There's some problems, but the concept remains as cool as ever. A welcome return for an underrated series.
Despite all that Ecco eventually left a great impression, as he did with many Sega fans. And Defender of the Future (horrible subtitle) has team Appaloosa taking everything from the 2D classic and reimagining it accurately and enjoyably for the Dreamcast - that is to say it's just as magical and punishing as ever and probably a bit too confusing for it's own good, but if you get the hang of it this one could become one of your favorites. The charm of controlling a dolphin is taken to a new level in 3D and old tricks like flipping above the waterline and tail surfing can be pulled off with ease and finesse. It's so much fun to swim around the ocean but sometimes the control and camera system seems to be working against you, maneuvering doesn't exactly have the second-nature feeling that a title like this requires and you're easily left disoriented at crucial moments. Helpful abilities like sonar are nice and what translates on the screen looks so cool that it can be overlooked with practice, but it's still a problem. Even worse are the moments when the game feels directionless, and goals that are unclear are often substituted for real environmental puzzling. The result is some mind numbing difficulty at times, but as is usually the case with challenging games it's even more rewarding whenever you finally progress past a particularly devious area.
The music is appropriate and sound effects are well done, they help shape the mood but never really stand out. As far as visuals are concerned, screenshots don't do this game justice - it really looks great and runs both fast and fluid. The locations are as varied as you could expect for (mostly) underwater levels, and the models for the different sea creatures including Ecco himself are highly detailed with realistic movement and subtle yet effective personality. It lacks dramatic lighting as well as any kind of legitimate draw distance, but once you're into the game it's beauty is apparent and remains a plus to this day.
There is an actual story taking place here, strange as it may seem. It gets all science fiction on the player focusing on an alien species known as the Foe and the fate of mankind and dolphins, unweaving a plot that's much more detailed than anything found in previous Ecco games. I could honestly take or leave the tale that's told but it's appreciated that the developers put some effort into it instead of just throwing level after level at you for no reason. There's also dolphin combat and a number of different songs to be learned, welcome additions that add to the overall complexity of the game.
You'll experience moments of danger, moments of frustration, moments of boredom, and yes, moments in dark murky waters yelping for air and franticly trying to reach the surface. It's an Ecco the Dolphin game no doubt, arguably the definitive one, and while it has problems the whole concept behind the game remains as cool as it was when it debuted in 1992. I'm sure given the opportunity Defender of the Future would even give an unsuspecting child or two some horrifying dreams - no matter what it's guaranteed to leave some kind of lasting impression.