Remember the late 90s? The bleeps of monophonic ringtones, Internet modem screeching and Livin’ La Vida Loca? Funnily enough, I could never tell the difference between them, but that’s beside the point. The late 90s did grace us with some great movies, TV shows and a few great songs on the radio but, more importantly, it was a great time for video games. The dominance of the Sony’s Playstation brand was established by this point and we were given outstanding fresh titles like Tomb Raider, Gran Turismo and Crash Bandicoot on a new CD Rom format. On the other side and still engaged in reliable cartridges, the high-caliber Nintendo 64 was also prevalent with capabilities of better graphics and a massive palette of exquisite first party classics like Ocarina of Time, Mario 64 and Goldeneye 007.
By the time the new millennium was slowly creeping its face, both Sony and Nintendo were already in the labs gearing up to deliver their next generation consoles. Sega, slowly becoming as irrelevant as slap bracelets, needed a fresh start after the Saturn and decided to release the Dreamcast on the 9th September 1999 in the US with a 13 month head start against what was going to be the greatest selling console of all time: the Playstation 2. Although the Dreamcast had a reasonable beginning consisting of a huge selection of launch titles and a major media push, the console’s lifespan was sadly cut short in 2001. So how exactly did Sega drop the ball with the Dreamcast? Google will have the answer. We tend to not dwell on negatives here at Controller Crusade. Instead, let’s take a look at what made the Dreamcast a true gem and a console that was way ahead of its time.
Time and time again, I’ve always pondered at the Dreamcast and marveled at his innovative features. So much add-ons and features that must’ve been mind-blowing for gamers they second they booted up the console. Sony and Nintendo did deliver on innovation too but, to me, it seemed that Sega was definitely thinking outside the box. The first item that stood out is the memorable Virtual Memory Unit. The Small, handy device with a d-pad and two game input buttons. A simple memory card was practically transformed into a portable handheld LCD device capable of either operating with the Dreamcast or independently on the go. Most games took advantage of it too. Sonic Adventure 1 and 2 enabled you to train a Chao on your VMU, a SEGA GT save file gave you access to an 8-bit racing game, Resident Evil Code Veronica used the LCD as a secondary screen to display your inventory and health status, Silent Scope enabled the LCD screen to become a basic rifle scope view screen; there were so many fascinating ways the VMU could be used. Do you want to share your save files with another friend? VMUs were capable of connecting to one another without the need for a console. It seemed that Sega took every consideration to make the VMU a valuable device that enabled a Dreamcast owner to take their games anywhere. And perhaps it may seem like an unnecessary feature today but at a time when home console and portable handheld connectivity was still in its infancy, this 45g memory storage device was quite revolutionary.
Coupled with a nifty memory card, Sega and various third party companies offered a huge range of gaming controller and peripherals that not only helped in bringing that arcade feel into our homes but offered different ways in playing. The Dreamcast keyboard and mouse that was predominantly used with the Dreamcast’s internet browser was also compatible with FPS games like Unreal Tournament and Quake 3. FPS experts were no longer able to use ‘inferior’ game controllers as an excuse whenever they lost. Even PC classics like Worms World Party benefited from having keyboard/mouse capabilities. However, the most unique use of the keyboard and mouse is Sega’s outlandish remake of their infamous light gun game House of the Dead 2. Titled as “The Typing of the Dead”, you defeated zombies and infested monsters by quickly typing random words that appeared above them. The harder the enemies, the longer sentences with convolutedly spelled words would appear. So not only were you able to sharpen your reflexes but you also brushed up on your touch typing at the same time. It’s definitely worth checking out. Speaking of which, the classic light gun has been a staple in gaming culture since the arrival of the Magnavox Odyssey and we’re all familiar with the iconic NES Zapper, the Dreamcast – too – had numerous light guns but it also offered other fascinating game peripherals too. Take Samba de Amigo for example, Sega’s 1999 arcade rhythm game that tested the player’s ability to shake and correctly position two magnetic sensor maraca controllers while keeping in sync with upbeat songs. An expensive concept to bring into homes, Sega decided to stay true to the game and incorporate the special maraca controllers with the Dreamcast version of the game by switching to ultrasonic transmitters and adding a special sensor situated underneath the player to track their hand movement and positions. As a result, the game effortlessly kept its appeal and it is widely considered to be a really fun game. Other peripherals included a microphone that came with copies of Seaman (another bizarre Sega title worth investigating), a camera titled “Dreameye” that was only released in Japan, a gear stick/speed lever controller (pictured below) used for a train simulater (again, Japan only), dance mats, numerous steering wheels, arcade sticks and even a fishing rod controller. With so much to offer, Sega and other third party companies had no problems with releasing unique items that provided new ways to play.
