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).

Star Wars: Rebel Assault – Review

Star Wars is one of the most loved franchises in movie history, and has a place in the hearts of millions of cinema goers everywhere. Now it’s your turn to get into the cockpit and help fight against the evil Galactic Empire. May the Force be with you!

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Star Wars: Rebel Assault is a rail shooter developed and published by LucasArts, and released in 1993 for DOS, MAC, Sega-CD, and 3DO Interactive Multiplayer. I chose to review the version downloaded from Steam. There is a spoiler below so watch out for it.

Training missions will see you flying through canyons at high speed… (screenshot taken by the author)

The game is set during Star Wars: A New Hope, although for some reason, the Battle of Hoth seems to takes place too. You play as Rookie 1, who is a trainee Rebel pilot. Once you complete the trainee missions, you are sent to take on the Empire in battles that see you navigate asteroid belts, fly in close proximity to a Star Destroyer and many other hazardous situations. Throughout the 15 levels, there are three aspects to this game. First person shooter, overhead view, and third person view, depending on which level you are on.

…tracking and shooting Imperial Probes… (screenshot taken by the author)

For the time, the graphics looked great, and the SFX and music are authentic music and sounds from the movie which really adds to the atmosphere of the game, making you believe you are in a Star Wars movie. Nowadays, the pixelated film footage from the movies looks fuzzy and cheap, and for some reason the original dialogue containing voices of the original actors has been replaced, which detracts from the game because it sticks out like a sore thumb.

…and traversing through asteroid fields. (screenshot taken by the author)

Star Wars: Rebel Assault had so much potential, and as a Star Wars fan I loathe to criticise the franchise, but the gameplay really lets this game down, to the point where the fun of playing was drained out of the experience. An example of this is during the battle scenes. The cross hair used to aim is so jittery, and because you don’t have control of the craft, aiming is incredibly difficult and accuracy goes in the toilet. Using a mouse as oppose to a joystick or joypad surprisingly only makes things worse. Flying through the canyons and through caves also becomes frustrating because it is difficult to gauge when you are going to hit obstacles. The attempt to make the game 3D simply plays havoc with your depth perception, especially because this is a rail shooter and you have no real control over the craft.

Cut scenes from the original movie was added which I thought looked great at the time (screenshot taken by the author)

SPOILER ALERT!!!

Another odd factor was that the ending of A New Hope was re-written for this game. There is no sign of Luke, Wedge or Han Solo, and it’s you who destroys the Death Star. You are then shown the ceremony at the end of A New Hope and see Luke Skywalker as he walks down to collect his medal…how come you aren’t awarded a medal? Unless that is supposed to be you of course, which wouldn’t make sense if you choose your pilot to be female.

One mission sees you take on a Star Destroyer (screenshot taken by the author)

Did I complete the game:

Sadly, I could not get past the asteroid field in Chapter 6 and became so frustrated that I decided not to continue playing.

What the critics said:

NEXT Generation: “The clips from the Star Wars movies, the music, and the 3D rendered graphics are all great – however, they all function as little more than window dressing for a not-so-hot, shooter-style game. The control is none too solid, and the gameplay is rudimentary. Overall 2/5.”[1]

NEXT Generation: “Yes the gameplay is silky and yes, the music and visuals are terrific, but this is, after all, an “arcade” game, and the rails here will get old fairly quickly. If you’re really into Star Wars, Rebel Assault will make you happy. Overall 2/5.”[2]

Computer Gaming World: “Rebel Assault is a gorgeous, fast-paced shooter that is a lot of fun to play. The problem is, the fun is too short lived, and the game certainly doesn’t lure us back to play again and again (No rating given).”[3]

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “Being a Star Wars fan I tried to give this one a chance but to no avail…The digitalised looking graphics are just too grainy, and the gameplay is simple and not interesting enough to maintain your level of attention. Overall 5.75/10.”[4]

My Verdict:

“For me, this game was a cheap way to cash-in on the Star Wars franchise and has very few redeeming features. The music and some of the graphics are the only reason why this game gets a 2-star rating instead of a 1-star rating. The controls are simply awful.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Star Wars: Rebel Assault? 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:PC – Rebel Assault’. NEXT Generation. (March 1995). Volume 1 Issue 3:89.

[2] ‘Review:PC – Rebel Assault’. NEXT Generation. (December 1995). Volume 1 Issue 12:195.

[3] Schuytema, P.C., ‘Begger’s Canyon Anyone?”. Computer Gaming World. (February 1993). Issue 115:176-8.

[4] ‘Review Crew:PC – Rebel Assault’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (July 1994). Volume 7 Issue 7:38.

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition – Review

Get ready for a swashbuckling adventure and set your wits against the cream…well the dregs, of the Caribbean. Only by solving mind-boggling puzzles and matching your witty repartee with your enemies will you win the day.

