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Video Game / Ecco the Dolphin

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No matter where you go, you know I'll find you
No matter where you've been, I'll bring you home

A Sega series about a New Age time-travelling bottlenose dolphin who fights space aliens. His friends include a pteranodon, a telepathic strand of DNA, and flying dolphins from 10,000,000 years in the future. The games were developed by the Hungarian studio Novotrade International, later known as Appaloosa Interactive.

The games are notoriously difficult to survive and beat. Players must solve puzzles while keeping an eye on enemies and the ever-present Oxygen Meter. The storylines tend toward the surreal, since it's from the viewpoint of a dolphin with minimalist dialogue, and the atmospheric, Pink Floyd-inspired soundtrack generates a lingering sense of eeriness. Perhaps the only game which came close to matching Ecco's mood at the time was Myst, which has a similar cult following.

Ecco originated on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, and the first game is the one general audiences are familiar with: Ecco's pod were snatched from the seas by a mysterious storm, so he set out to find them. He went to see a blue whale for advice. The whale didn't know much, but it sent Ecco to talk to the Asterite, the oldest being in the seas, which has the appearance of globes arranged on a double-helix. The Asterite recognised Ecco and said it could help him, except it was missing a globe and thus not at full power. The solution was simple: travel to Atlantis and use the Time Machine stashed there to go back in time 55 million years to retrieve the wayward sphere. In Atlantis, Ecco also discovers that the source of the "storm" was a species of hive-minded aliens who had lost the ability to grow their own food and was thus harvesting from Earth's seas every 500 years. In the end, Ecco saved his pod and set back the Vortex invasion. Got all that?

In Ecco: The Tides of Time, Ecco found out from his descendant, Trellia, that the Vortex Queen had survived their last encounter and killed the Asterite. Ecco's earlier time-travelling had also split the timestream in two: one where Trellia and her fellows created a paradise for themselves, and one where the Vortex razed the sea and sky, killing the Earth. Ecco sought to save the Asterite and keep history on its proper path. It ended with Ecco mysteriously vanishing into the "Tides of Time".

That was the end of Ecco, save for an Edutainment Game called Ecco Jr. Ecco also made some promotional appearances in the UK's Sonic the Comic.

Years later, a fourth game was released for the Sega Dreamcast in the form of Defender of the Future, which moved the series into three dimensions. The story, written by David Brin (and narrated by Tom Baker of all people), cut out most of the dreamlike elements and kept the basic framework: a dolphin named Ecco, aliens (now colloquially known as "the Foe"), and time travel. It also introduced human society, whereas the original games relegated humans to backgrounds in Atlantis and the odd sunken ship. In Defender, the Foe sought to steal dolphinkind's "most noble traits": Intelligence, Ambition, Compassion, Wisdom, and Humility. It was of course Ecco's job to get those traits back over the course of three alternate futures: Man's Nightmare (no humans on account of them going extinct in a war against the Foe), Dolphins' Nightmare (dolphins resorting to warfare to drive humans from the seas), and Domain of the Enemy (the Foe have completely taken over). A tentpole franchise was never in the cards, but at least it upheld the graphical and musical splendor expected from the IP.

All in all, Ecco is a very bizarre, haunting, frustrating, and strangely-compelling series. The fanbase is small, but devoted, and there is at least one fansite for it on the Web. Don't expect to see any more of Ecco from the Genesis or Defender continuity, unless as an April Fool's Day prank.

At present, the first three games (Ecco, Ecco 2, and Ecco Jr.) are available on various official emulators, such as PlayStation Network, Steam, and the Wii Virtual Console before its closure. Defender was ported to the PlayStation 2 but has not seen a re-release since then.

The creator of Ecco tried to crowdfund a Creator-Driven Successor, The Big Blue, but it was plagued by bad marketing and didn't reach its goal. In 2016, a beta version of Defender's lost sequel was unearthed and publicly released on the Internet.

This series provides examples of:

