Review: Ecco the Dolphin: 3D Classic

Back in the early nineties when this game was first due for release I can still fondly remember saving up for Ecco the Dolphin for months on end, when that glorious day arrived on which I had saved up the sum of around thirty English pounds for a Genesis version of the title - region locking wasn't absolute in those days - at which point I completely immersed myself in this amazing title where you were playing as a dolphin named Ecco, just swimming around in the starting area was a magical experience in itself pressing 'C' to swim fast, 'B' to charge and 'A' to use that all important sonar which initially allows you to interact with the world around you in addition to letting you bring up a map by rebounding it off a wall. Ecco would swim up to the dolphins using his sonar on them which would initiate a one-sided conversation where they would tell you small nuggets of wisdom which you'd find invaluable such as 'Sing to the shelled ones' which lets you regain health underwater, indeed everything is fine until you speak to one dolphin who asks you 'How high can you fly in the sky?' in what would then today become one of the biggest 'troll' moments in gaming before the term was in use; this is because that upon leaping out of the ocean as high as you can a huge storm comes and effectively sucks all life out of the sea apart from Ecco who falls back down into the ocean, the music changes from being calm to something more sinister as you swim to the exit of which you now know was just the beginning as you embark on an underwater adventure to save the day that's quite unlike anything else.

Originally as you can see Ecco made quite an impression on me, not just because of my young age at the time but because it was a very unique title as it was mainly exploration based, had a seemingly punishing level of difficulty plus it was extremely atmospheric; you could clearly see the extreme lengths that the original developers - Novotrade - had gone to, it's literally the depth and breadth of the experience that still shines through today which is why it's a perfect candidate for the 3D classic treatment. Sega wanted more players to experience the game so they have gone to great lengths not only completely rebuilding everything in 3D but also adding in features that they know would be useful to the gamer of today, the password system is still present - as is the hidden debug mode - so you can even use any existing passwords that you may have but now you need not even type a single one in as instead you can just use save states which actually helped me to properly play the game from start to finish for the first time in a while, quite possibly even ever!


Jump high above the waves Ecco... what's the worst that could happen?

You also have the option of using the new 'Super Dolphin' mode which actually makes Ecco completely invincible with no need to go up for air - it's the same as using an invincibility glyph only permanent - which personally feels wrong to me but when you consider that upon death in the standard European version - other region versions included - you get sent back to the start of the stage I can see why some players might choose to opt for this just to see all of the glorious areas within the game. While the added challenge of needing to find air pockets in addition to feeding on small fish/from shells definitely adds realism, even if you can't die there are still the many puzzles which you will need to solve in order to progress, this is where the game really shines; the majority of tasks do involve swimming to various crystals known as glyphs where one will act as a key to unlock the other that's blocking your way but keep playing and sure enough there will be a fair amount of thought-provoking moments including boulders which you'll need to push with Ecco's nose in order to beat the currents or rings of rock-eating stars that can only be guided by sonar.

Indeed you only really get a real feel for Ecco when you reach 'The Vents' which is a stage that tasks you with rescuing three young dolphins belonging to a pod who have become separated from their guardian at the start of the stage, it's here that you not only learn to lead them to safety - which rewards you with an upgraded sonar - but also how to go about exploring the underwater area with great efficiency, all the while fending off sharks by ramming them, swimming sharply out of the grasp of sea snakes plus you'll need to once again 'swim slowly past eight arms' in order to get past the Octopus which is even creepier than I originally remember it being. I must once again emphasise that this is an extremely atmospheric game even today and I would defy anyone to not get even a little spooked while playing the game with headphones in while on the 'Open Ocean' stage playing on standard difficulty level, even meeting the 'Big Blue' can be quite a startling experience the first time, the actual story does get very interesting the further you play and while I don't wish to spoil it for anyone who is blissfully unaware even to this day; it is worth keeping going until the end because the way that the story is told in parts by the various inhabitants of the oceans is nothing short of compelling.


That's right Ecco... just swim slowly past the Octopus and its tentacle of DOOM!

Clearly a lot of effort has gone into the visuals as every stage plus the sprites within really do appear to 'leap' off the screen, you can even see more clearly when Ecco jumps above/below the waves as there is a clear divide between underwater and the lands above, there is actually quite a varied selection of locations throughout including 'City of Forever' which is themed around Atlantis with some stunning underwater architecture, 'Jurassic Beach' set in prehistoric times with lots of deep red rock, sunset skies plus even a Pteranadon which looks amazing in addition to oddly aiding Ecco; the infamous Octopus, the Asterite plus all the dolphins are worth mentioning too due to the sheer amount of detail and high standard of animation which was already there to begin with but is now all the more impressive in three dimensions. Audio is another highlight, particularly as it's so rare to find a game that gets everything consistently right from the knee-jerk reaction you get from hearing Ecco take a hit making you actively care about his fate, to the sound of the sonar which you will hear many times over but it rarely gets old. Let us not forget the particularly effective soundtrack itself which ranges from conveying calmness at the starting stages, isolation when navigating some of the trickier labyrinthine areas, right through to pure terror in the aforementioned 'Open Ocean' stage plus you will never forget the hauntingly beautiful theme of the 'Ice Zone' or the music used in the final stages which will likely stay with you forever.

Ecco might well have faded into relative obscurity in recent years but it certainly doesn't deserve to be forgotten, I cannot express how grateful I am to Sega for bringing back this truly unique title which still holds a special place in my heart just as I'm sure it does for anyone else who has had the pleasure of growing up having the chance to join the once popular dolphin on his first adventure; I can only hope that many other players who didn't get to experience this rather underrated gem back in its hey-day will now get that chance to not only play but fully enjoy the experience in its entirety. Perhaps there are others who never finished the game originally, if you fall into that group then why not take the chance to relive the whole thing? If anyone had said to me back in the nineties that one day there would be not only a portable version of Ecco but that it would be in 3D as well, I would have probably struggled to believe them and yet here it is and for me this is much more than just another game in the Sega 3D Classics range but a joy to behold; it might have taken ages but this conversion was certainly worth the wait for what I would now proudly define as the definitive version of a game that deserves as much attention as any other 'AAA' title today, I can only hope that the sequel eventually gets the same treatment.

N-Europe Final Verdict

Ecco the Dolphin delivers an ocean of classic gameplay in the palm of your hands, with astounding audio and glorious graphics in 3D! A near perfect exploration experience.

  • Gameplay4
  • Playability4
  • Visuals5
  • Audio5
  • Lifespan4
Final Score



Breathtaking audio
Stunning 3D visuals
Engaging gameplay
Subtle story-telling


Might prove too tricky for some.

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