Retro Review - Ecco Jr.
Recent Platforms: Virtual Console, Steam
Platform Reviewed: Steam (Sega Genesis)
Developer: Appaloosa Interactive
Release Date: August 15, 1995
Editor's Note: This is not an official ScrewAttack review but g1 Ferret75 has done a great job highlighting this vintage Genesis adventure and ... wait ... Ecco had a son?
Ecco the Dolphin was the mascot for a series of action adventure games developed by what is currently Appaloosa Interactive. Each of the video game entries consisted of explorative gameplay, often combining fast movement with difficult combat, with an emphasis on difficult. The environments were very atmospheric, creating a sense of isolation and survival. There was also a surprisingly serious story.
You won't really find as much of that in this later title. Ecco Jr. was released about three years after the original Ecco the Dolphin, and from the looks of it, the game is obviously catered towards younger players. The combat is removed, the controls are slightly altered, and the gameplay objectives are dramatically different. But could it be that these changes are for the better?
The graphics in Ecco Jr. aren't too different from those of the other dolphin titles. Most of the action takes place underwater, and the vivid colors of the game help illustrate this. Individual sprites are bright and colorful, providing a constant sense of cheer and happiness. Characters and enemies are clearly distinguishable from the surrounding environment, and they don't stand out in an awkward manner. There is also a nice amount of detail towards small things like the light reflection for the crystals.
As for the animation, there are some ups and downs. The positive aspects are that the character movement is fluid and successfully illustrates movements such as turning. Like the older entries of the video game series, there's also a sense of speed (blast processing) that appears with faster movement. On the downside though, the game tends to drop in frame rate on more than a few occasions, which really shouldn't be a problem due to the simplistic nature of the gameplay.
Believe it or not, there are actually fifteen songs for this game. Most of the tracks convey a theme of happiness, with there not being much variety in the actual mood. What I do appreciate is the creativeness in the instrumentals, as the tracks tend to build over time. There is unfortunately some repetition with the tracks, and they don't ever seem to capture a darker feel, but they work well for the most part.
There aren't a whole lot of sound effects to be found. You have sonar frequencies, occasional splashes from making contact with the surface, some musical effects like colored rings, and chimes to let you know that the end checkpoint is available. The musical effects are creative, but the transition sounds between levels can be rather annoying to human ears.
Ecco Jr. appears to be targeted towards younger audiences due to the different gameplay. You take control of one of three different marine animals, which are different in appearance but identical in movement. On your quest to search for the Big Blue, a supposedly famous whale, you are required to complete a series of short quests. These range from finding hidden treasures, playing tag with other dolphins, and pushing a small ball around an entire labyrinth. Did I mention that there are a lot of simple fetch quests?
The main problem is that game just isn't very fun to play. For starters, there isn't any sort of challenge. Combat is nonexistent, and the health meter is completely absent. Having to breathe underwater isn't an issue either, as the dolphin apparently became a fish before the game started. I can see that the programmers were hoping to create a simpler game, but they focused on this aspect so much that the player engagement quickly reduces.
The dolphin does have a sonar ability, which almost always targets you towards your next objective, further removing the challenge. There is a dash feature, but it doesn't work for certain directions all the time. When it does, you won't be able to always take advantage of it due to tight environmental spaces. Movement is at least fluid in its animation, but when you're trying to push a very small object around with your small dolphin nose, having to make full turns doesn't usually work out well.
But like the previous Ecco the Dolphin titles, the most fun parts of the gameplay come from simply messing around. It's entertaining to dash upwards out of the ocean at very fast speeds, and jumping around on the top of land cliffs can be exciting for a few seconds. The thing is though, this little mischief only takes up a few minutes of gameplay at most, and it's not what the game tasks you with.
Ecco Jr. will only take you an hour at most to complete. There are eighteen initial levels to play through, although a cheat code will unlock an additional six. I did find one level which involved searching for camouflaged fish to be rather interesting, but that's about it. Most of the tasks involve fetch quests, and the fact that you sometimes have to move things around one a time only serves to artificially increase the length. There isn't any challenge, and the levels aren't particularly fun.
What the consumer ultimately experiences is a game with impressive graphics and somewhat creative ideas, but coupled with less impressive gameplay that leaves you unsatisfied. I admire that a developer tries something different every now and then, but this is a series that should just stick to serious action adventure gameplay. You'll probably find this game on a few collection discs, but if you're thinking about spending anywhere from three to ten dollars on a more recent port, then your money would be better spent elsewhere.