The evil alien queen has returned and, once again, players have to guide the heroic Ecco through different underwater levels located in the past, present, and future. If you played the original Ecco the Dolphin and found that traversing the murky depths as a bottlenose dolphin was frustrating and disorienting, you should probably steer clear of the sequel. That's because Ecco: The Tides of Time is simply more of the same, albeit lengthier, more challenging, and occasionally more frustrating.
Tides of Time checks in with roughly 30 levels, and they're all set up as large puzzles where you have to acquire key songs, unlock key glyphs, and move rocks around, all while trying not to run out of health or air. Take too much damage or run out of air and you'll have to start the level from the beginning. Many passageways look similar, so it's easy to lose track of air pockets and goals in the murky depths, which means deaths tend to happen early and often. You'd think the developer would have taken a clue from players' complaints about the first game. Instead, they made the levels in the sequel bigger and programmed the so-called "friendly" dolphins so that they occasionally point you in the wrong direction.
Watching Ecco dash through the water and do flips above the tide line is still great fun. Unfortunately, he also still turns like a tank, and he again takes damage from sharks and spikes that aren't actually touching his body. It's terribly frustrating, not to mention cruel, that you can easily make Ecco swim, ram, or do a flip, but you can't get him out of danger when the need arises. Perhaps that's why they gave him a new 360-degree sonar blast move. If only the power-ups that enable it weren't so exceedingly rare.
There's plenty of cool stuff to see in the game, assuming you can put up with its foibles. Riding on the backs of other dolphins, dodging giant eels, and fighting aliens in later levels is quite a rush. You can shape-shift into other animals and even fly in a couple of the future-time levels, which is totally awesome. All throughout, the tropical style of the graphics and the moody music convey an atmosphere that's utterly beautiful and unlike anything you've ever seen in another 16-bit game. Furthermore, the music is loud and majestic, unlike the muffled, understated soundtrack the first game had.
Like its predecessor, Ecco: Tides of Time has its moments. Those moments aren't worth spending 800 Wii points, or roughly $8, just to experience, though, especially when you have to endure so much frustration to get to the good stuff.