In Need of Saving: How a Dolphin Made Me Cry
By Amanda Rossenrode
When I was a kid, I had a Sega Genesis. I only had two games, because my mother told me that the only games that had ever come out on that system were the ones I had: The Pink Panther Goes to Hollywood and Columns 3. She recognized Sonic the Hedgehog, but claimed he could come out of the television and eat the eyeballs of children. I had played it at my friend’s house and couldn’t specifically remember that happening, but wasn’t going to test the theory in my own home. I just found out they made a lot of games! Recently I got one of those multipack Sega Classic systems for Christmas and intend to recreate the childhood my mother’s lies robbed from me.
Turns out you can’t save on a Sega! How did you pre-SNES gamers beat a game back in the day? I was reared on hand-me-down SNES and PlayStations, both of which you can save regularly. Well, I enjoy a tedious challenge, so for the purposes of this article I intended to beat a Sega game straight up 1992 style. No saving, no looking up stuff on the internet! Let the games begin.
The game I choose for this experiment is called Ecco the Dolphin. It’s about an adorable dolphin and I knew nothing more than that, nor was the game inclined to give me more information. I was introduced to a group of dolphins, presumably my friends or family. I tried to talk to the other dolphins, but they ignored me. I then tried to fight with the dolphins, but they remained placid as cows in a pasture, oblivious to my petulant demands for acknowledgement. The game at this point had given me no hint to what the objective was. I tried to eat fish or pick up sea shells to no avail. Finally, I just started slamming my own head into rocks. I felt that I would never leave this tiny pond filled with indifferent dolphins. I started to think about the movie Blackfish. I began to drift lazily.
By pure accident, I jumped out of the water and a cyclone occurred, sucking all of my apathetic brethren out of the water. Holy blowhole, I just murdered my entire family! I can only assume it was me, since I have not yet been presented with a clear evil. I was transported to another placid lagoon. The theme music was the kind of haunting melody that a feudal warrior might sacrifice himself to. I listened to this sad, mourning music as I continued to bash this poor dolphin’s face into jagged coral. It made me wonder what kind of kids would find this entertaining.
For the next twenty minutes I continued to torpedo one of the sea’s most majestic creatures into rocks, accompanied by a dolphin friend. I tried to counsel with her as to what we should do next, how the hell we were ever going to get out of this shallow prison, but she was a useless jerk. I thought maybe I should rally her in some way, because the game had still not made its point clear. Is this a collecting game? A fighting game? A puzzle? I really wanted to check the internet for tips at this point, but refused to compromise the integrity of this experiment. I finally managed to get poor Ecco (I’m assuming I’m Ecco. Maybe not.) out of the lagoon by hurling him onto a sharp rock with a belly flop after many tries. He squealed in resigned agony.
Okay! So I’m in the game proper. Surely they will be letting me know what to do now right? Certainly my buddy will take the lead and give me some direction! I tried following her around for a while, but she was an embarrassment to dolphins everywhere. I thought dolphins were supposed to be smart. She just kept doing flips above water. Screw her. I made my own way in the increasingly deep, dark ocean to the same melancholic score. The only thing that paid me any mind as I banged around the ocean, looking for a way out, was the jellyfish. And yes, Ecco screams every time he gets hurt. The makers of the game were going for heart-twisting realism.
I found a prism, but no answers. Only more questions. It seemed to be a force field. It didn’t seem to affect the jellyfish at all. I banged into it again and again, but nothing changed. Much like life. I decided maybe I had to kill all the jellyfish in the ocean before the prism would do whatever it was supposed to do. Then I realized, if the point of the game is to eradicate a species, Ecco is a pretty messed up dolphin. I mean, have a symbiotic relationship with your environment, Ecco! Haven’t you heard the song “Under the Sea”? It’s not exactly on point, but at no point does Sebastian suggest wiping out the octopi for sport!
Well, that’s apparently not the point because the jellyfish regenerate. While this relieves me slightly, it’s still teaching kids a really screwed up lesson about underwater ecosystems and the way animals work. I’m not exactly Maude Flanders when it comes to video game violence, but if my kid was getting his kicks torturing relatively realistic looking animals, I’d be alarmed. Because this is what the game has been so far; there are no rings, no treasure, no power-ups. Just a bleak sea filled with things I have to kill, but will never die. Stone walls to butt. I start to think that I, too, am a lonely dolphin stuck in a dark, pointless, maze. I think about moving to Portland…
Wheee! I jumped over something and I seem to be in a new area. There is a killer whale by another prism thingy. Based on an episode of Flipper I caught on Nick at Night, I believe him to be an enemy. I gird up for the big dolphin whale battle that will surely ensue.
But… he ignores me. He leaves! Wait, what? Am I even alive? Am I the Bruce Willis of the underwater world? Can no one else see me? Cold fear swamps my chest. I harass the whale, begging for acknowledgment, just to assure myself of existence on this plane. Why did I ditch the dumb dolphin? She had the IQ of pudding, but she seemed to feel my presence. She may have been my Haley Joel Osment. I go back out and in and the whale still refuses to engage, sitting like a totem by the prism, then brushing past me as he exits. It’s so lonely down here.
I touch the prism but nothing happens. I jump over the rocks and face-first into a ceiling of barbed spikes. The damned dolphin shrieks at me, accusing me of deeds that have no names. I plow through the jellyfish, wanting to tell them I am doing the only thing that I am sure of in this universe: my ability to kill jellyfish. I arrived back at the first prism, this enigma that I cannot solve. I charge into it again and again, knowing that force is not the answer but feeling I do not have the experience nor the skills to solve this problem. The jellyfish float closer and closer, mocking me. They zap me over and over again and Ecco wails.
I die. This time, I do not continue.
Okay, so turns out there is a button to hit that gives Ecco the power to “Echo.” Did not know this until my husband (fellow PSCC blogger and video game master Wesley Rossenrode) came home and informed me, easily Echoing in the direction of the dolphins to gain vague information from them. In my defense, since there was no tutorial of any kind, I button mashed for quite some time trying to figure it out, but apparently never hit the right button in their vicinity. The A button does the same thing as the B button in other areas. Also, if I may point out, the Sega controller features a three button ABC panel which can be unfamiliar to those more acquainted with the Nintendo and Sony cross-panel. I’m just saying. So I attempted to play the game the next day with my newfound power of being able to speak to animals.
Unfortunately, whales and dolphins are more cryptic than your average fortune cookie and did not help my quest in anyway. The first dolphin muttered something about winds of water like I hadn’t just witnessed all our fellow dolphins and crustaceans get sucked out of the sea. So, even with the assistance of sea mammals doling out inspirational Facebook quotes for guidance, my second attempt at the game was no more successful than my first.
Hats off to you, old school gamers; you have my respect. Without the aid of checkpoints, online walkthroughs, and YouTube videos, a surprisingly bleak game about a dolphin crushed my spirit and frustrated me to the point I had to stop the experiment and just play Columns 3. Maybe my mother was looking out for my best interests.