Retro Game of the Day! Sega Dreamcast
Ahhhhh!! Yes, it is September 9, which marks the 10 year anniversary release of one of the most (in)famous videogames consoles of all time - the Sega Dreamcast. Typically, we here at Headcase Games prefer to follow a set format when running our Retro Game of the Day feature - but as per request, I think today we can make a special exception, and give a system overview of Sega's Swan Song in the hardware market-
As noted, the system released late 1999 in the States (nearly a year earlier in it's native JPN). This system was the followup to Sega's major tumble in their Saturn system, which pretty much had it's butt handed to it by Nintendo and more specifically newcomer to the console industry Sony. Sega had enjoyed a huge success prior to that (16-Bit period), so the Saturn situation was pretty bad. They pulled a daring move and tried to beat everyone to the punch with their next-gen powerhouse, some would say they tried a little too early-
Dreamcast news surfaced and collectively, gamers everywhere scratched their heads "Dream WHA?" It sounded like a pretty ridiculous, err, flamboyant name for a system, but hey, whatever - it still sounded better than the working codename, Katana. Eventually the thing released, with titles like Soul Caliber and Sonic Adventure to show off. I remember seeing advance Japanese machines in Electronics Boutique in the months prior to the US launch, to give gamers a tease of what was to come. It definitely looked much more advanced than the current crop of 32-bit machines, that was certain-
The machine came out and one of our roommates picked it up, he had Ready to Rumble and the NBA games - already ensconced in the game development, I took a look at it (impressed!) but being employed at a PC game developer, I never really sunk my teeth into it. I used to be a Sega Fanboy back in the day, but the 16-bit period was a distant memory.
Fast forward about a year. We'd all moved from Boston to Los Angeles, and the Dreamcast price was slashed dramatically - one could pick up a system for $100, this seemed like a no-brainer to anyone with even a passing interest in the system. PS2 was due for release shortly, but Dreamcast had an impressive library NOW. Our DC-owing roommate long-gone, my current roomie and I went in 50/50 and picked up a unit. Here's a few titles that caught our attention-
Jet Grind Radioooooo! Developed by much loved studio Smilebit, and released by Sega late in 2000, I'd originally seen this game demo'd at E3 earlier the same year and was quite impressed. Such style, such pizzaz - this was what a video game should be! On the surface, it appeared to be another Tony Hawk knockoff (there were a sea of them back in the day) and Inline Skating felt pretty lame compared to skateboarding - but no one cared. JGR was some hot business. Everything about the game oozed with coolness, with loving attention to detail - to top it off, the soundtrack was amazing.
It was also the first game where I felt you were really in a living city, full of activity, full of pedestrians, traffic, etc - not just running around an empty open-world populated by 6 or 7 people. hey you could get lost in this city! It fet very much like what visiting a cartoonified version of Tokyo should be like-
I was sad to see JGR never wet anywhere, I picked up the Xbox.. "reissue," enhancement, whatever you wanna call it - a nice game of course, but something about the first always endured more. Games like this made Sega stand out on top in many people's minds.
Next up we have Virtua Tennis for the DC, developed by AM3 divison I believe - released 1999 to arcades (ported a year later to the console). Actually - this was my favorite DC game, overall. Not that I have ever been really too much for Tennis as a sport, or a videogame interpretation - but a good game is a good game. And this was a great game!
VT nailed things in the areas of graphics, presentation, etc - and they laid it on thick with the super-cheesy background rock tracks, which were cool but also very laughable. Still, what sold me so hardcore on VT was that they just figured out how to make a super-simple game that was so playable, so accessible, in a very old-school arcade fashion - despite all the modern glitz. The control was butter-smooth and everything just reacted too perfectly. As a gamer, this game gave me everything I wanted. I never really cared much for the single player tournament, but the 1-on-1 mutliplayer was absolutely some of the most enjoyable videogaming I have ever experienced. I would get so angry when I lost a match, I'd scream and cuss and yell at the guy who just creamed me.. 4 player was a different kind of blissful experience, one that I seldom experienced but when I did - ohh boy. I guess it was kind of overload-
Yup, Sonic Adventure was the big launch title for DC. Sega was trying in earnest to step-up and unseat Mario 64 as the biggest 3D character action game of all time. In hindsight, there really was noting to worry about, but at the time this game was looking extremely impressive.
After dropping the ball during the entire run of the Saturn line - with no bonafide 3D entry into the series - Sonic Team was determined to give it a serious shot at the DC launch. The game turned out alright - it had fun moments, myself I never got too far into it (nor cared to!) The sequel is looked down upon, I actually found it more enjoyable in many ways than the first (though I ran out of gas not too far into that one as well). Sonic's had a rough run the past several years-
Yes, it looks rather horrific now, but a decade ago this was the space-age technology!
Fasten your seatbelts and get ready for some Caraaaaaaazy Taxiiii!! Hmm, so many of these Dreamcast titles were all about yelling, right? I first saw this ambitious machine in a local arcade in 1999 and it surfaced on DC in 2000 - to much acclaim - and everyone bought a copy. CT was a hit and everyone wanted it.
Simple game - pick up a fare, follow the arrow to deposit him in record time, don't drive to recklessly, rake in the cash. Another Sega game (developed by Hitmaker!) dripping with personality and zany characters, it was fun to cruise/blast thru the cityscape and see what you could get away with. Personally, I liked it much better in the arcade then at home (the whole immersion factor) but they certainly did a remarkable job of porting this. A great series which, unfortunately, has run outta gas in the recent years.
And now - the final entry for the DC retrospective - a.k.a. the Creamcast of the Dreamcast - ladies and gentlemen, I give you - Rez. Developed by Mizuguchi's Q? Entertainment, this game was considered an artistic triumph then as it is now. I don't recall if it ever properly reared it's head in the States (for DC anyway), but it showed up in JPN late 2001 and shortly afterward in EU.
So then, how to describe this bizarrenes - you play a simplified humanoid traveling through a simplified cyberworld, the goal is to progress and "evolve" by chaining/scoring points. Improve your power, and you improve your character's visual aesthetic - and in turn, that of the world around you as well, both aurally and visually. Does that make sense?
Maybe not if you are unfamiliar with the game - don't worry about it. Just know that this game is all about trippy visuals and trippier acid-beats. Gameplay-wise, this a simple derivative of a Space Harrier-type game - point, shoot, dodge, as you fly endlessly into the screen, engage bosses, unlock the next level. You know the drill! In spite of the simplistic gameplay, the whole package is a marvelous experience, unmatched to this day. This is what happens when you take the movie Tron and the band Underworld, and mix them up with a far amount of LSD. Additionally, the game is infamous for it's "Trance Vibrator" accessory - I'll leave it to those of you who are interested to look that one up, yourselves...!
And so, this concludes a smal look back at the Sega Dreamcast, aficionados of the system will no doubt be disappointed "what, that's all you have to say?" Certainly there's a lot more to say, but this is a comprehensive enough cross-section from my own point of view. I have a hard time considering DC a "retro system," for many reasons - but I do think it holds an important place in history all things considered, and it will receive further attention in this website in future entries. So don't feel too bitter, fellow DC Lovers! Take that energy, power up your old system, and play some great games and relive the memories.