Ecco The Dolphin: Defender Of The Future

Year: 2000
Platform: Dreamcast
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Appaloosa Interactive
Genre: Adventure
Rating: ****

After a five year hiatus, Ecco the dolphin returns in this stunning Dreamcast adventure. The game doesn't appear to fit into the continuity of the previous games and seems to be more of an alternate retelling of Ecco's tale. The story is a bit bizarre and overly convoluted. Far in the future, humans and dolphins take to the stars, spreading peace and friendship wherever they go. A few dolphins were left behind to guard Earth, which has become a target for a race of aggressive space aliens known only as The Foe. When the defense grid is shattered, it's up to Ecco to save the planet from the alien forces. As you would expect from a Dreamcast title, the graphics are amazing and the animated sea life is disturbingly realistic. The soundtrack is not as ethereal and haunting as Spencer Nilson's excellent work on the first two "Ecco" games, but it sounds appropriately atmospheric. The real trouble with the game is naturally the jump from a 2D environment to a 3D environment. It's tricky to maneuver Ecco in 3-space, and even though Ecco automatically tries to orient himself right side up, I often find him stuck on his back or on one side, bumping into rocks and burying his nose in the mud. Let's face it - I swim like a crazy drunkard. The game is also really hard. As if the first two games weren't hard enough, switching from 2D to 3D makes it even harder to figure out where you are and how to get to where you want to go. And it doesn't help that Ecco's sonar is nearly worthless as a navigation and orientation tool. Many of the puzzles are downright diabolical, and there's no way to get through the game without a strategy guide. You need a lot of patience and endurance to get through this game, and the trick is making sure the enjoyment factor outweighs the frustration factor.