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PS2 / Review / Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future
Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future
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Publisher: Acclaim
Developer: Appaloosa Interactive
Release Date: Available Now
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Graphics: 4.0
Sound:4.5
Control: 4.5
4.0
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Review by: Star Dingo
Posted: 04/10/02 [view screens]

Some of the craftier species in the animal kingdom put on lavish displays of color to distract and dazzle their prey before moving in for the kill. They fake out potential predators with a freaky show that screams, "Baby, I'm so crazy looking, I gotta be poison!" Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future is one such creature---a surreal, original wonder that blinds you of its flaws and distracts you from thinking about if what you're doing is actually fun or not.

Searching for Porpoise
Aside from a few minor tweaks, the PS2 version of Ecco is a straight-up port of the nearly two-year-old Dreamcast original. That means levels are laid out exactly the same; Vitalit Crystals (little "health bar extenders") are hidden in the exact same locations; haunting, eerie underwater sound effects still echo through the seas; the story---a surreally, wondrously, bizarrely original sci-fi spectacle by novelist David Brin---remains untouched. That also means the gameplay remains entirely unchanged as well. Level objectives are ridiculously vague, leaving you to wander levels for hours (literally) until you sorta bump into what you're supposed to do next. The trial-and-error (and error and error and error) method by which you figure things out still seems to mock you. Prepare to die. Prepare to die frequently. Prepare to get especially frustrated because you really, really want to see what weirdness happens next.

To be fair, the PS2 version adds two little tweaks to make things easier---an enhanced radar and "hint glyphs" that purport to show you what to do via cut-scenes---though they're only half-bandaging the deeper gameplay wounds. This is one of the hardest games you'll ever play...only the extremely patient gamer need apply.

Is Game Art? Is Art...Game?
Graphically, the PS2 version isn't as prone to slowdown as the Dreamcast version was, and some special effects---including Ecco's sonar---have been enhanced to look a bit spiffier, but that's about it. The game shows its age, though not as much as you'd think, since sheer artistry overcomes many technical boundaries. The controls are still fluid (some of Ecco's previously tricky moves have been made easy thanks to a second analog stick), though the camera still gets stuck in weird places and tends not to show you what you really want to see.

No matter what system you play it on, Ecco is a rewarding, rich adventure brimming with beauty and creativity, capped in the dorsal fin by absurdly unclear mission objectives, frustrating Groundhog Day gameplay, and an insane difficulty level. Oh, how you want to love the dolphin. But dolphin love...she's a cold, hard love.


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