Genre: Children Developer: Novotrade Publisher: Sega Enterprises Players: 1 Released: 1995
Most all fans of the Sega 16-bit era will fondly remember Ecco the Dolphin, and its sequel Ecco: The Tides of Time, known for their excellent graphics, spectacular music, and uniquely challenging gameplay. Sadly, without giving the duo a chance, many people dismissed them as children’s games after seeing a dolphin on the covers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Moreover, their high level of difficulty no doubt turned away lots of young kids. However, in 1995, the Ecco team did release a kid’s game, aptly named Ecco Jr.
Starting with the storyline, I must say it was disappointingly poor. A young Ecco and two of his pals are on a search for the wise and mysterious Big Blue. The game didn’t really give much explanation as to why they went on this particular quest; maybe they just did it for fun. Anyway, Ecco’s two friends are also playable characters in the game. One is another young dolphin, named Kitnee, and the other is an Orca named Tara. You can change characters between levels, even though the gameplay is the same no matter which one you choose (the only diversity is the pitch of their sonar). No characters talk, and no story ever develops. Personally, I would have expected something more in the storyline after the plots of the other Ecco games, which were truly stunning. But, knowing it is a kid’s game, it makes sense if the developers didn’t want to make it too complex for the younger audience to comprehend.
The gameplay itself is, simply put, decent. It is much different from the previous Ecco titles. The menus are similar, and include a password system like before. Most of the time during the game is spent swimming through the eighteen levels looking for things like treasure, musical rings, or your lost friends of the sea. There are also a couple of levels where you play tag with your aquatic buddies. Each level is pretty small and will take on average only about three minutes to complete. There is no dying in this game. There are some “enemies,” but they just get in your way, and are unable to hurt you. No drowning from staying underwater too long either. The sonar works differently this time around as well. In the other games it allowed you to view a map of the area around you, talk with other creatures, and defeat enemies. Now, its only feature is to help find the objects that are hidden. As you get closer to what you are trying to find, the pitch gets higher. It works well for this game, but I wish you could at least talk to the other creatures. The game handles very well, because it works with the same great control system as before. Ecco can swim fast, turn easily, and even do flips out of the water (strangely the characters actually jump much higher in this game). The gameplay is well-suited for kids and gets the job done. For adults it can quickly get repetitive.
The graphics are superb. The backgrounds are beautiful, and the animations are amazing. Everything looks very smooth. Nothing short of what you would expect from an Ecco title. The characters all look and move very realistically. There is some variation in the levels, but not much. For instance, the other games had some ice levels, and some alien levels. None of that to be found here, but there are enough changes to keep it fresh. Overall, the graphics are one of the high points of the game.
The music is very pleasing, just like in the other Ecco games. Some of the best available on the Genesis. It really helps bring you into the underwater atmosphere of the game. These tunes sound a lot happier than ones heard in the other titles, which had more of a dark and scary sound. The happiness is very fitting though, since you’ll be doing things like playing tag, not evading aliens. The in-game sounds are also done very well. The sonar sounds nice, and so do the effects when you find something important, or when you jump out of the water.
Just like what should be expected, it is basically a simplified version of Ecco the Dolphin. I can’t complain much though, because it was intended for children. Giving this game a score is quite difficult. The graphics, music, and controls are great. The storyline, gameplay, difficulty, and some other features have been sacrificed to make the game kid-friendly. As an adult, there isn’t much replay value, so you’ll get about forty minutes of play time out of this one. But, if you have a young kid in the house, definitely consider Ecco Jr. as a good choice. It set out to be a kid’s game, and accomplishes that goal very well. I had some fun with it, and you might too. If you can find it cheap, why not pick it up and give it a try?
SCORE: 7 out of 10