Wednesday, September 27, 2000

On shelves of computer and entertainment stores is an avalanche of CD-ROM titles. I offer a diverse look at products that may have you pulling out the wallet at your local Best Buy.

Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future, by Sega (For Dreamcast, $39.99). One of the most intelligent and graceful creatures roaming through the world’s oceans becomes the centerpiece of a dazzling but difficult console game experience.

Reminiscent of “Star Trek IV” shenanigans in which the Enterprise crew uses the help of humpback whales to save the world, Sega’s 3-D masterpiece enlists a mighty dolphin to fight off an alien force bent on destroying the planet.

Dreamcast owners of all ages will be blown away by the explicit beauty of Ecco’s world, while older gamers will consider this sequel to the early 1990s original for Genesis a welcome challenge.

Developer Appaloosa Interactive enlisted the help of science-fiction author David Brin to craft the adventure and fashioned the game’s environments using hundreds of oceanographic videos with National Geographic photographs.

As the player takes control of Ecco, he will learn to communicate with other creatures of the sea, maneuver through complex aquatic worlds and battle everything from bloodthirsty sharks to moray eels.

Considering the combination of the perfectly tuned aural ambience and totally immersive experience, I suggest first spending lots of time learning to love Ecco. He can swim at multiple speeds, perform complex superrolls, jump out of the water to replenish his air supply and even charge an opponent.

Sonar, a major tool at his disposal, allows the futuristic Flipper to talk with buddies, enact a tractor beam and reveal a very slick pop-up map to guide him through the action.

Another beautiful aspect of the title has Ecco gaining friends who teach him the ancient songs of dolphins. These ditties come in handy to temporarily stun adversaries or gain the trust of marine life such as turtles.

Levels of adventure are not only heartwarming, but very inspiring. The player will be thrown immediately into a life-and-death struggle while trying to save a baby whale trapped under rocks or find a mother dolphin’s offspring.

This type of game play really takes Defender of the Future above and beyond the standard “shoot ‘em up” search-and-destroy ritual too prevalent on store shelves.

I also found the game exhaustively hard. It was much easier just to roam around coral reefs and underwater ruins than to fight through long winding courses and try to pummel unyielding crayfish.

Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future keeps a nice balance between family fun and serious gaming to make it easily one of the best titles ever created.

Who Wants to Beat Up a Millionaire, by Simon & Schuster Interactive (For PC, $19.99). The popular ABC game show gets a parody poke to the proboscis through a silly software simulation.

The object of this game is to be the last contestant standing as up to five live players match wits or one player goes head to head with any one of five millionaires.

Hosted by Egregious Phillin, first introduced as a wrinkled, snoring geriatric until the makeup girl transforms him into a slickly dressed smart aleck the game follows the format of its TV counterpart, sort of.

Multiple players buzz in to be the first to answer questions, and contestants have 10 seconds to choose one of four final answers.

Three “lifeboats” are available when needed. “One or the Other” eliminates two answers, or players can pass on the question to another player, using the second lifeboat, “Pass the Buck.” “Fortune Cookie,” the third lifeboat, does not provide a clear-cut answer. Instead, choose either A,B,C or D and open a murky prediction related to one’s choice.

Get a question right and earn up to 10 seconds to pummel another player’s wealthy avatar using face jabs, left and right hooks, head butts, upper cuts and the good ol’ stomach punch. With each beating, that millionaire begins to lose money from the bank.

Get a question wrong, and the opponent gets a chance to “whoop a little of your posterior quarters.”

Those who embrace the concept of “political correctness” to a fault might not enjoy this game. Recommended for ages 13 and older, it uses some pretty crude, sophomoric humor, and some people might be offended by the mild profanities.

The millionaires who get the beatings include Ronald Hump, a Dallas oil tycoon and Daisey May DePlume, a 22-year-old former exotic dancer and widow of a man 85 years her senior.

When the time comes to commence the beatings, two ham-hock-size fists appear on the screen. Using a combination of arrow keys, players give the best they have.

As the millionaires are beat, they lose money, teeth, glasses and a little blood. The characters on screen develop wicked black eyes and large “goose-egg”-size bumps on their heads.

“Who Wants to Beat Up a Millionaire” offers more than 750 trivia questions, a soundtrack as annoying as the TV show and a way to get rid of some aggression.

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