Original title screen (screenshot taken by the author)
Special Edition title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

The first in a popular franchise, The Secret of Monkey Island was developed and published by Lucasfilm Games in 1990. The Special Edition was released in 2009. It can be found on many platforms including the Amiga, MS-DOS, Atari ST, Macintosh, CDTV, FM Towns, Sega CD, OS X, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. I chose to review the Version downloaded from Steam.

This single-player point-and-click adventure game starts with Guybrush Threepwood declaring “I want to be a pirate!”. What ensues is an adventure full of humour, perilous pirate trials, the rescue of a damsel in distress and the defeat of the ghost pirate LeChuck, all set in the Caribbean. Along the way Threepwood must complete tasks to progress in his adventure, many of the tasks are peculiar and to solve them involves thinking not just outside the box, but outside of any other shape you can think of as well.

The Special Edition sees the game get a makeover with slick new graphics, improved music and sound, and vocalisation which adds to the humour of the gags. However, for the purists you are able to revert back to the original music and graphics at the click of a button. On many of the screens you can opt to hear commentary from the games creators explaining how they created the graphics and music, which I think should be incorporated into more games.

In order to interact with the world around you, you must choose from 12 commands at the bottom of the screen. These commands include ‘pick up’, ‘talk to’, ‘open’, ‘close’ etc. This can become quite tiresome, especially when you are stuck and need to enact the “try everything with everything” method of problem solving.

Although cartoonish, and originally in 8-bit graphics, the backgrounds and characters are very colourful. Oddly enough, when close-ups of characters occur, they look very life-like, which is the opposite of the Special Edition. The music also sounds great and captures the pirate mood exceptionally well. For me, the Special Edition graphics adds more life to the environment.

Original graphics (screenshot taken by the author)
Special Edition graphics (screenshot taken by the author)

SPOILER ALERT!!!

The only thing that let’s this game down, and it is only one thing, is that some of the puzzles are so convoluted that you will need to use a walkthrough to find the solutions to many of the them. I like a mental challenge as much as the next person, but most would never think of using a rubber chicken as a zip-line.

Did I complete the game?

I did finish the game, but there were many times that I needed assistance from walkthroughs.

What the critics said of the original game:

Computer and Video Game Magazine – “Usually the entertainment you get from an adventure is derived solely from solving puzzles, but the hilarious characters and situations, and the movie-like presentations make playing this more like taking part in a comedy film so it’s much more enjoyable.  Overall 94%[1]

Dragon Magazine: “If you enjoy a great graphic adventure spiced with humour top-notch graphics, and a soundtrack filled with really good, original compositions, this is a must buy for you. We haven’t stopped laughing yet! 5/5.[2]

Zero Magazine: “At last an adventure game that’s enjoyable rather than frustrating. Overall 84%[3].

What the critics said of the Special edition:

Eurogamer.net: “Few games can stand the test of time with such confidence, and whether your interest stems from its genre-defining significance or its reputation as an unforgettable game, you won’t be disappointed by time spent on Monkey Island. Anyone who disagrees probably fights like a cow. Overall 9/10.”[4]

IGN.com: “The Secret of Monkey Island has a special place in the museum of videogames for its quick wit, its personality, and the way it surprises us at every turn. Playing this adventure will take you back to a simpler, more innocent time before games needed to bash us over the head with ultra-violence to get our attention. They definitely don’t make ’em like this anymore. The Special Edition doesn’t offer any new gameplay, so its appeal may be limited if you’ve already been initiated. But if you’ve never seen a three-headed monkey, download this now. Overall 8.7/10.[5]

Gamespot.com: “If you’ve got opposable thumbs, a sense of humour, and a brain that you’re not afraid to use, this puzzle-filled adventure is one well worth taking. Overall 8/10.”[6]

My Verdict: “Avast me hearties, here be a fun, classic point and click pirate game for ye. The puzzles be tough, but there be plenty of laughs for a landlubber such as yourself. Now pass me the grog!”

Rating:

What are your memories of The Secret of Monkey Island? 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] Glancey, P., ‘Review: PC – The Secret of Monkey Island’. Computer and Video Games Magazine. (December 1990). Issue 109:112-4.

[2] ‘Review: PC/MS-DOS – Secret of Monkey Island’. Dragon Magazine. (April 1991). Issue 168:49-50.

[3] ‘Review: PC – The Secret of Monkey Island’. Zero Magazine. (November 1990). Issue 13:58.

[4] Whitehead, D., (16th July 2009). ‘Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition’. Eurogamer.net.  (https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/the-secret-of-monkey-island-special-edition-review?page=2 Accessed 13th December 2019).

