Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sega Dreamcast Review

So OutRun comes out a bit ago, and it really has that Sega arcade feel. And now Virtual-On hits, and I find myself really thinking about Sega.

Kids today might remember Sega best for shitty Sonic games, but as I said in my OutRun post, Sega made some of the best arcade games back in the day. I mean, there were racing games, and then there was Daytona USA. Or, there were lightgun games, and then there was The House of the Dead. Even genres I never liked before, like fishing, made for some truly awesome arcade games like Sega Bass Fishing and the even better Sega Marine Fishing. Bottom line is that when you were playing a Sega game, you knew it.

Sega's console history is a little bit more complicated. When Sega got out of the hardware business, it was the final nail in the coffin of an era that was already fading when Sony's upstart PlayStation started dominating the console fields. A lot of gamers today might not be able to remember a time before PlayStation, but for myself the real console wars were between Nintendo and Sega.

A number of bad decisions forced Sega to lose every time. The Genesis (Megadrive for everyone outside the U.S.) was crushed everywhere but the States, and even then only until the Super Nintendo debuted. Then there was the SegaCD add-on... and the Sega 32x add-on... and the planned Sega Neptune that would have combined the Genesis, 32x, and the SegaCD in one package. And the Saturn, which was was outpriced by the PlayStation. And finally, there was the Dreamcast.

In some ways, it's not too surprising to see why the Dreamcast failed. Sega launched it a year before the PlayStation 2 was set to debut, and they'd designed a console that was a strong competitor... against the original PlayStation and the Nintendo 64. The Dreamcast arguably did a better job of anti-aliasing than the PlayStation 2, although I think later PS2 games like God of War put to rest any debate about which console was more powerful. It lacked the DVD-ROM of the PS2 and the Xbox. It only had one analog stick. And, perhaps the most damaging of all, it was a tad too easy to get copies of games working on the Dreamcast.

The Dreamcast was still ahead of it's time in a lot of ways, though. The built-in 56k modem meant that, while not the first online console, it was the first console that a lot of us actually played online. I also can't help but notice that both Xbox consoles have shoulder triggers. Even Sony, who's used pretty much the same controller since the first PlayStation, changed the design of the back set of shoulder-buttons on the PS3's controller(s), to make them more trigger-like. Perhaps Sony was aping Microsoft and their appeal with shooter-fans, but it's not really a secret that Microsoft was copying Sega first. Finally, while EverQuest beat Phantasy Star Online out by a few months, PSO showed that MMO's could be played on home consoles.

You take the good, you take the bad, but the thing I'll remember the most about the Dreamcast was it's incredible line-up of launch titles. Growing up, I'd always been in Nintendo's camp. I had an NES and a Gameboy, and I was content to wait for the SNES without ever considering a Genesis or a GameGear. I reluctantly picked up a PlayStation since it seemed to have a lot of games I wanted, but I still had an N64 as well. The Saturn wasn't even a blip on the radar. But the Dreamcast, which would be my first foray into Sega territory, was not only a must-buy for me, but the first console I bought with my own money. And the reason was games. Nintedo could get away with launching with little more than a Mario game. I didn't get a PlayStation until Castlevania came out for it, nor did I buy an Xbox at launch. My launch game for the PlayStation 2 was Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore, a beefed up port of a game I already had for the Dreamcast.

The Dreamcast, on the other hand, sold me with Sonic Adventure, House of the Dead 2, Power Stone, and Soul Calibur. Even games like Hydro Thunder, which haven't necessarily aged well, were amazing at the time.

And while third-party developers would eventually resort to shoveling out PlayStation ports, Sega continued to deliver. Crazy Taxi, Seaman, Shenmue, Samba de Amigo, Space Channel 5, the 2K sports games, the Sega Fishing games, Virtual-On, Jet Grind Radio, Metropolis Street Racer, Virtua Fighter... Sega games were innovative, fun, or both. As a Capcom fan, I also delighted in Capcom's use of the Dreamcast as the definitive platform (at the time) for the arcade games like Street Fighter III, Marvel Vs. Capcom, Cannon Spike, Giga Wing, etc, as well as non-arcade games like Resident Evil: Code Veronica.

Today, we might be playing our modern HD consoles, but the fact remains that the Dreamcast had one of the best launch lineups to date, and a software library that justifies pulling it out of the closet for some gaming to this very day... fishing controller and all.

Final Score: A+


science412 said...

The death of the Dreamcast, and ultimately Sega hardware, was and still is enough to make me want to cry my eyes out. While it's nice to see some classic Sega titles getting sequels and HD makeovers, I still hope that one day Sega will magically release another console.

Mike said...

I hear Sega/Sammy's still on their ass. Maybe we can pool our money together, buy Sega, and make a new console?

Mike said...

Actually, do you think the Xbox 360 would have done better in Japan if they'd partnered with Sega to call it the Sega JapanFun in Japan?