Ecco the Dolphin – Review

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes in video games. Muscle-bound barbarians, ace spaceship pilots, martial arts experts, and yes, even Italian plumbers, to name a few. In 1992, Sega took a chance on a new hero. This one couldn’t wield swords or axes, or pilot machinery, or cast magic spells. It didn’t know kung-fu and certainly didn’t grow larger having eaten mushrooms. No, this hero lived in the ocean but needed air to breathe. He was agile, could swim at great speeds and leap from the water to soar above he waves like an albatross. This hero was a dolphin!

Titlescreen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Ecco the Dolphin is an action-adventure developed by Novotrade International and published by Sega. It was released on the Mega Drive in 1992, with versions also being released on the Master System, Game Gear, and Sega CD. Versions were later released for the Wii Virtual Console (2006), Xbox Live Arcade (2007), as part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Nintendo 3DS (2013), and Sega Genesis Mini (2019).

Ecco is a dolphin. There is nothing particularly special about him other than the unique star pattern on his forehead. One day, whilst swimming with his pod, he leaps high into the air and at that exact moment, a vortex opens and sucks up his pod (as well as other ocean dwelling sealife). Ecco needs to find out what happened to his pod from creatures much older and wiser than himself. He embarks on a long journey into cold and unfamiliar waters, where strange and deadly creatures live.

Ecco can use his sonar to stun or to talk to other creatures (Screenshot taken by the author)

First, let me just say that the graphics of this game show the Mega Drive at its pomp. Bright and colourful, with incredibly detailed backgrounds and sprites. From the multi-coloured shoals of fish, to the array of seas sponges and plants on the sea bed, there is so much that draws the eye. An accurate and nice touch is where the deeper you go, the darker the background becomes, emphasising that light doesn’t penetrate that deep into the ocean.

I remember when a childhood friend of mine bought this game. We were stunned! Not only did the concept of controlling a dolphin seem unique (to us at least), but the attention to detail was at such a level that I think we firmly believed that gaming had reached its apex…how young and naïve we were.

The music is very understated in this game, but it works so well. Some of the music is very relaxing and calming, which is surprising because for most part, you are not very relaxed at all. In fact, the game will give even the most seasoned gamers anxiety.

Rather than have time limits for the levels, Sega offer us two energy bars. One is health and the other is oxygen. To replenish your oxygen bar, you need to find an area where you can breach the surface of the water or find where oxygen bubbles are rising from cracks in the seabed. This becomes challenging when you are deep under sea in a labyrinth of caves. To recover health, Ecco must dash into the shoals of smaller fish to gobble them up. If you die, you simply go back to the beginning of the level. You have infinte lives in this game and believe me, you’ll need the am all!

Eating the smaller fish helps Ecco restore lost health (Screenshot taken by the author)

The basics of the game are simple. When pressing a direction, Ecco will swim in that direction. When you stop swimming, Ecco will drift, adding some realism to the gave, since the sea is always moving with the tides. To increase speed, press the ‘C’ button, and Ecco will speed up, handy for when you’re almost out of oxygen or when you need to leap out of the water and over obstacles. The ‘B’ button makes Ecco dash. This is mainly used to attack the many dangerous and deadly creatures he encounters, as well as, breaking down shelled walls. The enemies include sharks, jellyfish, pufferfish, and crabs….those crabs can fucking do one! They come out of nowhere and make a ‘B’ line for you. I admit, I dropped the ‘C’ bomb several times during my playthrough due to those little wankers. Frustratingly, the enemies also respawn which pisses me off even more and makes the game even harder.

The ‘A’ button is Ecco’s sonar ability and can be used in several ways:

  • Press and hold ‘A’ until the sonar bounces back. This opens a map segment, again very handy for when you are lost in caves.
  • Communicate with other friendly sea creatures such as other dolphins and killer whales. These friends can offer advice and hints to you.
  • Move starfish circles that will eat rock and open previously blocked pathways for you.
  • Large glyphs are found dotted around the levels that offer tips or give Ecco a password so that when he comes across one that blocks his path, he can use his sonar to clear the way.
  • After the first few levels, Ecco gains the ability to use his sonar to stun enemy creatures.

This game may look cutsie, but it is fucking hard! Rage quitting is standard for this game, especially when you are near the end of a level and those fucking crabs come out of nowhere and kill you. I doubt you will finish this in one sitting, if at all. Thankfully, you receive a password after every level.

Another aspect of this game that is irksome about this game, is when you have to navigate through narrow caves and sometimes you need to manoeuvre through even narrower gaps past sharp coral. There are points where you cannot do this without injuring yourself, not matter how hard your try to avoid them.

The game only has one difficulty setting and so offer little in the way of replay value other than simply showing the awesomeness of the graphics to a friend.

Did I complete the game?

Nope, and I have never met anyone who has either.

What the critics said:

Mean Machines Sega: “A Megadrive classic without doubt, and a strong contender for best game ever! A unique underwater experience for those tired of unoriginal pop. Overall 97%.[1]

MegaTech: “Original concept combined with wonderful graphics and amazingly engrossing gameplay make this a classic. Overall 94%.[2]

My Verdict:

“This is by far, one of the most original and best-looking games the Mega Drive has to offer. Incredible graphics and atmospheric music offer a unique gaming experience. The difficulty of the game is the only this that lets it down.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Ecco the Dolphin? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Ecco the Dolphin – Review’. Mean Machines Sega. (December 1992). Issue 3:24-8 (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-03/page/n27/mode/2up Accessed 29th June 2021).

