Launched in 1992, Novotrade International’s rather fascinating Ecco the Dolphin quickly became one of the Mega Drive’s (Genesis) main curiosities.
An action-adventure romp, players took control of a time travelling bottlenose dolphin to explore deep underwater stages to fight aliens. Huzzah!
The History of Ecco the Dolphin
Yeah! We were SNES kids back in the 1990s, but always had a dig on a Mega Drive whenever we got the opportunity.
Ecco the Dolphin was one of the reasons why. An enigmatic curiosity with a dolphin, lots of water, and all sorts of aliens.
You star as Ecco. Yes, he’s a dolphin. You guide him through the seas for his missing pod, but eventually begin to unravel time!
Soon enough aliens are turning up and Ecco has to take the bastards on by shooting water out of his blowhole and all that jazz. Cripes.
Again, this is one of those games many folks will likely think Sega created. No! It was all down to Novotrade International.
American games designer Ed Annunziata came up with the idea for the game.
After researching into a book called Sounding by Hank Searls, Annunziata took to how dolphins use echolocation to get around.
As he developed out that concept, he pushed for peculiar use of sound in Ecco.
So, he played Pink Floyd to the music team to help influence in-game game mechanics (it also explains why the soundtrack is so trippy).
Not that we’d say the soundtrack is particularly good, unfortunately. Behold! Not exactly on a Donkey Kong County 2 level, eh?
With Ecco, you can make the dolphin sing by pressing one button. This lets you speak to other cetaceans and stuff in the gaming world.
The echolocation feature drags the song back, which helps to generate a map of the area you’re in.
All very innovative and clever. We can’t recall such a concept in any other platformer we dare to think of.
Annunziata chose the name Ecco for the dolphin as it loosely means “I see” in Italian, which is the whole echolocation thing nailed down.
So, a lot of research and commitment went into fleshing out the game world.
When Ecco the Dolphin launched in December 1992, it met with positive reviews and was soon ported over to Sega’s Game Gear. Behold!
As with many titles from the era (particularly on the NES), Novotrade ramped up the difficulty to ensure kids couldn’t beat the title in one weekend.
This means Ecco has gone done in history as another one of those bloody difficult romps that baffled many a young ’90s gamer.
We remember it being quite a confusing title, but quite unlike most other games of that era.
It encouraged exploration and bravery, allowing creative players to be rewarded for making clever decisions.
Not that it’s perfect. Far from it, as it could be very irritating and it’s aged quite poorly as well.
However, as an innovative title from 1992 you can’t deny its credentials. Nor must we ignore the sequels that followed.
Ecco the Dolphin’s Sequels and Legacy
Ecco: The Tides of Time was the first sequel to roll on it, which it did in 1994.
It was also shifted over to the Game Fear, Sega CD, Master System, and… well, that was it. It was a Sega exclusive, so no one else got their sweaty hands on the game.
Plenty more followed! Brace yourself for the frenzy of dolphin games that kicked off in the mid-1990s:
- Ecco Jr. (1995)
- Ecco Jr. and the Great Ocean Treasure Hunt (also 1995)
- Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future (2000)
The final title there launched on the Dreamcast. There was considerable hype for the title at the time given the foray into more powerful 3D interaction stuffs.
It certainly looks the part and also launched on the PlayStation 2 a couple of years after the Dreamcast exclusive (2002 to be precise).
But! Appaloosa Interactive was responsible for that version.
It met with middling-poor reviews, although IGN was chuffed with it and considered the title as one of the highlights of 2000. We never did play it (despite owning a Dreamcast).
A sequel called Ecco II: Sentinels of the Universe was also planned for 2001. But it was cancelled as the Dreamcast had been something of a flop.
A playable version of the game was eventually leaked online in 2016, which you can behold just below.
Since then the series has disappeared off the face of the planet and is now spoken of only in quiet whispers. Such is the way of retro gaming lore.
Indie game titles such as ABZÛ (2016) have since advanced on Ecco the Dolphin’s concepts considerably and with much more panache.
But for what it’s worth, the Mega Drive games left a creative mark on the gaming industry. And we believe that’s worth blowing water out of your blowhole over.