Our recent time with it at our Extra Life marathon and a thread on Reddit today got me thinking about the Sega Dreamcast, and, while doing so, I remembered that I wrote an eulogy for the system when Sega announced it was shutting it down. The original article is still archived at ArmchairEmpire ['sup guys?], but I thought I'd go through it and, using the magic of the editorial bracket, add some of my current thoughts and comment on anything weird I had said then. That said, here it is: my tribute to the Sega Dreamcast:
The Dream is Over
By Danny Webb
It seems nearly unbelievable that it has been only slightly more than two years since the Dreamcast debuted on American shores [and equally unbelievable that I wrote this article thirteen years ago]. Back then, with over 100 million dollars worth of launch sales, technology clearly more powerful than the competitors, and brilliant launch titles like Soul Calibur and NFL 2k, it seemed like the DC was on its way to surefire success. Now, again barely two years later, the DC is breathing its dying breath.
The reasons for the DC’s collapse are certainly many. Some experts point to the marketing hype that convinced many videogame players to wait for Sony’s Playstation 2. Others simply point to the fact that Sega was hemorrhaging losses to the point of a financial coma and needed the tourniquet that only ceasing hardware production could provide . At least some market people point to Sega’s inability to wrap of Electronic Arts and their ultra-popular sports games as the nail in the Dreamcast’s coffin. Regardless, we are not here to debate why the DC failed, but instead to celebrate where it succeeded. The following represents some of the truly “must have” games in the DC’s library, along with a look at some of the more important advancements to the videogame genre brought about because of and during the DC’s run. [Another possible reason for the collapse of the Dreamcast has taken over as the most popular on forums: Piracy. The Dreamcast certainly was quickly cracked and the GD-Rom format didn't offer the extra layer of obscurity they had hoped. However, the scene really exploded and became user-friendly after the writing of the Dreamcast demise was on the wall. If anything, the mod and emulator scene kept the Dreamcast is high demand as stock worked its way off the shelf after the announcement.]
Great Titles, got your RED HOT great titles here!
It is easy to talk about the Dreamcast as a failure. A customer who pays $200 for a new console usually does so with the expectation of at least a four or five year span wherein quality games will be available for the system. The DC, especially after the cancellation of titles like Soul Reaver 2, Half-life, and Shenmue 2, made it less than half that time. Still, the DC had one of the most critically acclaimed two year runs of any console in history.
On the 3D fighter side, the DC saw the release of three top-tier games in its run: Soul Calibur, Dead or Alive 2, and Virtua Fighter 3. Soul Calibur, a launch title, is clearly the must have title of the three. With its stunning graphics and art design (possibly unmatched until the release of DOA 3 on the Xbox) and deep, rewarding combat system, Soul Calibur set the bar for the 3D fighters that were to follow-and it set that bar high. This game is truly worth buying a Dreamcast for all alone.
The 2D front saw an even more appealing variety of great titles for the DC. Leading the pack was Street Fighter Alpha 3, a beautiful port of what many consider the best Street Fighter title loaded down with console only options that made it impossible to put down. Fans of over-the-top, combo-crazy fighters probably preferred Marvel Vs. Capcom 1 and 2. These titles were fast, wild, and incredibly addictive, even if they were a bit more susceptible to button-mashing success than the other Capcom fighters. Finally, the DC was the proud recipient of the home debut of a title that many fighting fans never thought would see the light of day-Capcom vs. SNK. Though not the most polished title, Capcom vs. SNK at long last gave fans of the two best developers of 2D fighters a chance to face off their favorite fighters from both houses against one another. Unfortunately, only Japanese gamers and importers got to play the superior sequel on the DC. On U.S. shores, it was canceled in favor of a PS2 version.
The perfect arcade port has been the holy grail of the videogame fan at least since Atari released the atrocious Pac Man for the Atari 2600 back in the 1980’s. The Dreamcast was the first system that delivered genuine perfect ports, and it even went farther and gave the player arcade conversions, like Soul Calibur, that were better than their arcade counterparts. Hydro Thunder, Rush 2049, Zombie Revenge and many others came to the Dreamcast in arcade-perfect form or near so. The pick of the arcade conversions, for my money, was Crazy Taxi. The speed, the graphics, the addictive gameplay-everything but the cool arcade cabinet and wheel-- made it
home perfectly. A testament to its quality is the fact that two days after its release, I had to shelve it for a weekend because I had blisters on my trigger fingers from pulling off Crazy Slides, Starts, and Stops.
Role Playing Games
It took a while, but in the end the DC managed a solid selection of RPG’s. Leading the pack was Skies of Arcadia, a brilliant title that
managed to sneak up on gamers who had been awaiting the follow-up to Grandia-one of the Saturn’s best RPG’s. Grandia 2 was a great RPG, but Skies of Arcadia was one of the best ever.
As one of my favorite genres, I was especially fond of the Dreamcast’s driving game library. Daytona USA came late, but it came online. Sega GT wasn’t exactly Gran Turismo, but it provided hours of fun. So did Rush 2049, Sega Rally 2, Metropolis Street Racer, F1 World Grand Prix, F355 Challenge, Tokyo Xtreme Racer 1 and 2, and Wild Metal. My favorite of the bunch, however, was the underrated, near-launch release Speed Devils. Speed Devils’ combination of gambling, radar busting, and character interaction was gaming nirvana. It was, sadly, one of those games that always seems to slip through the cracks when being released alongside a dozen much flashier titles.
I was already a huge Sega Sports fan before the DC’s release simply because of the World Series Baseball games for the Sega Saturn. WSB 2 and WSB 98 sucked up enormous amounts of my time over the years, and I still play WSB 2 more than any baseball game on the current generation of machines. Sadly, the Dreamcast World Series games both left much to be desired, especially WSB 2K. Luckily, the scales were more than balanced in Sega Sport’s favor by their releases in the other two major American sports. The NFL 2K and NBA 2K games finally gave EA sports a serious competitor and, though I prefer Madden to NFL 2k slightly, NBA 2K and 2K1 are clearly the best basketball games ever made.
The Sega Dreamcast wasn’t the first console to offer its users online play (that would be the NES), but it certainly was the first to offer a variety of compelling online games. Sega Sports led the way with wonderful, lag-lite versions of the 2K games. Quake 3 gave console gamers a chance to get in on some Deathmatch action, albeit with far less players than its PC counterpart. Clearly though, it was Phantasy Star Online that truly revolutionized online console gaming. PSO gave players the chance to cooperatively tackle the denizens of a fully realized 3D world while conversing with each other without the constraints of a language barrier. Its addictive nature can be seen in the fact that some players on message boards actually brag about having crossed the 1000 hour mark online.
The Icing on the Cake
I’ve made it this far without mentioning the three games that garnered the most praise over the Dreamcast’s run. Shenmue, Rayman 2, and Resident Evil: Code Veronica each managed to spur reviewers to fits of fanboyish praise. Along with Soul Calibur, any of the three is reason enough to own a DC-and to not pack it away in a closet somewhere after new releases stop completely.
The first clods of dirt are being spread over the DC’s coffin as I write this [Update: the grass and flowers grew in nicely]. I can understand some of the negative sentiment being directed at Sega by longtime fans. The Saturn was pulled from them far too quickly, and many hoped the DC would see a different fate. Alas, it wasn’t to be. Still, the sheer amount of quality in the DC’s catalog after only two years should alleviate most of the pain.