly and uninteresting backdrop to propel a dolphin through the levels. Ecco the Dolphin is worth replaying with a grown-up mind. In the age of downloads we couldn’t possibly expect a physical copy for such a low profile game of cultish nature, but the digital copy is within reach and a great thing to have sitting on a portable gaming device. And download is actually a pretty good alternative to rental when I think about it.
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