I had consoles before it, and I have had consoles after it, but I will never love anything like I love my Dreamcast.
It is easy to call the Dreamcast a failure, and I guess it was. It was only in production for about a year and a half, and was destroyed by the DVD playing, EA and Squaresoft supported Playstation 2 in sales.
The Playstation 2 is fine. I really like the system, and its wild success and long lifespan are worthy of praise. But I don’t love it. I love the Dreamcast.
I get a feeling that people believe that Sonic Adventure is a microcosm of the Dreamcast as a whole: kinda fun, pretty, but too flawed to succeed.
Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 are probably the most famous Dreamcast releases. I greatly enjoy them, but it is hard to deny that they suffer from some pretty severe problems. The controls are wonky, the camera seems like it is actively conspiring against you at times, the cutscenes are UNSKIPPABLE, and there is the parade of “friends” that you are forced to play as to see the game through to the end.
A lot of this focus on extra characters and tons of side content does shine a light on what made the Dreamcast special. It was willing to try things. Sonic Adventure has a standard platformer campaign, but also quests built around treasure hunting, racing, arcade shooting, being chased by a constant, unkillable threat, and even fishing. There was an entire side game around raising small animals like they were Tamogotchi. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t, but it gives the game its character.
Note: Following paragraph edited on 4/20. “It was the first console you could play online” changed to “It was the first console with a built in modem and shipped with online support” for clarity and accuracy.
Sonic Adventure’s parent system was just as willing to go all out. It was the first console with a built in modem and shipped with online support! It was the first console with a browser! Its memory card locked into the controller and had a little LCD screen on it! There were weird fishing and microphone attachments! This was the system that actually released Seaman!
That sense of experimentation extended to the rest of the diverse, unique game catalog. And no, it isn’t nostalgia. The quality of the Dreamcast library is remarkable.
Jet Set Radio (or Jet Grind Radio in North America) is one of the purest, most joyful fusion of visuals, gameplay, and music ever committed to code. There is no accident to why it is so beloved. The epitome of “easy to play, hard to master”, it is hard to play Jet Set Radio without a smile on your face. Grind, tag, and groove.
As an aside, I just wrote the words “Jet Set Radio”, and now “Humming the Bassline” will be stuck in my head for the rest of the day.
The Shenmue series isn’t as precious to me as it is to some, I admit, but I appreciate the commitment to being different and being bold. Both games were ahead of their time (and two of the most expensive ever made), with day-night cycles, NPCs that had their own lives and patterns, visually striking weather effects, and of course, illicit duck races. People are excited for Shenmue III for a reason, and that is because they remember how Shenmue blew their minds about what was possible for in a video game in September of 1999.
As a fighting game console, the Dreamcast was second to none. Capcom especially stepped its game up with Steet Fighter Alpha 3, Street Fighter III: Third Strike, Capcom vs. SNK, and of course, the Marvel vs. Capcom series. The Marvel vs. Capcom titles were initially exclusive to Dreamcast in home consoles. Rereleases for these games abound, but the original Dreamcast versions are absolute joys to play. The second one’s huge roster gets a lot of love, but don’t skip the original either!
Also of note are Capcom’s Dreamcast exclusive Power Stone games, which are marvelously fun 3D arena fighters. Pick a character, square off against another character, and then beat them down with punches, unique power ups, weapons that randomly drop into the world, or even pieces of the environment.
Talking about fighting games for Dreamcast can’t be done without mentioning Namco’s Soulcalibur, one of the best ever made. It is a marvel to look at, even with 17 year old tech. The art and animation were both miles ahead of what other consoles were capable of. The use of the analog stick to move your character in any direction in the stage was a huge breakthrough for 3D fighters. None of the tech stuff matters if it isn’t fun to play, and Soulcalibur delivers with a memorable cast of characters with hard hitting movesets.
Sega even excelled with its sports titles. For my money, NFL 2K1 and NBA 2K1 were both head and shoulders above what other companies were producing at the time. They were the first sports titles I remember that felt like I was playing what I saw on television. This weekend, I played a couple games with the Vince Carter/Tracy McGrady Toronto Raptors in NBA 2K1, which is an awesome thing to do in 2016.
Even though it lacked support from EA and Square, it was initially an absolute wealth of riches from third party companies. The Dreamcast was the first sixth generation game console, and game publishers ported over arguably the best versions of great fifth generation games.
Capcom was once again on the ball with their ports of Dino Crisis and the Resident Evil series. Resident Evil: Code Veronica, a key installment for the series, was originally a Dreamcast exclusive. Activision also stepped up with some of their best offerings. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 both got released on the system and look miles better than their PS1/N64 counterparts. Ditto for Neversoft’s classic Spider-Man (which deserves its own post), my favorite superhero game, even in the Batman: Arkham Asylum era.
There are a lot more great Dreamcast game, but I am stopping here, as I am picking the games near and dear to my Dreamcast experience. I name dropped over a dozen titles, and I am missing some of the stuff you love. I am sure in the comments I will see a lot of love for Crazy Taxi or Phantasy Star Online or MDK2 or Grandia II or Skies of Arcadia and so on and so on.
That is the beauty of the Dreamcast: It seems like everyone that played it loved it, but often for different reasons. Embrace the strange. Embrace the unique. Embrace the Dreamcast.