Ecco the Dolphin puts players in control of the title character, a young dolphin who can swim and leap with all the acrobatic acumen for which his species is known. The game presents a playground of underwater levels that challenge Ecco to move about with power and precision. Most levels include small fish Ecco can eat to replenish health, as well as vicious squids or hungry sharks that would like to do the same to him. As a mammal, it is also important for Ecco to return to the surface regularly for a breath of air.
The main challenges in Ecco the Dolphin are environmental puzzles. Each new area presents an increasingly sophisticated labyrinth of airless corridors, contrary currents, and hungry predators. The trick to enjoying the game is in mastering the controls that allow Ecco to squeeze through tight spaces, dart away from enemies, and perform high-flying leaps. As swimming and leaping become second-nature, possible puzzle-solving techniques become more apparent.
Players have a side-on view of the dolphin and his undersea environments. The three primary actions that can be performed are a steady, speed-building tail pump, a quick dart, and a sonic blast, which can communicate with other friendly marine mammals, affect certain objects (such as brittle boulders), and also be used to bring up a radar-like map of the surrounding area. Some puzzles require Ecco to move special objects by pushing them with blasts of his sonar.
The progression of the game follows a detailed and emotionally compelling plotline. Ecco has been separated from his pod by a strange and powerful storm. As he makes his way back to his family, he meets many other marine creatures and faces many challenges that teach him about the myths and history of his undersea world.
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