    open/close all folders 

    Entire series 
  • Badass Adorable: Ecco, of course, being both a dolphin and the protagonist of an adventure game series, would obviously qualify as this, but it tends towards Fridge Brilliance when you consider that the label Badass Adorable arguably applies to real-life dolphins as well.
  • Big Bad: In all continuities, the resident alien queen serves as the main antagonist.
  • Birthmark of Destiny: Ecco himself has a pattern of markings on his forehead, shaped like the stars that form the constellation Delphinus.
  • Bizarre Alien Senses: Dolphins can 'look beyond their eyes with their song'. In Ecco's case it's depicted as summoning a map of the area. There's a level in the second game called Sea of Darkness that requires echolocation to navigate, depicted by lightening the area every time Ecco sings.
  • Blue Is Heroic: Ecco himself is typically associated with the color blue which is brought even further in Defender of the Future where he was slightly redesigned with blue skin.
  • Bull Fight Boss: The Globe Holder from Tides has elements of this in the second phase. The great white shark in Defender is a somewhat straighter example.
  • Character Song: The vocal remix of Saint Gabriel's Mask.
  • Easing into the Adventure: Each game lets you spend as long as you like in the first lagoon; there's always a certain something that kicks the plot off, and the player has control over when it occurs.
  • Eldritch Abomination: A very light, very benevolent example, but... what exactly is the Asterite? The only answer given is the Big Blue describing it as probably being the oldest lifeform in the sea. Its form is unlike anything else on Earth: it's a gigantic, constantly-rotating double helix of globes, and even when it's shattered into its constintuint globes in Tides, it still lives on and merely needs the globes recollected in one place to revive. Even two globes can still use its lone communication style: "energy of thought" as the Singers call it, or telepathy as humans might. And when all of its globes are together, it can give other lifeforms superpowers. Whatever this thing is, it's an incredibly good thing that it's on Ecco's side.
  • Emergency Temporal Shift: The Atlanteans used their machine to escape into the past when the Vortex attacked Earth long ago.
  • Escort Mission: Each game (even the edutainment one) has at least one, though in the original they are optional. They're also not too bad as escort missions go; in the Genesis games, your charges are invulnerable, and the Defender ones aren't killable. They're arguably not even true escort missions, since you don't have to protect them or even keep them in sight, they just follow you automatically and unerringly. Defender has a Game-Breaking Bug during the most difficult escort mission. You're meant to protect a dolphin so he can lead you to a door and open it for you. Sometimes, after going through a short tunnel, he manages to swim inside a rock on the other side and become stuck.
  • Floating Continent: In the Good Future of Tides. The flying dolphins say they were "born of the great eruptions", whatever that means. A few also show up in the Hanging Waters level-set in Defender.
  • Friendly, Playful Dolphin: The trope's at its most active in Ecco Jr., though some minigames in Defender show the dolphins' playful side. It's nearly absent from the original two games - Ecco's podmate challenges him to see how high he can jump at the start of Ecco the Dolphin, but for the most part the Singers are too concerned with surviving the Vortex assault to be very playful.
  • Frigid Water Is Harmless: A few of the levels are a combo of Under the Sea and Slippy-Slidey Ice World set in the Arctic. Bottlenose dolphins like Ecco usually live in water that's about 50F/10°C at the coldest, yet Ecco seems unaffected.
  • Green Aesop: Like Sonic CD, this is one of the rare series where the utopian conclusion is one where technology and nature coexist in harmony instead of taking the "all technology is evil" route common with animal protagonists.
  • Heroic Dolphin: And Ecco, while being the most obvious, isn't actually the only example: dolphinkind in general shows up en masse to kick Vortex carapace at the Asterite's request in Tides, and the Resistance dolphins in Defender's Dolphins' Nightmare section pull some courageous maneuvers.
  • Heroic Mime: Ecco does use his voice as a general problem-solving tool, but the player's never privy to anything he says beyond "Queek-queek-queek" and "SQUAAARK!!". He also chatters when you press the sonar button out of water in Defender. Interestingly, one of the scrapped ideas involved being able to see what Ecco's sonar translated to by singing at a mirror.
  • Hive Mind: The Vortex and Foe alike, though it's clearer with the Vortex.
  • Horde of Alien Locusts: Again, the aliens in both storylines.
  • Lock and Key Puzzle: The usual format of the games' puzzles; summarized by "SEARCH FOR THE KEY-GLYPH" for the first two. Defender has a few story-related examples scattered around.
  • Long Song, Short Scene: At least one per main game.
