Ecco the Dolphin: The Tides of Time – Review

It is natural that the financial success and popularity of a video game should beg the question if a sequel (or prequel) will be wroth the investment. After all, I’m sure all game developers wish to be known for creating a successful franchise spanning generations of video gamers. The issue is that sequels are, more often than not, flops. Ecco the Dolphin was a huge success. So why not create a sequel?

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Ecco the Dolphin: The Tides of Time is a single player action-adventure game. It was developed by Novotrade International and published by Sega for the Mega Drive, Game Gear and Sega CD in 1994, and for the Master System in 1996. The version I chose to review can be found on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the PlayStation 3.

Tides of Time picks up where the first Ecco game left off. Having saved his pod, and coincidently the world, from an alien vortex, Ecco retains the powers bestowed upon him by the Asterite that allow him to stay underwater indefinitely without the need for air, and use his sonar as a blast wave stunning enemy sea creatures. Things are peaceful in Home Bay.

One day, a powerful earthquake hits the underwater cave that Ecco is exploring. Unsure how, Ecco soon learns that his powers have left him and that the Asterite has been killed. Ecco soon meets an unusual dolphin named Trellia, who informs him that she is from the future and one of his descendants. She brings Ecco back to her future where he learns that the Vortex Queen survived, followed him back to Earth and killed the Asterite in Ecco’s time. After travelling back to his own time, Ecco must search for the globes of the Asterite that have been scattered throughout the ocean and bring them together. Only then can he learn how to defeat the Vortex Queen and save the Earth…again.

The graphics for the Mega Drive versions of the Ecco series are truly stunninig (Screenshot taken by the author).

The game play is the same as the original Ecco game. 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 (tap twice for double charge). 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.
  • 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.
  • Pressing ‘B’, followed by ‘A’, Ecco releases a sonar charge that will kill his enemies.

The graphics still look top rate. The sprites all look a little smoother and the colours and detail of the sprites and backgrounds still look incredible. Now, I may be crazy, but the game perspective feels like you have been zoomed in slightly…or am I imagining it?

The music just does not fit the game. In the original you had either a soft Caribbean melody or a low-key track that almost buzzed, giving you the feeling of being along in a scary and unfamiliar environment. Some of the weird new music feels like it should fit better in a run-and-gun shooter.

Several new features include new level types (Screenshot taken by the author)

So what is new about Tides of Time?

In the first Ecco game, there were Key Glyphs that when you sang to them, would offer clues or give you a specific song to pass through Barrier Glyphs. Power Glyphs would give you invincibility for a short period of time. In Tides of Time, there are now:

Puzzle Glyphs – Join with others to help release their powers

Cracked Glyphs – Similar to Barrier Glyphs but will only open for a short period of time; Broken

Broken glyphs – Fit the pieces together to Ecco receives a gift

Milestone Glyphs – Act like save states

Another new addition to the game is the teleportation sub-stages. The view changes so that the camera is behind Ecco as he travels forward. Dodging seaweed and jellyfish, you must watch out for rings that Ecco must swim or jump through. If you miss too many, you will go back to the beginning of the level. It doesn’t really add that much to the game, but changes it up enough to be worth including as a new feature.

The Sky Tides level was pretty difficult. Because it is a scrolling level, there is lots of trial and error when it comes to finding the best way to navigate through the level. If you fall out of the sides of the tubes, you fall back to the ocean and back to the previous level.

On the next stage, Tube of Medusa, if you get grabbed by the Medusa’s and flung out of the tubes, you go back two stages!!! Luckily, the Barrier Glyph is still open so you can swim straight back to the Sky Tides level, but it is still incredibly frustrating.

On some of the levels, there are helium bubbles in the sky. When you leap into the air and use your sonar on them, they fling you across the screen to either a floating pool or another set of helium bubbles. On another level, when you leap out of the water to where a larger bubble is floating in the air. When you touch it, you turn into a seagull and need to fly over cliffs to another body of water. What on Earth were the creators smoking when they came up with ideas for this game?

To add to the replay value of this game, at the begining of the game you can choose to swim in four directs. Left leads to the password screen, top left is difficult, top right is easy and right is normal. Normal adjust the game difficulty based on your ability and how well you’re doing.

Did I complete the game?

Not yet. At present, I am stuck on Four Islands where you need to follow a friendly dolphin who will show you the way. When following the dolphin, if it disappears off your screen, it will go back to where you found it. It is rather unforgiving.

What the critics thought:

GamePro: “There’s no doubt that Tides of Time offers a lot, providing a scenic variety of levels for the player to swim through and solve. Occasional control glitches do bring their share of frustration, but you still get a solid does of entertainment. This sequel proves that Ecco’s not washed up yet. Overall 85%.[1]

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “Ecco: Tides of Time really shows that Genesis games can be colourful, The backgrounds and animation are simply beautiful, with lots of eye-popping graphics. The quests are a lot harder than before, and sometimes you are left without a clue as to what to do. I like the fact that you can transform into different creatures I’d have to say that I really like Ecco and his adventures. Overall 7.25/10.[2]

Next Generation: “Taxing puzzles, RPG elements, shooting stsgaes, and some of the best Genesis graphics to date make you want to reel Ecco II in, but it’s certainly not a keeper. Overall 3/5”.[3]

My verdict:

“I’m not sure what to make of this game. The graphics, as with the original, are glorious. The change is music doesn’t work well for me, and some of the new aspects of the game like the helium bubbles and turning into other creatures seems a bit dumb. Having said that, it’s a perfectly good game. Challenging, great to look at, and is certainly a worthy addition to the Sega Mega Drvie library.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Ecco the Dolphin: The Tides of Time? 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] LaMancha, M., ‘ProReview – Ecco the Dolphin: The Tides of Time’. (December 1994). GamePro. 75:86-7  (file:///C:/Users/nikth/AppData/Local/Temp/GamePro_US_065.pdf Accessed 15th September 2021).

[2]  ‘Review Crew – Ecco: Tides of Time’. (December 1994). 65:40. (https://archive.org/details/ElectronicGamingMonthly_201902/Electronic%20Gaming%20Monthly%20Issue%20065%20%28December%201994%29/page/n43/mode/2up Accessed 15th September 2021).

[3] ‘Rating Genesis – Ecco: Tides of Time’. (February 1995). Next Generation. 2:100. (https://archive.org/details/nextgen-issue-002/page/n101/mode/2up Accessed 15th September 2021).

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).