[2] ‘Game Index – Ecco the Dolphin’. MegaTech. (October 1993). Issue 22:99. (https://archive.org/details/mt-22_202005/page/98/mode/2up Accessed 29th June 2021).

The Story of Thor: A Successor of the Light/Beyond Oasis – Review

Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (LTTP) really changed the way gamers think about action-adventure games. The story line, the music, the graphics, the shear size of the game set the standard for action-adventures going forward into the 1990s. As far as I can tell, the only offering Sega had in this category was A Faery Tale (1991). There may be others, but none spring to mind. As far as I can tell, it took Sega until 1994 to create a reply to LTTP. The question is, would it be any good?

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

The Story of Thor: A Successor of the Light is an action-adventure game developed by Ancient Corp. and published by Sega. It was released in Japan in 1994, and Europe and North America in 1995 for the Sega Mega Drive. It would later be released on the Wii Virtual Console in 2007 and on the PlayStation 3 as part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009). Interestingly, it was released in North America under the title Beyond Oasis. For this review, I played the version found on the Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection.

The intro is beautifully illustrated (Screenshot taken by the author)

Prince Ali is a treasure hunter, living on the land of Oasis. One day, whilst exploring a cave on a nearby island, he discovers a golden armlet. When he tries on the armlet, a ghostly face appears and re-tells the story of a magical war between two sorcerers. One of the sorcerors, Reharl, wore the golden armlet and used it to control four spirits: Dytto the Water Spirit; Efreet, the Fire Spirit; Shade, the Shadow Spirit; and Bow, the Plant Spirit. The other, Agitio, wore the silver armlet and used it for evil, causing death and destruction everywhere within his reach. Ali must search Oasis and gain the power of the four spirits and prevent the silver armlet from being used to destroy the world.

The game begins with a beautifully illustrated cutscene giving the back story of the game. The in-game graphics are bright, colourful and much more detailed and interesting than in LTTP. The sprites are clearly defined and there is a good array of different foes to fight. The bosses are challenging but not too difficult, even for a younger gamer.

Battle your way through caves full of monsters to find the four spirits to aid you in your quest (screenshot taken by the author)

Like LTTP, as you explore the map, you will encounter numerous baddies that you can engage in battle and kill. You can attack these enemies using your dagger, swords, bow and arrow and bombs. The dagger is the only weapon that you can use infinitely. Occasionally, these fallen foes will leave behind items that will help restore your health or magic points.

What makes the battles with foes more interesting than LTTP is that you have to crouch to hit foes such as snakes, and have to jump in order to hit bats. This adds an extra challenge to the game.

The controls are easy to learn, and the game interface is intuitive and easy to use. The only difficulty jumping, which takes some practice.

Sadly, the music sucks and really can’t hold a candle to LTTP. In LTTP, the music is inspiring with hints of danger and intrigue. It encourages you to be brave and venture forth into the unknown. Beyond Oasis just falls flat and doesn’t inspire the same feelings.

As for replay value, although the game only has one difficulty setting, it is worth revisiting again, but there is nowhere near the amount of secret objects (if there are any at all) to find and the game is so much shorter than LTTP. In fact, you could easily beat it in the half the time it’d take to finish LTTP.

Efreet, the fire spirit, is one of four you need to find and gain control of (Screenshot taken by the author)

Did I complete the game?

Yes

What the critics said:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “This one is pretty enjoyable…with the standard fare of menacing enemies and creative boss characters. The best element is probably the gigantic area you cover, and the plot twists throughout the game. Overall 38/50.”[1]

GameFan: “The game excels in almost every category. The music gets a tad repetitive, but it’s high quality… Overall 94.7%.[2]

Next Generation: “The use of magic, whether it be the fireball or meteor storm; a user-friendly interface, and an ever-ready map put Beyond Oasis beyond others of its type. But ultimately, poor fighting and an uninspired storyline leave this title looking more like a mirage. Overall 2/5.[3]

Awards:

Action RPG of the Year – GameFan’s Mega Awards 1995[4]

My Verdict:

“This game looks fantastic and incorporates some very interesting features such as the different abilities of the four spirits and the imaginative bosses. What let’s this game down is the music and game length. It’s well worth playing though!”

My Rating:

What are your memories of The Story of Thor: A Successor of the Light/Beyond Oasis? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Review Crew – Beyond Oasis’.  Electronic Gaming Monthly. (March 1995). Issue 68:36. (https://archive.org/details/ElectronicGamingMonthly_68/page/n35/mode/2up Accessed 7th April 2021).

[2] ‘Viewpoint Beyond Oasis’. GameFan. (March 1005). Volume 3 Issue 3:18. https://archive.org/details/GamefanVolume3Issue03March1995/page/n17/mode/2up Accessed 7th April 2021).

[3] ‘Rating Genesis – Beyond Oasis’. Next Generation. Issue 4:94. (https://archive.org/details/nextgen-issue-004/page/n95/mode/2up Accessed 7th April 2021).

[4] ‘GameFan’s Mega Awards 1995’. GameFan. (January 1996). Volume 4, Issue 1:106. (https://archive.org/details/GamefanVolume4Issue01/page/n105/mode/2up Accessed 7th April 2021).