Ask any horror enthusiasts what the scariest game of all time is, and you’ll probably find a standard list made up of games like Eternal Darkness, Resident Evil, and Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
But what if I told you that, depending on who you happened to ask, that list might include a Sega classic staring a cute and carefree dolphin in the ocean?
Yes, I’m talking about Ecco the Dolphin. And while it seems unlikely, you might be surprised to hear that Ecco has inspired rapid heartbeats and sweaty palms in many gamers with the same fervor as the aforementioned standouts in the horror genre.
But the real (and admittedly more difficult) question is…why?
If you’re not familiar with it, Ecco the Dolphin is a game originally released for the Mega Drive in 1992. It featured amazing graphics for its time and also managed to boast a fairly deep plot compared to the litany of platformers that appeared on gaming systems in the early 90′s.
In the game, you play as Ecco, a dolphin who has been separated from his pod when a mysterious force vacuums a large amount of ocean life out of the water. After meeting with different characters and traveling around the globe using the different chambers of the ocean, you learn that extraterrestrials have come to visit and have been harvesting food from Earth’s ocean every 500 years in order to sustain their race.
After time travel and several horrific encounters with many of the game’s eerie enemies, Ecco single-handedly takes down the alien threat and is reunited with his pod in one happy and joyful ending.
If you haven’t played through Ecco before, this probably all sounds like the plot of bargain bin Disney movie. How could it possibly be scary?
For starters, the player controlled character in Ecco is a cute dolpin, one of the few sea creatures that we might consider to be friendly. Making the player take control of a character like Ecco is a frightening prospect, because it lends a certain air of vulnerability to the player that we don’t traditionally experience. Where we usually play as a hero endowed with great power, in Ecco you quite literally play as a creature of prey, in constant danger from the grueling surrounding environment and the dangerous predators lurking in the ocean. This alone can put you on edge and take away some of the comfort and empowering emotions many games give us from the onset.
Furthermore, there’s something to be said about the atmosphere of Ecco the Dolphin. Using eerie sound effects and a soundtrack that is one part Pink Floyd, one part Super Metroid, you’re left with a game whose atmosphere is, in a word, unsettling.
On top of that, there’s something creepy about the ocean and its vast depths and untapped well of danger. Thanks to the game’s challenging and trial-and-error based nature, you’re rarely left with a clear sense of direction in Ecco the Dolphin, leaving players to explore the dark and claustrophobic depths of the ocean alone. Just the fears of the ocean and tight spaces alone are among the top reasons many players were unable to complete this game from the start.
Let’s not forget about the ending boss fight with the Vortex Queen that requires you to break the alien’s jaw by swimming into its mouth before it can close on you. Yes, I’m serious.
While it might not be taking you on a journey of downward-spiraling madness or corridors filled with zombies, Ecco managed to use its various aspects to create an overall experience that became incredibly unique and terrifying in its own right.
Who would’ve thought?
Were you ever terrified by Ecco the Dolphin? Tell us in the comments below!