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Ecco: The Tides of Time CD

Genre: Action Developer: Novotrade Publisher: Sega Enterprises Players: 1 Released: 1994

I had originally only ever played the Game Gear versions of Ecco, and having loved the first one jumped at buying the Tides of Time.  Since playing the Mega CD version, you can see how watered down (sorry) the GG version is.  Not bad though considering the hardware and how ambitious some of the levels are.  Many years after playing this version, I got the retro bug and decided to revisit the games I loved, and visit all those I missed out on:  Cue new Mega CD…  The Ecco series was the one franchise I had always wanted to play in 16-bits, and I was not disappointed, especially with this title. I played this version before the Mega Drive outing, which I have yet to fully complete, so this will not be a comparative review, and in most respects I will be concentrating on its own merits, of which there are many.

The game looks beautiful.  Ecco moves fluidly and is a little more realistic looking than in his first adventure, his dash maneuver having a more dynamic feel in particular.  Despite the limited colour palette, he looks a sleek and shiny silver grey, standing out nicely from the backgrounds, which often have a moody and suitably dark feel.  The rocks and other scenery are also carefully and well made, looking the more realistic end of comic book/cartoon-style art.  The inhabitants of the ocean are also nice to look at, in particular sharks in the distance that swim menacingly into the foreground to attack Ecco.

As well as these traditional methods of graphic presentation are, there are some nice effects here too.  The opening screen has the almost trademark Mega Drive wavy effect (it never gets old!), and perhaps most impressively a very subtle 3D-ish effect on the Sky Tube levels.  When moving through the wavy water passages that are suspended high over the sea and land, there is mode seven-like movement to the background the higher up you move. It could so easily not have been included, but that it was is a marker of the quality of the title.  It is subtle but adds to the feeling of height and distance the level is trying to achieve in quite a convincing fashion.  The pre-rendered looking Medusa was amazing to look at, if not for any technical marvel (classic string of globes for tentacles!) then just because it was so beautifully drawn and so BIG!  The water ‘tubes’ in which Ecco swims also have a pseudo transparent effect, though they do look a little 2D.

The 3D swimming sections are also very impressive.  While there is no special effect at work here, the frames of animation are fluid and create a convincing feeling of swimming forwards.  The sea bed is particularly detailed, and the waves move up and down in such a way as to create a truly convincing oceanic environment.  There is again the neat addition of the mode seven-style perspective change when moving from side to side, all adding to the realism.

These sections flow well with the game, and don’t feel “tacked on” as they could easily have done, given that each 3D section marks a transition from one episode to the next by having Ecco swim through rings in order to travel greater distances.  This idea might not have been realized as effectively on the side scrolling plane, and provides a bit of welcome variety, as well as a suitable transition between the game’s phases.  I really quite enjoyed these parts of the game and found them impressive.

The cut scenes which play when accessing certain glyphs dotted throughout the game bizarrely show the events of the first game, and they don’t quite mesh fully with this adventure.  They do look grainy (it’s the Mega CD, what would you expect?) but are a nice frame size and quite well rendered, and enjoyable.  I was unsure as to why Novotrade wanted to remind me of the original game. It may have been better to show some upcoming teaser scenes from later in this game or have some space reserved for a better ending sequence.  I feel it would have made the video segments gel with the adventure more coherently and create a more tense atmosphere overall.

Several gameplay elements were added, though nothing that deviates too dramatically from the prequel. Swimming and jumping, and using sonar are the main order of the day.  Ecco still handles smoothly and is easy to maneuver through tunnels and caves thanks to the tight and responsive controls.  The ability to morph into different creatures at specific stages of the game is fun and adds a bit of variety, though avoiding the birds of prey when you take to the air as an osprey (or some sort of gull?) was a bit of a teeth-grinding moment.  This sporadic difficulty was a criticism of the first game, and it is the same here in places.  Most parts of the game flow nicely into the next with a good difficulty curve, but occasionally it can be a bit obtuse.  In particular, it took me ages to get out of the Asterite’s cave.  No, I’m not telling you how!

The story is compelling, and ultimately is what carries you past these occasional moments of frustration.  The time traveling aspect is here again (the title is a dead giveaway of course), but this time in reverse.  Ecco travels into the future and meets the incarnations of evolved dolphins who help him in his quest to defeat the Vortex Queen, who really does look quite terrifying this time around.  The whole feeling you get when playing this game is eerie, quite dark, and authentically cinematic -the kind you get from a good sci fi movie.  It has a cliffhanger ending, with a level code granted for use in the next, unfortunately never made  game.  Imagine a 32X title!

It’s all helped along beautifully with the music by Spencer Nilsen, which is haunting and dramatic and ties in perfectly with the tone of the game.  In places, it’s like the music Enya might have made had she felt particularly melancholy that day.  Through some nice stereo speakers with the lights off you really do feel immersed in a cold and immense underwater world.  My only minor quibble (and I concede that this may partially be due to CD space limitations) is that one particular track is used quite a bit.  Perhaps rather than redbook audio tracks, PCM or similar could have been utilized in order to save on space and have a bit more variety.

Another minor irk  is the sound effects.  Whilst all work well and are suitable, I was a little disappointed with the splash sound effect. In Eccos original Mega CD outing there was a real sampled sound used when he left and entered the water which sounded great.  This was absent here, and the original Mega Drive splash sound was used.  Again, this could have been down to technical limitations, but it was a little bit of a shame nonetheless.  The sound on the whole is actually quite good.

If you haven’t got a Mega CD, the cart version is a worthy addition to your library.  If you have, then you should definitely track this title down, though it does have that slight “shovelware” feel to it given that nothing really new is added.  What is added, however, is top quality. The soundtrack in particular is perhaps the biggest reason to play the CD version, though the 16-bit cart music is also superb, and as good in its own right.  The ware that is shoveled in was worthwhile, as ultimately it only adds to the richness of the game’s experience.

The addition of video sequences is quite nice, but as mentioned earlier somewhat pointless given their mode of execution and are in themselves alone no big draw away from the cart version.  I would have given the game a nine out of ten verdict, though the slight lack of musical variety and my feelings on the cut scenes have dropped a mark.  Also, an extra level or two over the cart version would have been welcome, as with the original Ecco CD game.  All of this may be a tad harsh, but no game is perfect, and these minor issues have compelled me to score it an eight, along with the fact there is nothing all that new over the original Ecco game.

That’s no bad thing though, because if you loved the first Ecco, you’re sure to love this one too.  I really did. It oozes quality and style, and the makers have obviously put 110% into making this a piece of art.  More of the same is sometimes good, especially if it was beautifully executed the first time around.

SCORE: 8 out of 10

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1 Comment

  1. pattersonk092 says:

    if you liked the first installment you’ll most definitely enjoy this one. Personally, i haven’t spent too much time with this one, but i still like what i see. The Ecco series has been a little distant with me but i always acknowledge it as a strong one. The games are very unique in that you don’t see too many underwater adventures on any video game systems.

    Without getting very far in this game, i’d still give it an 8/10.

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