    • The time travel theme ends in a neat little finishing bar, but only after the song loops twice. Ingame, it's only ever used for about one loop, too short to hear the end of the song. Note this only applies to the version in the first game - the Tides version loops indefinitely in the sound test.
    • Tides brings us Convergence, which is a medley of just about every major theme in the game. Too bad you only hear it as you're restoring the Asterite... and during the dolphins' cavalry charge on Lunar Bay that immediately follows that scene. It's not supposed to play there, but they forgot to kick the music over on the zone change — as long as you don't have to reload the level and never pause during it, you'll hear it most of the way to the Vortex Queen.
    • Defender has several as well, of the "cutscene too short for them" variety. Behold Master of Forgotten Skills Intro and Outro.
  • Make Me Wanna Shout: Ecco's sonar gets various weapons-grade upgrades throughout the games.
  • The Maze: At least one in each game, some more frustrating than others.
  • New Age: Let's see, you gotcher dolphins, your New Age-y music, your trip to Atlantis, your themes of harmony with the environment...
  • Nintendo Hard: You ain't heard the half of it. As to rub salt on the wound, most of the achievements/trophies for the ports revolve around not dying until getting to a certain level and until you beat the game three times in a row. On his Twitter, Ed Annunziata admitted to making the game harder on purpose so that kids who rented it wouldn't beat it in a weekend.
  • Oddball in the Series: Ecco Jr. All the challenge and peril from the main series is removed, turning it into an edutainment game that focuses on exploration, the reason being to throw a bone to young players who were enticed by Ecco's apparently kid-friendly premise but repelled by its dark, creepy subject matter and considerable Surprise Difficulty.
  • Oxygen Meter: It's easy to forget Ecco is a mammal, not a fish, and as such, requires air to breathe. You have an air meter on top of your regular health meter that you'll have to constantly keep watch of and refill via surfacing or Oxygenated Underwater Bubbles. If it runs out, your actual health meter will start depleting rapidly.
  • Pass Through the Rings: Those Goddamn teleport levels from Tides. Predictably, some of this in Defender as well, since it's the only 3D game in the series. An optional feature in Ecco Jr.: after collecting musical rings, you can swim through them to hear simple melodies.
  • Sapient Cetaceans:
    • Aside from Ecco discussing subjects like alien invasions and lost families with other creatures, including those of other species, the series also involves solving notoriously challenging puzzles when playing as Ecco.
    • The comic books based on the series more directly portray Ecco as a very clever and resourceful dolphin, even to the point of showing Ecco tricking a jellyfish and a polar bear into attacking each other instead of him.
  • Scenery Dissonance: The Type 1 is common in the series. Plenty of the scenery is pleasant, but the games are clearly quite dark.
  • Scenery Porn: Many, many lovely shots of the ocean.
  • Spinoff Babies: Ecco Jr. features a younger version of Ecco exploring the ocean, with such tasks as herding seahorses, swimming through rings, and finding lost balls for sea lions coming into play. This game was created to appeal to younger gamers as part of the "Sega Club" line of games, and thus lacks the difficulties of the series' main games.
  • Stalking Mission: Tides of Tme has a deadly version after the final boss battle, where you have to let the Vortex Queen remove a few doors for you, and then squeeze ahead for the last stretch and get to the time machine before she does.
  • Sword of Plot Advancement: The special powers the Asterite gives Ecco in the first and second games, the dolphins' noble traits in Defender.
  • Threatening Shark: Sharks are some of the tougher enemies, often taking three to five hits to kill. Ecco himself is transformed into a shark several times in Tides, mostly so he can rampage about the level eating everything... and for an excuse to choose between getting munched by One-Hit Kill sharks or turn yourself into one and proceeding to get attacked by other dolphins.
  • Uninstallment: Ecco Water Wars 2, a nonexistent installment advertised as part of an April Fools' Day joke.
  • Xenofiction: Even in Defender, where humans are a much more relevant species, the games are told from a cetacean perspective.
  • Xenomorph Xerox: The Vortex in the Genesis games and the Foe in Defender of the Future bear a lot of similarities to extraterrestrial monsters from the Alien franchise. They have elongated skulls, chitinous bodies, exposed teeth, show signs of being able to adapt their forms to survive in any environment they encounter, and are led by a queen responsible for breeding the entire horde.
  • You Can't Thwart Stage One: You can't get to the Asterite before the Vortex break it, and you can't restore the Guardian before the Foe makes it through.