[5] Hatfield, D., (Jun 14th, 2009). ‘The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition Review’. IGN.com. (https://web.archive.org/web/20111208163158/http://xboxlive.ign.com/articles/100/1003651p1.html Accessed 14th December 2019).

[6] Calvert, J., (April 23, 2010). ‘The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition Review’. Gamespot.com. (https://web.archive.org/web/20120804010019/http://www.gamespot.com/the-secret-of-monkey-island-special-edition/reviews/the-secret-of-monkey-island-special-edition-review-6260007/ Accessed on 13th December 2019).

Chuck Rock – Review

He may not be the sharpest flint in pre-history, but Chuck Rock has a head as hard as a rock and a belly that is deadly. So get ready to navigate jungles and swamps, battle dinosaurs, and rescue your wife before Garry Glitter has his way with her. Unga Bunga!!!

Title screen (screenshot taken by author)

Chuck Rock is a single-player side-scrolling platform game developed by Core Design. It has been published and ported to many other platforms including:

  • Core Design – Atari St and Amiga (1991), Commodore 64 (1992), and Amiga CD32 (1994)
  • Krisalis Software – Acorn Archimedes (1991)
  • Virgin Interactive – Sega Megadrive (1991), Sega Master System (1993) and Game Gear (1992)
  • Sony Imagesoft – Sega Mega-CD (1993), SNES (1992) and Game Boy (1993).

I chose to review the Mega Drive version.

Beautiful level design (screenshot taken by author)

Set in a fantasy prehistoric Stone Age, Chuck’s wife, Ophelia, has been kidnapped by Garry Glitter (no, not the disgraced pop star). Chuck must navigate his way through jungles, swamps, ice-capped mountains and caves, all the while evading various dinosaurs and prehistoric animals; or if you are feeling brave, barging them out the way with your belly, performing flying kicks, or picking up huge boulders and throwing them. I’d recommend using the latter two to kill your enemies.

(Chuck may look like a everyone’s least favourite uncle, but he is the hero of this tale (screenshot taken by author)

The opening musical number on the title screen is awesome and I found myself delaying playing the game in order to listen to the song the whole way through. It seems that even though Chuck isn’t the sharpest tool in the box, he has aspired to lead singer of a rock band. Throughout the game the graphics and music are very good, and there’s plenty to catch the eye and make you think “That looks cool!”.

(screenshot taken by author)

The game is challenging with some tough levels. Oddly, the end bosses are all very easy to defeat with the exception of the third boss. The only boss that you need a strategy to defeat is the first boss, but other than that, it is simply a case of button mashing. Sadly this game lacks replay value, and once completed you may only wish to revisit it once or twice before turning your attention to the next challenge.

(screenshot taken by author)

Did I complete the game?

Yes, I completed the game without the use of cheats. Sadly, Upon completing the game you are met another example of an anti-climatic ending to a game that deserved more.

What the critics said:

Mean Machines: An excellent and quite original platform game that’s highly recommended to all Megadrive players. Overall 91%.[1]

Mean Machines Index: “A brilliant, humorous Megadrive platform game with real character. Its graphics are out-of-this-world, the sound completely brilliant, and the game play pretty good too! A must have for your Megadrive collection. Overall 91%[2]

Sega Power: Groovy goings-on 100 million years B.C. with wild sonics and graphics as Chuck rescues his wife from the evil Garry Glitter. Overall 4/5.”[3]

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “The gameplay could use a little fine tuning, but it is still very fun to play. The graphics are comical and the music jams. Overall 7.75/10.[4]

Megazone: “Graphics wise this game is a hit (as good as the Amiga on the Mega Drive), the sound is pretty good (not quite up to the Amiga, but still pretty hot) and some imaginative sprite drawings have been added to this game. Overall 85%.[5]

GamePro: “The game’s worth the bucks for the music and graphics alone. From standpoint of challenge and gameplay, it’s middle of the road – not too hard and not too easy. Overall 4.6/5.”[6]

My verdict: “Unga Bunga – The game has nice graphics and is fun to play. The simple button mashing as oppose to a strategy needed to defeat end of level bosses, is a mark against this game. The lack of replay value means that once completed I doubt you will want to play through again.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Chuck Rock? 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: Mega Drive – Chuck Rock’. Mean Machines. (June 1992). Issue 21:76-8.

[2] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Chuck Rock’. Mean Machines. (October 1992). Issue 1:137.

[3] ‘The Hard Line – Review: Mega Drive – Chuck Rock’. Sega Power. (September 1993). Issue 46:96.

[4] ‘Review Crew: Genesis – Chuck Rock’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (March 1992). 32:26.

[5] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Chuck Rock’. Megazone. (December 1992/January 1993). Issue 25:36.

[6] Feline Groovy. ‘Genesis Pro Review – Chuck Rock’. GamePro. (December 1991). 29:70.