When you look back on the games you played as a child, no doubt you think of them with great fondness and nostalgia, as these cartridges and discs from the past were a part of your beloved childhood. Sadly, I’ve found that occasionally when you return to these games to give them another run they are abominations that you should have destroyed when you had the chance, yet the innocence of youth blinded you. Such is the case with Ecco the Dolphin: The Tides of Time.
Before I get to a play-through, allow me to ask you a question. You decide to make a game about an evil vortex alien queen that comes to earth in order to destroy it. The only way for the hero to destroy this dastardly villain is to travel through time and gain powers and abilities that will allow him to defeat the evil queen in the present. Seems like a good enough story for a 16 bit game, right? Now, who would YOU pick to be the epic hero on a quest such as this? A man clad in green who wields a sword? An anime-looking hero with spiky hair and a headband with some sort of flying talking critter as a sidekick? Nah, those ideas suck. Better go with a DOLPHIN WHO CAN ONLY SWIM FAST. Best idea ever, right? Wrong. Yet this is the exact plot premise (as far as I can tell) of The Tides of Time.
Maybe this awful story could be forgiven if the game had some sort of coherent, enjoyable gameplay, however, the gameplay flat out sucks. Not once in the game is anything told to you, which led to childhood Will swimming around really fast and jumping out of the water to do flips in the first level and thinking the game was awesome. I will still maintain that this is the best part of the game. But in order to truly understand it’s horridity- a word I just made up, you have to play the game. Since you probably don’t have a Sega genesis lying around with a copy of it, I will do the dirty work for you and try to put into words the frustration and awful gameplay that abounds in ETDTTOT.
I just turned on the game and I already have a complaint. The main theme for this game is dark, mysterious, and by all means awesome, but does this really belong in a game where you play as a dolphin? Also, on the demo that plays if you don’t hit start, Ecco gets hurt. N00b.
I start off by swimming really fast and doing flips so that I can at least get minimal enjoyment out of this disgusting romp through the deep blue. After doing a bit more exploring, a dolphin comes up and I cant swim past him until he tells me the sea is filled with teleport rings. Cool dude. I pass by him, swim through a ring (Hey! That dolphin just told me there were rings! How convenient!) and the level ends. At least I wish it did. Instead it goes to a long, boring, racing game perspective and you have to swim and jump through a bunch of rings. Level 1 done. How exciting.
Level 2: Crystal Springs
Now the fun really begins; this level just flat out sucks. I start out next to a dolphin who tells me to follow him. Once we arrive at a completely random spot, he asks if I can feel the energy pulling. No, I can’t. Now, from past experience I know I need to knock the crystals scattered throughout the level down and bring them to this spot, however they REFUSE to move, and will eventually just go when they feel like. After I bring them all to this spot, I can move on to the next level. It’s 1:55. Lets see how long this takes. By the way, your only clue that this is how to beat the level is that the dolphin now says “Do It” when you speak to him. What a helpful guy. Okay it took until 2:02, far too long for somebody who knows exactly what to do.
Level 3: Fault Zone
This level is pointless. Rocks fall down, then a dolphin comes and tells you you cant breathe underwater anymore. Oh awesome, lets make a game that takes place in water where every few seconds you have to come up to breathe! This is a perfect example of why I don’t like realism in video games. Ah well, level finished.
Level 4: Two Tides
This level starts off with some dolphin buddies sayin’ they are scared. Cool. Once again I’m going to blitz through this level because I know exactly what to do, but the point here is that if you didn’t know, you’d be stuck and rage would force you to quit. Basically, there are bubbles that push you away from places, and you have to scare a turtle and hide behind his shell to get through them. Because a turtle shell can get past raging tides and a dolphin swimming as fast as it can can’t. great idea programmers. When you reach the end, a freaky dolphin from the future comes and takes you to its time because you have to sing with “an old friend.” So to be clear, you have to go to the distant future to see a friend you made a long time ago in the past. What a wonderful plot.
Well, no level screen came up, but I am going to count this as a level. Okay, the freaky looking dolphin told me to use the water tubes to find my friend. It’s 2:18. When I figure out how to beat this level, I will write more. Now it is 2:32 and I figured it out. One crystal eats some rocks that lets you shoot another crystal that says “The Glyph that is a door is now open” apparently crystals are called glyphs now. You swim through the broken crystal (quickly, there is a time limit) to dash into another crystal and quickly run back through the other crystal and now you can shoot the crystal blocking the exit! All this with no hints (and yes i talked to every dolphin in the level. They just told me I look funny. Jerks.) What a great game.
Level 6: Skyway
Uh, you shoot four crystals. How original.
Level 7: Sky Tides
Wasn’t I supposed to find a friend two levels ago? Ah well. This level is similar in style to a space shooter, as in, the screen is constantly scrolling from top to bottom. You have to stay in the tunnels of water or you fall out and die. Within two seconds you have to move right or left. There is no possible way to know that the first time playing through. Great design. Many times, you have to switch tubes by swimming with enough force from one to reach the one beside it. After quite a few tries, i make it through.
Level 8: Tube of Medusa
I’ve never made it this far. The music is pretty darn cool in this stage. It is similar in style to the last level, but now the screen does not constantly move…okay I was about to say I was starting to dig this level, when a GIANT jellyfish came, attacked me, and I fell out of the tube and am back at level six. I’m done.
Obviously, I have no idea how much of the game this represents, and maybe after this it gets to be really cool (though I doubt it). The average person will never know. The cryptic puzzles, unnecessarily frustrating level layouts, a bad story, and controls that are somewhat difficult to execute lead to a game that shouldn’t be played by you, your friends, your family, or even your enemies. Because I played it as a kid, I feel a nostalgic connection to this game, one that might even cause me to power through the pain and complete it someday. You, however, are living in ignorance to its crappiness, and I hope you remain that way.
P.S. I tried looking through google images to find some pictures of this game i could post. Understandably, there aren't very many, so you'll have to use your imagination. Just imagine mediocrity.