    Genesis/Mega Drive games 
  • Ambidextrous Sprite: The trope is expected for games of this era, but one of Ecco's sprites are mirrored vertically between up and down movements. The animation transition between up and down movement seems awkward in Ecco the Dolphin, as if Ecco instantly does a 180 degree while facing toward or away from the camera. Whether intentional or not, he very visibly does a 180 spin when turning up-to-down or down-to-up in the 2D bonus stages in Defender. It's pretty comical, and can result in Fridge Logic if you never noticed this issue in the original games.
  • Ambiguous Gender: Besides distressed dolphin and orca mothers and Ecco, no one else's gender is specified. Ecco himself isn't revealed to be male until Tides; the first game's manual goes out of its way to to say "Ecco" instead of using a pronoun.
  • American Kirby Is Hardcore: The Japanese box arts of the first 2 Ecco games on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive were more cute and cartoony compared to the more realistic-looking American ones.
  • And Now for Someone Completely Different: Ecco Jr. is the only title in the series that allows the player to play as characters besides Ecco, offering Kitnee the Atlantic dolphin (darker coloring than Ecco) and Tara the baby Orca. Sadly, the only difference between the characters is cosmetic, as they all play exactly the same.
  • Animals Not to Scale: Ecco faces sea horses that are way larger than any real species.
  • Artistic License Paleontology: The prehistoric levels of Ecco the Dolphin include trilobites, Dunkleosteus, Pteranodons, and proto-cetaceans cohabiting.
  • Ascended Fridge Horror: One of the main means by which Tides of Time is Darker and Edgier than the first; it simply addresses the darker implications of time travel in further depth than the original did. Also, at a couple of points late in the game, you can take a wrong turn and accidentally get turned into a Vortex creature. Notice how the mechanical floating things look like jellyfish? Now take another look at that creature you've turned into. No real legs, but kind of a tail, a large head, and two short arms where the flippers would be. Yeah. That's what the Vortex Queen would turn all the dolphins into, if it didn't outright kill them.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Subverted. The Vortex are trying to ensure the survival of their species by wiping out the native inhabitants of Earth. Ecco prevents this, and the Vortex end up becoming part of the Earth's natural ecosystem. They give rise to exopods and arthropods such as insects, spiders, crustaceans, and so forth. In the end, the Vortex actually succeed in their ultimate goal of surviving, just without wiping out the other species of Earth.
  • Bag of Spilling: You start Tides with the powers the Asterite gave Ecco in the first game, but they are lost when the Asterite is killed. Which of course occurs just before the first real level of the game.
  • Big Good: The Asterite. It's the oldest living thing on the planet, and it's what gives Ecco the means to fight the Vortex.
  • Big Shadow, Little Creature: Whales aren't exactly small, but in the second game stage "Big Water" using echolocation at the bottom of the stage will produce a pair of truly gigantic whale shadows. Only normal-sized whales rise up around Ecco, making the stage either this, or a peek at some truly benthic beasts that thankfully can't be bothered.
  • Boss-Only Level:
    • The Vortex Queen fights in both games take up their own levels.
    • Several of the bosses in Tides take this form: Moray Abyss and Globeholder are the other major examples.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": The cetaceans refer to themselves as "Singers" and have different names for various animals: Shelled Ones = clams, Hungry Ones = sharks, Eight-Arms = giant octopus, etc.
  • Captured on Purpose: At the end of the first game, Ecco travels back in time to when his pod was taken by aliens so he can get caught too, traveling through the Vortex meat grinders to take out the Queen.
  • Cat-and-Mouse Boss: The final level of Tides's Playable Epilogue. The Vortex Queen is heading for the time machine, hoping to paradox you out of existence. You have to get there first and destroy it. Unfortunately, she's currently in an invincible larval state that can crush you into paste if she sees you. And you need her to open doors for you. Good luck.
  • The Cavalry: Near the end of Tides, the Asterite restores Ecco's powers from the first game and sends you to storm the Vortex base in Lunar Bay. It also summons a bunch of other dolphins, who proceed to kick the crap out of anything that would otherwise be trying to kill you as you pick your way through the level.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: In the cutscene depicting the Asterite's death (as told to you by the Asterite in the future), an orca can be seen peering out of a corner at the last second. You meet that very same orca at a later date in the present, and she gives you an extended flashback of that scene telling you that the Asterite's last two globes were taken by the Vortex.
  • Chest Monster: The poison clams that look just like healing ones.
  • Clint Squint: Ecco is fond of employing these in the computer-rendered cutscenes in Tides before he starts kicking ass.
