Games

How Jaws Killed 'Ecco The Dolphin'

Novotrade International were famous for their Sega series—but in 2006, another underwater creature starred in their final release.
July 3, 2017, 3:16pm
‘Jaws Unleashed’ PlayStation 2 screenshots courtesy of Sony.

File this under "stuff you didn't know, but now you do, and it's kind of interesting." Unless you already did know it, in which case, well done, you. I didn't, so here it is.

July 2017 represents the 25th anniversary of Ecco the Dolphin, one of the most celebrated Mega Drive/Genesis games of all time. We've long had a soft spot for the first game on the various VICE channels, and the series it spawned, covering it in various weird ways over the years—from nightmares to pub signs, via ketamine weirdness and tight tunes. The original is absolutely a classic (and yes, I'll be putting it on again for its birthday).

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Ecco the Dolphin was developed by Novotrade International, a studio originally founded in Hungary but later working out of stateside locations. It was a company with a high turnover of releases, putting out 150 between its establishment in the early 1980s and closure in the summer of 2006. Along the way, its name changed to Appaloosa Interactive, and it was under this banner that its final game was released.

And given that the Ecco series remains Novotrade/Appaloosa's most famous creation, I found it funny, perhaps a little ironic, that the studio's last game was Jaws Unleashed—yes, as in that Jaws, the holidaymaker-chomping shark from the 1975 movie.

Sharks, always moving as they are, were generally best avoided in the Ecco games. They were commonly encountered enemies, and they'd do away with Ecco if they could (although, in the sequel, 1994's The Tides of Time, Ecco could briefly transform into one, in order to stealth past their lethal rows of teeth.) Individually, they were rarely a hassle, but when encountered in groups, nah. That ain't a dolphin-friendly situation.

Jaws Unleashed casts the player as Jaws, which is kind of cool. It's set around Amity Island, as was the first movie. You swim about, eating whatever fits inside that gaping great maw, from other sharks to seals, dolphins to divers. The game makes you consume constantly—devouring anything and everything keeps Jaws' health topped up, which in turn keeps the shark strong. Not eating means game over, so it's dine or die, my fishy friend. There's a story, too, but somehow I don't think that's the main attraction here.

Jaws Unleashed might sound interesting and original on paper—it's a rare occasion that any video game encourages you to play as the villain—but it didn't go down well with critics. Gamespot called it a "busted GTA clone with one-note gameplay," and Eurogamer weighed in with "it fails on almost every count."

But the game still sold moderately well, doing six figures across all formats (PC, PlayStation 2 and Xbox) combined. Not enough to keep Appaloosa in business, if the game's success was even a factor in that equation by its 2006 release, but respectable numbers for a B-tier production. And the game ends with a sequel tease, too—a sequel that (I'm guessing) we will never get to see.

Like I said: kind of interesting. I thought so, anyway. And, weirdly, I've a hankering to hunt this down in the various second-hand game stores I frequent. Not that I'd ever play it, probably—the PS2 was put away years ago. But it's a novel little slice of history, nonetheless—the end of a story that for many began with a very different kind of playable sea creature.