On the surface, the Sega Dreamcast was a commercial failure. Launched on September 9, 1999 its life cycle was a mere two years. Lack of third party support, fierce competition from Sony’s DVD-playing PlayStation 2, and Sega’s own abandonment not only killed the Dreamcast, but its hardware business altogether. But the Dreamcast can be thought of as the video game industry’s “Dave Chapelle Show.” It may have been short lived, but it had a huge impact, generated a loyal and enthusiastic following, and it is still entertaining.
There are even websites that offer brand new Dreamcasts for $99.00 , which also happens to be the same price point currently for the PS2. As of this year, in fact, the Dreamcast enjoys continued unofficial support through homebrew games and emulators. (Sega of Japan continued to publish Dreamcast software until 2007, though). Can anyone imagine this same phenomenon for the Jaguar or the 3DO? Or the Virtual Boy?
The Dreamcast brought on innovations found in today’s modern consoles. Like the Xbox, the Dreamcast had a PC-like build that made developing games for it easier. Of course, it was the first console to be able access the internet through its built-in 56k modem. Though doing anything by narrowband is unthinkable today, being able to play online games on a home console paved the way for Xbox Live, the PlayStation Network, and Nintendo WiFi. It even had a web browser.
The Dreamcast’s standard controller was a mixed bag. Yeah, I know there are those fanatical members of the Dreamcast cult that will vehemently disagree, but hear me out. Obviously the wire coming out of the bottom was just plain dumb. The controller felt too bulky for me, I especially noticed its potential for carpal tunnel when playing games like Virtua Tennis. I also didn’t really care for the feel of the buttons; I preferred Sony’s Dual Shock 2 instead. But the Visual Memory Unit (VMU) was brilliant. Besides its primary function as a memory card, it provided information and feedback in certain games or played mini-games apart from the main game. Best of all, instead of picking plays in football games on the TV screen, the VMU can be used to pick your plays in secret, like it should be. No more one in three chance of your opponent guessing right and making an interception.
But none of this even matters without a quality library of games. The Dreamcast had a relatively small library, but a large proportion of them were good. The launch lineup alone compelled me to buy three games the same day (Sonic Adventure, Soul Calibur, and Ace Combat rip-off Air Force Delta), since I didn’t have any bills to pay back then. You just didn’t find masses of shovel ware so casually released for it that it defied explanation. I mean, did you know there’s a game based on Grey’s Freakin’ Anatomy?
In a move that is sure to generate controversy, I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 Dreamcast games of all time, loosely based on general critical acclaim, but with smatterings of my own opinion. I haven’t played some of these as you’ll be able to tell in certain descriptions, but if I were to list the top games based only on my own experience, then the fun but flawed PC port Starlancer would be number 1. And what sense would that make to anyone other than me? Anyway, since this is a Dreamcast tribute it’s only fitting that there is some kind of list, because people love to read lists.
Shenmue was pretentiously billed as FREE (Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment), but to the rest of us it was an open world adventure and forerunner to the more criminally inclined Grand Theft Auto series. Side quests, odd jobs, exploration, day/night cycles, sleep, wasting time playing the full arcade versions of Outrun and Space Harrier…it was amazing how much minutiae they crammed into the game. A little more action and less stilted dialogue would’ve made it better, though.
9. Crazy Taxi
Crazy Taxi was just pure, simple arcade-style driving. Stunts, near misses, and bringing your customers from Point A to Point B in the fastest time possible and scoring the highest points possible were all you needed to know. Who needs complexity when simple pick up and play does the job just fine? You also need to really like Offspring.
8. Sonic Adventure
Admit it, the orca chasing Sonic sequence made you buy this game. It certainly was a factor in my decision. Sonic Adventure has the unfortunate distinction of introducing the slower paced “adventure” portions that pervade Sonic games today, as well as incorporating Sonic’s friends’ different gameplay styles. But it blew you away with the sheer speed of Sonic’s action stages, and that was enough. It’s also the Dreamcast’s best selling game.
7. Phantasy Star Online
Though Phantasy Star Online didn’t have the “massive” aspect, it did have multiplayer online RPG part. It was basically four characters fighting monsters and leveling up, but the online co-op was enough for hours upon hours upon hours of dungeon scouring action. PSO can be considered a gateway drug to World of Warcrack.
6. Grandia II
Grandia II’s deep, tactical battle system differentiates it from the standard turn based battles found in numerous RPG’s. Instead of just sitting there choosing an attack or spell, it incorporates movement and timing giving a greater sense of strategy. And I heard the story’s really good, too.
5. Virtua Tennis
When I started playing Virtua Tennis and realized how intuitive the controls were without being a Wii Remote, it almost felt as if I were playing actual tennis. That’s how immersed I was in this game. Too bad the computer doesn’t make unforced errors.
4. Quake III Arena
If you’re able to finally play your console games online, you need to be able to shoot other people online, and the Dreamcast port of Quake III Arena satisfied that requirement.
3. Skies of Arcadia
Skies of Arcadia proves that you don’t have to be produced by Square Enix to be one of the best RPG’s ever. It has pirates, airships, and a good old-fashioned quest for crystals, but be prepared for lots of random battles. And main character Vyse is no androgynous pretty boy, either.
2. NFL 2K1
Before Electronic Arts monopolized the NFL license, Madden had serious competition from the 2K series. NFL 2K1 was also the first pigskin title that can be played online against other human players, effectively placing it above the Madden series for a short while.
1. Soul Calibur
No fighting game is perfect, but Soul Calibur comes pretty damn close. It has a well balanced roster of characters, easy to learn/hard to master game mechanics, 8 way run for a more natural 3D feel than even Virtua Fighter, fluid animation, and gorgeous graphics. If you never bought any of the sequels and just had the original, it would still be good enough.