  • Combat Tentacles: The disembodied tentacles attached to walls that latch on and are tough to get free of.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: In Sonic the Comic. Focused on the Xenofiction angle.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The first game starts off with Ecco's entire pod being harvested out of the ocean by an alien machine. The only reason Ecco survived is because at that exact moment he was dared to try and jump as high as possible and thus wasn't in the ocean when the harvester hit.
  • Darker and Edgier: Tides is noticeably darker than the original, though that's not to say the original wasn't dark.
  • Debug Room: Both Ecco and Tides have debug menus accessible by making Ecco face the player, pausing, and entering a certain button combo. Among things accessable are a Sound Test, God Mode invincibility, all the messages in each game with a few Dummied Out extras, a level select, and X/Y-coordinate warps.
  • Downer Ending: One interpretation of Tides of Time. You spend the Playable Epilogue chasing the Big Bad through Atlantis, trying to beat her to the Time Machine and destroy it before she uses it to mess up the timeline you just spent the whole game fixing. When you get to it, you use it instead. A scrolling title card (set to the rather chilling time travel theme) tells you the Vortex Queen beat you there and warped into prehistory, you went after her, and you were never heard from again. For another interpretation, see Gainax Ending.
  • Dynamic Difficulty: Tides of Time, on normal difficulty, adjusts the skill level based as the game is played. The manual claims factors adjusting the difficulty include how fast levels are finished, how often levels are restarted, and how many teleport rings as passed through. On other difficulty levels, the password tracks the number of deaths in the playthrough.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: A rather weird variant. The password TRELLIAS skips Ecco to the final boss in the first game.
  • Easy Level Trick: 'City of Forever' features a series of difficult jumps followed by a long and confusing maze of a level. Or one could just sing to the statue less than a minute from the start to open up a secret room with a portal that takes Ecco straight to the time machine. (Especially useful as this level must be done twice in the story.)
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: Ecco's enemies are explicable for the most part, but the prehistoric levels of the first game feature Goddamned Trilobites and giant seahorses who shoot their young at you.
    • Subverted in Ecco Jr., where nothing tries to kill you. What makes it eerie is that most of the previous game enemies are still around, they are just part of the background. Still, swimming past those sharks can be unsettling the first few times...
  • Flying Seafood Special: Both dolphins and gigantic medusae.
  • Gainax Ending: The other interpretation of the Tides of Time ending. It is implied the Vortex Queen, upon arriving in prehistory, got stomped by the local wildlife (goddamned trilobites!), and was unable to dominate Earth's ecosystem, instead integrating into it and evolving into stuff we already had. Not weird enough? According to a Word of God interview, Ecco knew this would happen and didn't even bother using the time machine to chase the Queen at all! He used it to go to the time of the Atlanteans, for "specific reasons reserved for the 3rd game."
  • Game-Breaking Bug: A couple could occur in the first game; these seemed to be connected to using specific passwords (mainly the "PLEASE" passwords). The only way out was to reset the game entirely:
    • One glitch can occur in Deep Water — entering the Asterite's chamber reveals it to be already whole again, but the screen locks in place so you can't leave, and it doesn't respond if sang to.
    • Another glitch causes the time machine in the City of Forever to not work at all.
  • Have We Met Yet?: The very first thing the Asterite says to Ecco (from Ecco's perspective) is "I remember you! ...Of course it was you... and it was I who sent you... now it is clear." The Asterite remembers him because it sent Ecco back in time to steal one of its globes, causing a Stable Time Loop.
  • Hermit Guru: Big Blue the blue whale is the cetacean equivalent of one. Finding him is a chore in the first game and the entire purpose of Ecco Jr., but he knows almost everything there is to know about the ocean.
  • The Hunter Becomes the Hunted: In Fish City, Ecco becomes a school of fish that must avoid being eaten by dolphins, which is the inverse of every other level where Ecco eats fish to restore health.
  • Kaizo Trap: Trilobite Circle from the first game, already a long and difficult level, has a very strong current right next to the exit that will drag Ecco back to the start of the entire level if the player isn't prepared to avoid it.
  • I Will Find You: Ecco's motive in the original is to find his pod.
  • Jump Scare: The loud, sudden sound of the Vortex feeding sequence. The game starts out with Ecco and his pod and when you make him jump high enough, it suddenly triggers.
  • Lighter and Softer: Compared to the first two games, Ecco Jr. is breathtakingly easy. Justified, as it was a game created for a much younger audience than the first two titles.
  • Luke, You Are My Father: Or rather, "Ecco, You Are My Ancestor" and literally the second thing Trellia tells Ecco, preceded only by her name.
  • Marathon Level: Oh, there have been a few.
    • Ecco the Dolphin has Welcome to the Machine, the five-minute-long autoscrolling monstrosity.
    • Tides of Time features The Eye, a lengthy Fetch Quest to repair the Asterite. Lost Orcas also reaches Marathon Level status in Hard mode due to the sheer numbers of baby orcas to rescue.
