Saturday mornings and retro games go together like bacon and, well…everything. We have been preparing for a new addition to our family recently and have had to schedule our gaming time very carefully and Saturdays are perfect for us. There is something about cereal and pajamas that just makes retro games a little more fun. Our past few Saturdays together resulted in some really great Sega moments. The Genesis may not be the best console out there, but it’s ability to bring people together makes it really special. Earlier in this series I had discovered that at one point Sega had a small collection of games branded “Sega Club” that were specifically targeted at 3-5 year olds. My track record for choosing games that fit my daughter’s skill level has been pretty poor lately so I thought I would let the professionals over at Sega Club help point me to age appropriate games. So far we have only had a chance to play one other Sega Club game, Sesame Street Counting Cafe, and thought that it was fun; yet somewhat bland. I finally got my hands on Ecco Jr., another Sega Club exclusive. The game features two adorable dolphins and an orca whale that go on an adventure to meet their hero, Big Blue…why yes you’re right, that does sound delightful.
It is very apparent early on that the developers spent a lot of time tailoring this game to younger players and their parents, so much in fact that they even thought to include a special Parent’s Menu which includes options and educational dolphin facts. The Parent’s Menu is accessed by pressing A B and C at the same time from the title screen. You can do some interesting things from this menu, in addition to a level select, you also have the ability to change from puzzle mode, to exploratory mode. The menu also let’s you enable the AutoSonar option, which makes it so you don’t have to constantly hit B to ping your sonar off of objects. Fair warning when using Autosonar, while it may be convenient for the kids, the sound effect gets annoying pretty quick. The music is hit or miss. A few levels feature pretty normal music but then others have what sounds like robotic beeps as if you were stuck on some alien spacecraft. I know that the original Ecco had something to do with aliens or sentient dolphins or something, but the music in Ecco Jr. just doesn’t always fit. It’s even kind of funny if you think about how the dolphins from Hitchhiker’s Guide were actually aliens..holy crap I just figured it out. Ecco was inspired by Douglas Adams.
One of the most satisfying things you can do in Ecco Jr. is akin to dashing in other games. You can zoom around and launch yourself out of the water, at the right angle you can flip. The ability to breach and do a flip is my favorite thing in this game. Mae really enjoyed watching me zip around and I enjoyed watching her start to grasp how echolocation works. She would notice that sounds would bounce back from different areas of the map and then she would head in that direction. A lot can be learned in Ecco Jr., you have the opportunity to interact with a variety of sea-life and there are no enemies in the game which really opens up the ability to explore the very detailed levels. We did come across a gem collecting mini level which became a bit confusing because it appears that you need to collect a certain color gem when you really just need to blast all of the gems in sight to continue. The icing on the cake is the final level “The Endless Sea” you actually get to swim around with Big Blue and friends, basically a pod of gigantic blue whales. The scale of the whales is pretty impressive, as is the way they slowly meander across the screen. Once you use your sonar to convince one of the whales to surface, it sprays water and your other sea friends do flips to celebrate. A pretty enjoyable way to end our time with Ecco Jr.
We had a whale of a time with this game..and yes, that pun was on porpoise.