Ahh here we have another of SEGA’s familiar mascots who seems to have been forgotten in recent years, Ecco the Dolphin, back again in the re-release of his debut title – but this time with the 3D overlay we have come to know and love/hate (pick your preference).
Will the 3D visuals help rekindle my nostalgic love for Ecco? Or will it make me realise that perhaps SEGA was correct to leave this aquatic mammal where it belongs – far away in the ocean? Well, let’s see shall we…
Ooh you have the 3D-ness
Again, just like the other 3D Classics, I was surprised by how well the 3D visuals work on Ecco the Dolphin. The use of foreground and background elements in Ecco lend themselves brilliantly to the 3D overhaul – giving the impression of playing a more modern title than you really are.
Just like with 3D Sonic, the visuals make it almost look like you are now playing a 2.5D title – especially when you break the surface of the water. And some of the rock formations really seem to stick out, making the game feel even more immersive.
While 3D Ecco the Dolphin does feature a few nifty additions, it actually has less than the other 3D Classics released so far, and only one of them affects the gameplay directly (which I’ll get to in a minute).
Most of the features affect the visuals. You have the choice of normal or classic screen: classic makes it look like you are playing on a CRT TV screen. You have the choice to make the 3D fall-in or pop-out. A couple of the other 3D Classics have this option too and it basically changes the way the 3D looks on the screen – I’ve found that the pop-out looks a bit better, but really hurts my eyes after a few minutes.
Then you can change the game sound volume – but, like the other 3D Classics you can’t alter/distinguish between the music or sound effects.
There’s the option to change between the International and Japanese versions of the game… but I actually didn’t really see any difference with these versions* – other than I can’t read the Japanese version… But again – this option is also available on most of the other 3D Classics. [Update: *The Japanese version actually has a couple of extra levels and an easier difficulty – thanks to @cavernsofhope for the info!]
Then, as I said, there is one additional feature that actually affects the gameplay and that’s ‘Super Dolphin Mode’ – which basically enables the invincibility and the super sonar cheats, without the need to type in the codes. And if you don’t know what that means, basically you can play through the entire game without needing to surface for air (remember Dolphins need to breathe oxygen), receiving no damage from any enemy attacks and your sonar now becomes a long-range attack.
This is pretty cool, as it allows you to play through the game at more leisurely pace, not worrying about dying – and that’s a pretty big deal, because you shouldn’t let the pretty blue scenery and the cute dolphin smile fool you – Ecco is a surprisingly tough game. And while it’s still possible to activate the level select and other cheats, this simple option makes it easier to cheat through the game, should you wish to.
Gameplay for the AGES
Well, the gameplay is still as unique as ever really – considering it’s only really been the other Ecco the Dolphin games that have brought this type of underwater adventure to our screens. And, in my opinion, it still holds up brilliantly.
Unlike some retro games, like platformers – where the gameplay now feels stale, or the controls now feel dated, or gameplay elements now suck and irritate gamers – Ecco‘s style of gameplay holds true. The controls of Ecco are still as swift as ever, the puzzles (while quite taxing at times) are engaging enough and the game still delivers a fun adventure.
The only thing that feels really dated are some of the level designs. At times you are basically stuck in a maze of caverns and the feeling of getting lost and not progressing through a level can become bloody annoying.
But ultimately, if you enjoyed Ecco the Dolphin back in the day, then I think you’ll still be happy with how well the gameplay has held up. If you didn’t like it all those years ago… well things haven’t changed.
I’m starting to think that M2 could be one of my favourite current development studios. Ok, granted, they didn’t originally program these excellent titles – but the company is doing a bloody good job of porting the SEGA 3D Classics to the 3DS, with enhancements and new features, and 3D Ecco the Dolphin keeps that trend going.
It doesn’t feature quite as many additional features as some of the other 3D Classics, but Ecco is such a unique game that any gamer who hasn’t experienced it before should definitely have a look at this – especially now that the game feels more open to more casual gamers, who can opt to enable the Super Dolphin Mode.
But, Ecco has always and will always be a game that isn’t for every gamer. So if you are all about speed, guns, explosion or even jumping on enemies – then Ecco might not be suitable for you. But I’d say it’s still worth a try.
+ 3D overhaul adds some great ‘depth’ (‘depth’ – dolphins – deep sea… get it?)
+ Gameplay feels smooth and holds up well
+ Super Dolphin Mode makes it more accessible for gamers of all levels
– Some of the more maze-like levels can be frustrating
– Still a game that will divide gamers