  • Mercy Mode: Tides has a variant: play on normal, and you start on hard. Do badly enough and you get booted back to easy; do well enough, and you'll be back to hard. Also in Tides, the Four Islands Stalking Mission will eventually have mercy on you and just give you what you need if you fail ten times, but not before the dolphin gets more and more frustrated with you.
  • Mind over Matter: The future dolphins telekinetically carry Ecco if he enters their hitbox. This helps him get through several levels.
  • My Own Grampa: Variant: while retrieving the Asterite's globe in Ecco the Dolphin, Ecco encounters some proto-cetaceans and accidentally gives them the idea to take to the seas.
  • No Fair Cheating:
    • That handy debug menu? Select the wrong level and you'll get a glitched-up one, often identifiable by lacking a title and having only a password. You can even end up on the title screen but under player control,except that you couldn't stop the rapid side-scrolling action. Then, the game usually froze. You also have to manually turn the music back on after using said menu (pause and press A). Probably due to this being a debug mode for the developers. The glitchy levels are incomplete and/or dropped levels that the player was never meant to get into.
    • The second game replaces its final post-credit message at the end if you cheat. "Try playing the game without the cheat mode".
  • No Ontological Inertia: The Asterite's powerup only works when it's alive.
  • One-Hit Kill: So many things do this you wonder why they bothered letting you keep the life meter for the last few levels.
  • Outside-Genre Foe: After spending the entire game traveling the world, facing all manner of underwater hazards from sharks to octopuses to crabs to blocks of ice, Ecco discovers that the source of the storm that took his family were...aliens from outer space that have been harvesting marine life every 500 years.
  • Oxygenated Underwater Bubbles: These can be gotten from oysters, although sometimes you get a poisoned bubble if you aren't careful.
  • Painful Pointy Pufferfish: The pufferfishes are harmless when deflated, but trying to eat one in their puffed, spiky form will hurt Ecco.
  • Password Save: There's an eight letter password, tracking the stage, number of deaths, and elapsed time. Consequently, there's some passwords the coincidently follow word patterns (e.g. "LIFEFISH" to start with infinite air)
  • Prequel: Ecco Jr. is set in the titular character's youth, and chronicles his and his friends' quest to meet Big Blue (the blue whale from the first game).
  • Roaring Rapids: The underwater type, requiring Ecco to push a rock ahead of himself to bypass the fast currents.
  • Shapeshifting: Specifically, of the Animorphism variety, Ecco can turn into a shark, a seagull, a jellyfish, a vortex creature and a school of fish that can lose and gain members as you go along.
  • Shout-Out
  • Shown Their Work: In the Sega CD and Windows 95 versions, two of the glyphs in the Library, when interacted with, will spin around faster before initiating video clips in a form of edutainment about dolphins, with narration by Alan Bruce. Kind of like a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment, really.
  • The Sky Is an Ocean: The Tides Of Time features flying dolphins, a giant flying jellyfish, and ocean paths in the sky.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Ecco Jr. features a particularly unsettling little song for a few of its levels that wouldn't sound out of place in a Vortex level in the main series.
  • Stable Time Loop: Ecco is sent back in time to find the Asterite's lost globe, but ultimately ends up stealing it from it in the past, and thus being the reason the Asterite doesn't have said globe in the first place. The Asterite itself comes to this revelation when you first meet it, but of course, you're not likely to understand a word it's saying at the time.
  • Transplanted Aliens: After the Vortex Queen escapes into the past at the end of Tides of Time, she finds creatures she cannot rule, and the Vortex instead intigrate into life on Earth as the ancestors of the arthropods.
  • Updated Re-release: The Genesis titles received updated versions on the Sega CD, which featured higher quality music, new sound effects, more levels, and FMV sequences. The first game was later re-released again for Windows 95, featuring all of the enhancements of the Sega CD version along with higher resolution visuals, a difficulty system, and a save feature instead of using passwords.
  • Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma: The dialogue in the original Ecco the Dolphin and in Tides of Time is rather lacking in punctuation. It's possible that this was intentional and intended to give a poetic, inhuman sensibility to the dialogue, especially given narration such as Tides of Time's prologue and epilogue and Ecco the Dolphin's level descriptions use more standard punctuation.
    • Commas are very rare in both of those games, albeit commas are more common in Tides of Time than in the original.
    • Periods are virtually non-existent in the first game's dialogue. Tides of Time does use periods in dialogue, but they are extremely rare.
  • Wham Episode: "The Library". Up until then you had dealt with a magical talking double-helix, a time machine, and Atlantis, but this is the level where you find out your pod was taken by honest-to-god aliens and that they'd been harvesting the ocean for centuries.
  • Where It All Began: Lacking any other way to chase after the Vortex, Ecco simply uses the time machine to go back to the beginning of the game so he can get captured.