Funny Story. I never actually owned a Dreamcast growing up. An N64 conveniently sat on the shelf below my bulky 15 inch CRT during my younger days and that N64 was soon accompanied by a PS2 after I worked for minimum wage stacking shelves at a supermarket for countless Saturdays. My journey with Sega’s final console didn’t begin until my second year of university when I picked up a used one at my local Gamestation that came with a copy of Street Fighter III: 2nd Impact. Carefully unwrapping the clear cellophane wrap that surrounded it, my initial impression was of astonishment at how compact and light the main unit was. Even dismantling the system was a breeze! From then on, I fell in love with the console’s aesthetics, innovative features and its range of great, unique games. You see, because the Dreamcast delivered a great level of simplicity, it was easily able to cater to the casual players without compromising on superb in-depth, rich and diverse games. The console’s games library delivered great “pick up and play” games like Chu Chu Rocket and Tennis 2K2 alongside titans like Skies of Arcadia and the splendid Shenmue. Games like Jet Set Radio and Rez brought forward new, fresh visual and gameplay concepts to console gaming. The Dreamcast did have a sublime collection of games that covered all genres but there was one special thing that made the console stand out from the rest.
With the arcade scene slowing phasing out, the Dreamcast was the only console that came very close to bringing the arcade experience into the home. Countless Sega video games that once graced your local arcade hangouts were remarkably ported to the Dreamcast and have stuck closely to the way it originally played. Whether it was the console’s hardware specifications, the passionate effort by Sega’s game developers or perhaps a mixture of both, arcade games on the Dreamcast ran and played exceptionally well. Sega already had a lot of first party games in stuffy arcade places around the globe and it would’ve been foolish to not incorporate these games for the Dreamcast since the console was fully capable of handling them. Crazy Taxi was a great port that looks, sounds and runs flawlessly. Dynamite Cop (i.e. Die Hard Arcade 2) flawlessly replicated that rushed, intense action feel in the living room. Silent Scope was also incredibly loyal to its arcade counterpart. Numerous arcade light gun games like Confidential Mission, Virtua Cop 2 and even the memorable House of the Dead 2 also worked perfectly on the console. Furthermore, it wasn’t just Sega that successfully enabled arcade games to find a new home. Namco’s Soul Calibur, Capcom’s Street Fighter III and Marvel Vs Capcom 2 were all great arcade games that impressively got ported onto the great grey console. For fighting game fans, The Dreamcast was practically a high-tier arcade machine, minus the bulky wooden cabinet, in your living room and not even the Playstation 2 was capable of pulling that off. Sadly, the Playstation 2 didn’t really feel the need to heavily pursue fighting game audience as the genre was slowly dipping in popularity and wouldn’t pick up again until the release of Street Fighter IV in 2008. But none the less, the Dreamcast still boasted a fine collection of games that every video game enthusiast must play.
The Dreamcast was Sega’s last attempt at a console before they decided to become a software only company and with the amount of effort that was put into the Dreamcast it feels somewhat unsatisfying to know that it simply wasn’t enough to win over consumers. Sega created an outstanding console that stuck true to the roots of video gaming while encouraging new ways of playing remarkable video games. So if your Dreamcast is collecting dust in your cupboard or you’ve seen one lurking in a local video game store then do yourself a favour and start 2015 with a couple of gaming sessions on Sega’s swan song.