Today marks the 16th birthday of SEGA’s little console that could, the Dreamcast. If this were some terrible MTV show, I’d throw it an ostentatious party. Instead, we’ll walk back through what made it so great.
When the Dreamcast launched in 1999, it was the first console to have online connectivity out of the box. Though the functionality wouldn’t get used properly for a little while, launch titles like Sonic Adventure could use it to for DLC. Yeah, you read that right. Games in 1999 had actual DLC, and SEGA was the only company doing it.
The Dreamcast’s launch lineup was incredibly strong. If you took one home on this day 16 years ago, you had future classics like Power Stone and Sonic Adventure waiting for you. Sports fans had NFL 2K, which was considered by many to be superior to Madden at the time. Game like The House of the Dead 2 and Mortal Kombat Gold may not have aged well, but were excellent purchases when the console was new.
Oh, and there was Soulcalibur. Yeah, that might have been a big deal, too.
As with all consoles, the Dreamcast’s launch was just the beginning. And boy, did things get better from there. The Dreamcast’s library was full of groundbreaking games; games that changed the way we viewed playing on a console, and that inarguably laid the groundwork for future generations.
If you were playing games in 1999 and into the early ‘00s and you had a Dreamcast, there was something in just about any genre, but fewer genres were kinder to the Dreamcast than fighting games. During the little white box’s short run, players got two Street Fighter III iterations, three Capcom vs SNK games, a Fatal Fury, Soul Calibur, two Powerstone games and Marvel vs Capcom 1 and 2, to name a few.
Beyond fighting games, the Dreamcast had so much more to offer, and the best of the lot easily came from SEGA’s own internal studios. The games they were putting out at that time were more creative and original than anything from the generations of SEGA consoles that preceded their ill-fated final console.
Maybe it was SEGA’s desperation, or their desire to go out with a bang, but Dreamcast was host to the best games the company ever created. Games like Seaman were quirky, original and crazy. Jet Set Radio introduced the world at large to cel-shading; without it we might never have gotten amazing games like Wind Waker. Yeah, you should probably thank SEGA for that one next time you look at Toon Link. And besides, Jet Set Radio (I’ll never call it Jet Grind, you cretin) was an incredible game. Back in the game’s heyday, you players were creating and uploading their own art for you to download an import into your own game. It was amazing, and certainly an early taste of what gamers could do when given the ability to create their own content.
Then there was the game that showed the world the future of console gaming: Phantasy Star Online.
PSO was a major departure from the series’ roots, but introduced console gamers to the type of crazy addiction PC players had been enthralled by for a few years. For the first time ever, consoles were playing a worldwide, connected experience. Players could finally connect—and talk to!—each other. I can’t begin to tell you how many countless hours—seriously, thousands of them—I spent trekking across Ragol, keyboard in my lap. Hunting for rare items and fighting dragons with friends was the single most revolutionary moment of my gaming life to date.
From the first moment I played PSO, I knew that gaming was about to change, and sure enough, here in 2015, it has. Now just about every major game released has an online component. I think it still would’ve happened with or without PSO in its own time, but there’s not arguing that the Dreamcast proved it’s something we all wanted.
There’s so much more I could mention. I haven’t even touched on Shenmue, which is enough to write an article twice this size about on its own, but suffice it to say that it’s the prototype of all those open-world games we enjoy so much today.
To close this out, there’s a quote that reminds me of my favorite console:
“The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.”
― Lao Tzu, Te Tao Ching
For me, the Dreamcast shone twice as bright as any of its contemporaries, and died an early death. It’s the only console from that generation that remains in my entertainment center to this day.
Happy 16th, Dreamcast. Keep on thinking.