    Defender of the Future 
  • Affably Evil: Mutaclone in Dolphin's Nightmare.
  • After the End: The Man's Nightmare set of levels depict an underwater post-apocalyptic world. Humanity enslaved the dolphins and used them to expand their civilization into the seas, and wiped both themselves and the Foe out when the latter attacked. As a result, the ocean is heavily polluted, life is dying out, the surviving dolphins have no idea where their masters have gone, and they're too stupid to improve their situation.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Ambition is actually one of the dolphins' Noble Traits, but if it's only paired with Intelligence and not tempered by Compassion, Wisdom, and Humility, the dolphins take over the world.
  • American Kirby Is Hardcore: While the American box art has a happy Ecco, the Japanese box art is brighter and more colourful.
  • And Man Grew Proud: Without Humility, the final noble trait, mankind and dolphins were unprepared for the Foe invasion and were wiped out.
  • Animals Not to Scale: The great white shark from "Perils of the Coral Reef" is gigantic, about as big as a humpback whale. One might mistake it for a megalodon.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: The Foe Queen is large enough that she can devour Ecco whole, and in fact Ecco has to find a way inside her body, since the only way for him to truly kill her is to attack her heart.
  • Attack on the Heart: The final level puts Ecco inside the Foe Queen's body and tasks him with executing one of these before his air runs out or the Foe Queen's blood kills him.
  • Attract Mode: If the title screen was left alone, a short demo of one of several levels would play. Hilariously, occasionally something (perhaps a glitch) would cause Ecco to go slightly off-course, resulting in Wallbonking.
  • The Beastmaster: The songs taught to Ecco by other dolphins can lure fish, stun sharks, and guide turtles, among others. Apparently the ability is pretty intuitive; one dolphin learned the song of manta rays by osmosis, because he was alone in a cave for a long time and had nothing to do but befriend the ray there.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: The Power of Morphing, used once at the beginning of the game to slip through a grating and then again at the end of the game to burrow into the Heart of the Foe.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": Downplayed example with the Movers and the Clan, who more closely resemble beaked whales than any dolphin species. The Movers in particular are barely-exaggerated Cuvier's Beaked Whales. At least they're in the same biological order!
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: The dolphins engage in this with their own kind in the Dolphins' Nightmare timeline.
  • Continuity Reboot: Shares no story connections with the Genesis games, instead returning to the basic theme of a time-traveling dolphin battling space aliens.
  • Crapsaccharine World: The Dolphins' Nightmare levels are some of the most drop-dead beautiful things to come out of the Dreamcast. It's also not called a nightmare for nothing.
  • Devious Dolphins: The Clan is a group of wicked dolphins from the Dolphin's Nightmare section who torture and mutilate animals and believe in dolphin superiority, though only for their own faction. It comes from having Intelligence and Ambition but none of the other Noble Traits.
  • Fauxlosophic Narration: Much of the story exposition in Defender comes off as this.
  • Gaia's Lament: In Man's Nightmare, Earth is a Polluted Wasteland with stupid-but-sapient dolphins who either worship men as a benevolent force which uplifted dolphinkind, or regarded them as a nasty species who had enslaved dolphinkind. It turns out both factions were probably right.
  • Gaia's Vengeance: Dolphins' Nightnare saw the dolphins evolve into a surly bunch of warlords. Arguably the prettiest section of the game, since the dolphins use a lot of Organic Technology, and it includes Hanging Waters, i.e. Let's see how many in-jokes we can fit in one level.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: In "Man's Nightmare", the first timeline created by the Foe stealing the virtues, the Foe were themselves wiped out by Man who then wiped himself out, leaving the Dolphins he enslaved behind.
  • Horde of Alien Locusts: The Foe are essentially a more sneaky and devious take on the Vortex, less exotic biologically than their predecessors and not nearly as successful since they have to contend with an uplifted union of Man and Dolphins that are both aware of their existence and have the tools to fight them back, forcing them into the last-ditch scheme of stealing the Noble Traits of both species to make them easy to conquer. They aren't as industrious as the Vortex either, as the Earth ruled by them is largely unchanged, though their Queen is just as large and threatening as the Vortex Queen was.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: In the Man's Nightmare section, when they take over without uniting with the dolphins, instead uplifting them, enslaving them, and turning Earth into a polluted wasteland during the Foe war. Of course, the dolphins from the Dolphins' Nightmare section are some pretty nasty customers as well, routinely torturing and killing each other and abusing whales, so maybe it's more like Unchecked Dominant Species Are The Real Monsters. Things only go well when dolphins and humans unite as humble equals.
  • An Ice Person/Playing with Fire: The Ice and Fire Exalted One, natch.
  • Instant Expert: Presumably part of Metamorphosis' magic is that the creature it transforms instantly knows how to move their new body; the first time Ecco transforms into an alien, he uses its non-native abilities of flight and bomb generation to destroy a gigantic Foe ship. Before the magic's time limit runs out, no less.
