After Ecco 1 I was hoping the difficulty would be toned down for the sequel. There’s still intensely punishing levels, autoscrollers, instant death traps, etc. And they didn’t learn their lesson of adding checkpoints as the original game’s CD edition did; they made a new kind of checkpoint glyph but it’s only in two levels. Even so, it is a little easier to get through and stands as a worthy sequel with many new and fun kinds of challenges throughout.
As before, you play as a dolphin in a 2D sidescroller setting, and you use your dolphin skills of aquatic movement and sonar to interact with your oceanic environment. Again as before, things get weird quickly as you are contacted by your descendant and taken to the future, then the present, then a dark alternate future, and finally you stop the alien menace from the first game from colonising Earth. There’s even an unexpected epilogue chapter that revisits Atlantis from the first game and wraps up the story with some appropriately trippy and expectation-confounding exposition.
All the while you’re treated to the kind of New-Age aesthetics that made the first game so appealing. At times you feel like you’re swimming through a Yes album cover, and the soundtrack shifts from mellow to hard prog rock stylings. I played the Mega Drive version; the CD port has a new Redbook soundtrack, but I wanted to give Sega’s hardware the chance to wow me with an effective use of its sound chip after hearing other games’ farty, flat tunes; I’m glad to say it didn’t disappoint. (The only other addition for the CD release are some FMVs that retell the first game, so it’s not essential to play that version this time around.)
This sequel expands on the formula of the first game, introducing many new kinds of challenges and mechanics. Not all of them work; the transformations are interesting breaks but less fun than playing as a dolphin, there are some very long fetch quest levels, the early high-flying water tube levels are tediously difficult to get right, and the 3D scrolling transition segments are unnecessary. But most of the time you’re playing a slightly improved Ecco 1, and then there’s great new stuff like the anti-gravity mechanised tubes of the dark future. Small touches like the ability to flop on land or the powerful all-around sonar attack make life easier too.
As with the first game, I played the 8-bit conversion as well. The Game Gear port got a wide distribution, but the technically superior Master System port (the larger screen is greatly to be preferred) was made only for the Brazilian market, since the console remained relevant there for many years after fading in the rest of the world. So I played in Portugese, which is not ideal but I played it alongside the 16-bit version so I didn’t feel I missed any plot. It’s an odd duck; many of the more memorable setpieces could not make the conversion to the less powerful engine, so there’s some reused content from the first game to make up for it, and of course block-pushing puzzles return. It retains some small improvements such as the health clams refilling your air as well, and key glyphs changing colour when activating (these were in Ecco 1 SMS too but I didn’t mention them!). But anyway the clams aren’t in the 16-bit sequel… getting off track here… All the same comments I made for Ecco 1 8-bit apply here, but more is lost in the conversion and strangely enough the order of some bits is all mixed around. More so than the first game, this port can be skipped but it’s still a fun curiosity.
On the surface Ecco 2 doesn’t seem like it was necessary, but it really was a joy to deepen the world of this little dolphin and the overwhelming strangeness of his life, and to revisit the mechanics and see them improved and built on. The story is more complex, which is a good and bad thing as it becomes confusing but also makes the evil aliens more sympathetic. It also jumps into the strangeness more rapidly, whereas I liked the gradually unfolding sci-fi craziness of the first game. But if you bought into the first game even a little bit (play the CD version), then you absolutely should play the sequel as well.
Ecco: The Tides of Time was the sequel to Ecco the Dolphin and was released for the Sega Genesis and Sega CD in 1994. The CD and cartridge versions are not hugely different but the CD version adds a new soundtrack and a few other small touches that make it worthwhile if you have the Sega CD. There was also a Game Gear version but it was significantly different with a number of levels removed completely. There was a Brazil only release for the Sega Master System that was somewhat better than the Game Gear version.
The Ecco series is quite unique and it seems as if people either love it or hate it. It is a somewhat surreal game with the player controlling a dolphin that ultimately ends up saving the world from aliens. It can be a difficult and lengthy game but worth it for those that have the patience. The game was re-released on Wii’s Virtual Console in 2007.