Dolphins are cool, but time-traveling dolphins that can shape-shift and battle aliens are cooler. Ecco is one such dolphin, on a quest to save his pod and the rest of the world from an alien invasion. Ecco: The Tides of Time is a sequel of sorts to the first Ecco game, and in many ways it exceeds its predecessor. The plot is interesting enough: The Vortex Queen, some sort of alien that Ecco defeated in the first game, was apparently not really defeated and is out to take over the world again.
To combat this menace, the Asterite (which happens to look like a DNA double helix—symbolism, maybe?) gave Ecco special powers, which includes the ability to not have to surface for air, and various attacks. Unfortunately, Ecco loses his powers very early on. To make matters worse, the Vortex Queen has scattered the pieces of the Asterite. Ecco’s quest basically involves finding these pieces so he can defeat the Vortex again and restore harmony to his world.
To complicate things further, Ecco meets up with a super-dolphin from the future and gets sent forward in time to a peaceful future, a future that he must preserve. It’s all very dramatic and exciting. It’s also a very pretty game for its time. The sprites are sharp and detailed, and I especially like the über-dolphins of the future with their nifty trailing fins. The level designs are varied and some are absolutely stunningly done. One that I particularly like involves a bunch of floating pools of water that you have to navigate. It is really well done.
The controls are very good as well. The game is responsive and the controls are easy to get used to. Unfortunately, one major problem with the game is the difficulty levels of some of the stages. Occasionally you will come across one stage that is ridiculously hard, and it can get so frustrating that you might just give up. A lot of people resort to cheats. I particularly hate the upward-scrolling stages where you have to jump from water tube to water tube and not fall off the stage or drop behind. Sometimes it can be difficult to just figure out where you’re supposed to go or what you’re supposed to do. If you can get past these difficult bits, it’s a lot of fun, but the difficulty is a serious drawback at times.
The sound fits the game very well. I really like a lot of the songs. They can go from happy and carefree to sinister to sorrowful and fit perfectly with the action in the game. They always seem to fit perfectly with the stage. The sound effects are fine. None of them really stand out as good or bad.
As far as replay value, there’s nothing special once you beat the game, although it will probably take you a while the first time through, anyway. It’s a satisfying game, and probably one of my favorites for the Genesis. It’s worth a purchase, since you should be able to find it cheap.