  • Insurmountable Waist-Height Fence: Ecco starts out right next to a beautiful big gate to Atlantis, which his pod decide not to use because they just want to enjoy the beauty of Aquamarine Bay. Then the aftershock of a Foe missile buries the gate, meaning that Ecco must travel through numerous cave systems, waterfalls and predator dens to get help from the Guardian.
  • Invisibility: One of Ecco's glyph powers.
  • It's Up to You: The Guardian is so weak that only Ecco can interpret its words and, apparently, find the shards needed to repair it. Relaying its message is not an option.
  • Large and in Charge: The Exalted Ones are all distinctly larger than Ecco, or any other Earth dolphin.
  • Left Stuck After Attack: The only way to defeat the first great white shark is to lure it into a specific rock by singing to it to attract its attention. Ecco only needs to do this once, as an attack on its mouth nets him the Power of Vigor which allows him to inflict damage on and defeat the great white.
  • Mark of the Beast: The Clan identify themselves with circular fan-like tattoos of red cuttlefish ink. The more ink on you, the higher up you are in their hierarchy, and the more doors (literally) will open for you. One of Ecco's first tasks in the "Dolphin's Nightmare" arc is to break into the tattooing room and use it so he can infiltrate the Clan.
  • Mighty Roar: Great white sharks make a distinctly dinosaur-like roar upon being defeated.
  • Mythology Gag: Defender of the Future occasionally references the original games, but Hanging Waters in particular seems to be a love letter to them. The level itself is the 3D version of the Skyway, the squid may be referencing both the Eight-Arms and the flying medusa all in one go, and the giant bird towards the end calls the helpful Pteranodon to mind, right down to how he's summoned with song.
  • Nature Is Not Nice: All of the enemies in the first quarter of the game are completely natural animals whose instincts compel them to kill Ecco, even though he's questing to save them all from getting eaten. This theme is ramped up in the Dolphin's Nightmare world, which is ruled by elitist social darwinists who enslave other species.
  • Never Smile at a Crocodile: The boss of "Caverns of Hope" is a giant mosasaur-like crocodile.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Ecco can't fight the Foe Queen head-on, and he can't penetrate her thick skin. So he gets one of her larva to chew a hole in it and lead the way into her more vulnerable innards.
  • Nintendo Hard: But not quite to the extent of the Genesis games.
  • No Name Given: The majority of characters never give their names. Ecco, the Guardian, Pilot the baby Mover, and possibly Mutaclone may be the only exceptions.
  • Nostalgia Level: Includes two hidden sidescrolling levels based on the Genesis games; one is actually called Passage from Genesis.
  • One-Hit Kill: If a great white shark gets close enough to grab Ecco in its mouth, he becomes dolphin chow.
  • Path of Inspiration: The Circle caste of dolphins believe that the pain of turning human mechanisms is somehow purifying them, and refuse to speak to anyone who does not do the same. It's unclear whether humans taught them to think this way, or dolphins created the doctrine themselves out of Stockholm Syndrome.
  • Poison Mushroom: Among the many health-restoring fish there is one specific kind that'll hurt instead of heal you. These poison fish are the only way to heal you from a slow death due to jellyfish poison. If you're poisoned and eat this fish, you won't take damage and your health won't increase, but the poison will be gone. They can also be mildly useful after you learn the Song of Fish. Sharks don't want to eat poison fish, so having a little cloud of them following you around makes a nifty living shield. The downside? Fish are slow, so said living shield is only effective when you don't need or want to swim quickly.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: The Hanging Waters generator is powered by a couple of enslaved whales.
  • Primary-Color Champion: In the "Dolphin's Nightmare" levels, Ecco bears a red tattoo. In the "Man's Nightmare" levels, he wears a neon-yellow harness. In all others, he is just a plain blue dolphin.
  • Puzzle Boss: Most of the game's bosses have a trick to making them vulnerable that Ecco has to work out before he can damage them.
  • Space Is an Ocean: The opening cinematic makes it apparent that both man and dolphin prefer the "space fetus" method of interstellar travel from the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • Spikes of Villainy: The Clan. Especially their leaders.
  • Time-Limit Boss: Destroy the Foe Queen's heart quickly, or be smothered to death by her own blood. If you don't drown first, that is.
  • The Unseen: Man is only seen in the opening cutscene, and never encountered in the game itself. Not even in Man's Nightmare, the reality where they enslaved Dolphins and took over the world.
  • Took a Level in Badass: After Ecco retrieves the Intelligence sphere and sends it back to the past, the enslaved dolphins suddenly recognize what was done to their world, and tell him where he needs to go to neutralize the humans' doomsday weapon.
  • Updated Re-release: For the PS2, which had arguably much better controls, smoothed out some rough patches of level design, had an entirely different sonar map that more resembled the Genesis sonar, and had an interactive Gallery level with concept art and other goodies.
  • Uplifted Animal: The dolphins, having lost their native Intelligence, are artificially uplifted in the Man's Nightmare section.
  • Womb Level: The levels leading up to the final boss are set around and inside the Foe Queen, with the boss itself being her heart.

Alternative Title(s): Ecco The Dolphin Defender Of The Future, Ecco The Tides Of Time