In the 1990s, millions of gamers around the world owned at least one Sega console. With the mega-success of their Master System, Genesis / Mega Drive, and Game Gear, Sega was a force to be reckoned with for a long time.
Sadly, things took something of a nosedive with the release of the Saturn – a wonderful machine that lost out to the Sony PlayStation and faded away.
While there was nothing wrong with the Saturn, it simply didn’t generate enough success to keep it in the game. The same is true of it’s follow-up: the Dreamcast.
When it hit Japan in 1998 and the west in 1999, the Dreamcast was the first console of the then-next generation (the PS2, GameCube, and Xbox wouldn’t come along until 2000 and 2001 respectively). Despite having a strong catalogue of games and features, including some pretty innovative titles and peripherals, the Dreamcast just couldn’t go the distance.
Since then, Sega have focused on producing games as a publisher and third-party developer, but there are plenty of fans still getting hours of enjoyment from the Dreamcast itself. Why? Because there are some true gems to enjoy, most which still stand up to this day …
Jet Set Radio
When we mentioned innovative games earlier, Jet Set Radio is a perfect example.
This beautiful game is based around a group of young graffiti artists zipping around town on rollerblades. Set in a police state known as Tokyo-to, Jet Set Radio (or Jet Grind Radio for those in the US) tasks players with tagging walls and buses while staying one step ahead of the cops. The soundtrack is pretty cool, and the cel-shaded graphics are a wonder to behold.
It seems only right to follow up Jet Set Radio with Crazy Taxi: both games are fast-paced, innovative titles offering players a unique experience.
Basically, Crazy Taxi plays like Grand Theft Auto’s taxi side-missions, but jacked right up to 11. In the role of a money-hungry driver, your job is to run as many clients as possible from one area to another – it’s simple, but not easy.
The city is bright and colourful, and the soundtrack (featuring the Offspring, no less) is the perfect inspiration to slam the pedal to the metal. At the time, it was pretty unthinkable that we’d all be able to play this arcade port on our mobile phones someday, but now it’s a sweet, sweet reality.
3D fighting games were nothing new by the time Power Stone came along. However, Capcom threw in an extra twist with its free-roaming angle: rather than brawling on a 2D plane with a very limited amount of space, players can explore expansive 3D locations. On top of that, any weapons lying around can be grabbed for a little extra carnage.
By adding such versatilitiy and depth, Capcom made room for tactics and creative thinking: you can choose to keep your distance from opponents and simply toss objects at them, or you can get up close and personal. The characters are diverse, with lots of different fighting styles and abilities on offer, and each is unique; they can all also transform into more powerful forms, thanks to the titular stones themselves. The visuals are still gorgeous to look at today, with bold, chunky cartoony sprites and smooth animations.
Skies of Arcadia
This gorgeous RPG stars Vyse, a young sky-pirate, as he battles through dungeons, fights enemies aboard his airship, and hunts for treasure.
The turn-based combat sequences themselves are pretty damn impressive, whether in the stony surroundings of a dungeon or in the air, ship to ship. The game is a long, deep experience that features great design, awesome monsters, and plenty to come back for.
sSoulcaliber is still a beloved franchise today, and the Dreamcast version took the 3D fighter into new realms of quality. The graphics were even better than the original arcade version, and are still some of the best ever seen on the console itself.
Unlike many other fighters at the time, Soulcaliber offered players the chance to use weapons, with each character wielding their own instrument, just as with Soul Blade a few years earlier. The story mode is long and engaging, keeping you hooked for weeks at a time, while the simple versus multiplayer battles are irresistible.
Marvel vs Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes
Another success for Capcom, this fighter boasts stunning visuals, an awesome roster of heroes and villains, and fast-paced gameplay just popping with dynamism.
Choose from 56 fighters, including the likes of Omega Red, Sabretooth, Captain America, Cyclops, Rogue, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Venom, and more on the Marvel side, with Akuma, Ken Masters, Cammy, Captain Commando, Mega Man, Jill Valentine, and others representing Capcom’s own brand of badasses.
You enter fights with a three-person team, and learning when to swtich between them is vital to keep them in the arena for as long as possible. One to revisit for sure.
The House of the Dead II
Lightgun games recreate the fun and excitement of the arcade right in your home, and the Dreamcast’s The House of the Dead II is a terrific example of the console-port done right.
Featuring wave after wave of decomposing zombies, this game is pretty relentless, with boss battles especially tough. The co-op mode is still a blast, and offers even decent players a challenge as monsters appear from almost every nook and cranny. Like that other famous zombie-based series, Resident Evil, The House of the Dead II’s cut-scenes are chock-full of dodgy dialogue, always good to raise a titter or two.
Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike
We all know about Street Fighter II and IV, but how about the mysterious third game? Well, this arcade fighter was actually ported to the Dreamcast twice, with the second version the best of the pair. It failed to reach other consoles, though, and so many of us didn’t even know it existed until the announcement of the fourth game prompted a little detective work.
3rd Strike features a nice line-up of 19 characters (including the unlockable head honcho and multiple series-regulars), various gameplay modes, and slick presentation. It’s not as impresive as the many versions of its predecessor or its belated sequel, but SFIII: 3rd Strike is one Dreamcast game fans should track down.
Resident Evil: Code Veronica
Code: Veronica is a terrific Resident Evil title, and was the first RE game to see release on a console other than the PlayStation. The Dreamcast’s enhanced power made this a real treat for the senses at the time.
Starring super-capable siblings Claire and Chris Redfield, Code: Veronica transplanted the zombie-blasting shenanigans to real-time 3D settings rather than the pre-rendered enviornments of yore. This helped the game to look and feel more dynamic than previous instalments, and the zombies were some of the creepiest so far thanks to their more ‘realistic’ styling.
An innovative title in so many areas, Shenmue remains a milestone in gaming. While open worlds, side-quests, and mini-games are all fairly standard now, Shenmue broke the mould back in the day, redefining what was possible in console gaming.
Set in 1980s Japan, Shenmue follows young Ryo Hazuki as he seeks revenge on the elusive killer who offed his father. During this adventure, you can engage in hand-to-hand combat, play darts, enjoy full versions of Sega classics like Space Harrier at the in-game arcade, and even get a job down at the docks.
At the time, Shenmue’s use of a day-night cycle was pretty mind-blowing, with stores opening and closing to set hours, buses sticking to timetables, and specific routines for different characters. This results in a world that feels just as alive as any in today’s AAA open-world titles, and it continues to impress.
A sequel was released on the console, but fans’ hopes for a third game only paid off last year, when a crowdsourcing campaign broke records by raising the millions needed within eight hours. Progress on the game appears to be going well, and when it finally hits the market, fans are sure to lap it up.
What are your favourite Sega Dreamcast games? Let us know!