Weekend Hot Topic, part 2: Dreamcast 20th anniversary memories

GameCentral readers celebrate 20 years of Sega’s final console and classic games like Phantasy Star Online and Shenmue.

The subject for this weekend’s Inbox is based on the fact that this week is the 20th anniversary of the Dreamcast launch in America, so we wanted to know your thoughts on Sega’s last home console and how you remember it today.

As we expected, there were a lot of very impassioned (and long) stories about not just the games but the console itself, which many loved just as much for its online features and other innovations.


The last console

A Hot Topic I can really resonate with.

Myself and my bother decided to go half and half on a Dreamcast. We always were Sega fans, loved the Saturn even with its issues. Anyhoo, saved up between us, my brother worked in Dixons at the time and we went all in!

Our mate stayed the night, all booked the day off work, down to Dixons for it opening, where my brother had already packaged it all up for collection. Four pads, two VMUs, two rumble packs, and every decent launch game. Sonic Adventure, Sega Rally 2, Toy Commander, Virtua Fighter, and erm… Blue Stinger (cough, cough).

What a console it was! Stunning graphics and brilliant games! Memories of playing Power Stone 1 and 2, Soulcalibur (winner stays on, obviously), Resident Evil – Code: Veronica, Shenmue, Virtua Tennis, Crazy Taxi, Marvel Vs. Capcom, etc. Brilliant, brilliant games and a huge amount of fun.

Then there was for me, something I had never experienced before. Online gaming.

Phantasy Star Online to be precise. So much fun to play with people around the world, trying to earn the best gear. My brother used to play and I would chat to everyone else. We had a friend, can’t remember his real name, but his character was Link. He was from Leicester, I used to chat to his girlfriend whilst they both played. Chat up to be precise. Good times.

Great memories, and the last console where myself, my brother, and our friends all were around together for couch co-op before we all had to grow up and settle down.


Too advanced

Well, I remember the launch day of what I believe is the greatest games console to of been ever made, full stop! I got the Dreamcast a day early from a catalogue company and, yes, it was all white well before Apple had the iPod white colour! The problem with the Dreamcast was not the actual console itself but all the mistakes Sega made after the success of the Mega Drive and basically nobody in the games industry trusted them anymore, like big third party producers like EA, etc.

Not even the general public to be fair and you couldn’t blame them either. (Again, I remember being bitten when I purchased the Sega Saturn console it was my worst mistake in gaming.) The Dreamcast was also way too advanced for its time it was literally the bees knees in features and technology. It had Internet access, all the games were 100% arcade quality, four controller ports to have three other players playing with or against you and a VMU (a visual memory unit) – another first in gaming!

Games like Jet Set Radio, Panzer Dragoon, Soulcalibur, The House Of The Dead, etc., etc. the list just goes on and on with all the quality games Sega was knocking out back then in the 90s. I am hoping for some Inbox Magic and that’s to hear about any new news on the official launch of the Mini Sega Dreamcast console

Surely it makes common sense to make one and release it? Just look at the potential sales for it. First people like me who had the original console back in the day and for all the other people that missed out in the first place or the younger generation of gamers who weren’t even born back in the mid-90s. I mean some of the classic games on the Dreamcast are still playable and timeless to this day.


Late to the party

I do own a Dreamcast but I bought it second-hand just after it was discontinued. This was after I already owned a GameCube and possibly an Xbox. (Not sure which of those two was first).

The main draws for me were the Shenmue games, the Sonic Adventure games, and Skies Of Arcadia.

Having already played the N64’s 3D platformers (and possibly Super Mario Sunshine) the Sonic games felt like a huge step backwards. The games themselves seemed OK conceptually but the camera simply could not cope.

Shenmue faired a bit better. I liked how different it was but could not get on with single stick controls after already experiencing dual camera controls. So I waited for the Xbox port of the sequel. Sadly, that didn’t have twin stick controls either, which was even worse as the controller had a second stick.

Skies Of Arcadia however fully justified the purchase of the console (and yes, I realise there was a GameCube port). It is one of the best Japanese role-players of all time and my second favourite game of that generation (after Halo).


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You never forget your first time

I bought my Dreamcast from my younger brother and my personal favourite games were Metropolis Street Racer (fantastic soundtrack and first racer to have radio stations and DJs talking between music tracks), Shenmue (loved it but never got into its sequel), and the first Virtua Tennis (arcade quality at home for the first time).

Having my first experience online with Phantasy Star Online I had to triple check myself that the other players were in fact being controlled by real people. Saying hello to someone and them returning the greeting may have been a simple gesture but something I’ll never forget.

Paying 2p per minute for dial-up Internet wasn’t fun though and waiting for pages to load was very slow, but it was my first experience of having access to the Internet at home.


Dreamcast collection

I loved the Dreamcast and was shocked and really upset when support was cut after just a couple of years. I wasn’t as into games in those days and had no idea about all Sega’s troubles so it came as a quite a surprise. Although I suppose the Sega Saturn should’ve bene a clue that they’d kind of lost.

I have such happy memories of playing Power Stone 2 with friends. We’d have it on endlessly at our university digs and it was so easy for anyone to join in and have a bit of fun. I also love Resident Evil – Code: Veronica and Skies Of Arcadia. None of those games has had a remaster though and worry that anything on the Dreamcast is considered too obscure.

I’d love a proper Power Stone revival (the stupid PSP port doesn’t count) and I really hope the Code: Veronica gets a proper remake because it’s a much better game than Resident Evil 3. Skies Of Arcadia has probably aged quite a bit now because of all the random battles but it wouldn’t take much to modernise it I don’t think. Would love to see a Dreamcast collection on the Switch…


No reward

For a console that was only around for a few years and which most mainstream gamers have probably never heard of I’d say the Dreamcast was punching well above its grade. The way it innovated with online and arcade perfect graphics was way above the PS1 and in some ways better than the PlayStation 2 too.

It was years after till Sony bothered with online and they only properly started to master it with the PlayStation 3. Sega though were there for the start and… were punished for it really.

As I understand they were in such bad financial straits before it even came out that nothing they did would’ve mattered, but it’s still sad to see such innovation rewarded that way.


Catch up on every previous Games Inbox here


Never bettered

Oh now, this one makes me sad! The Dreamcast was the first console I ever bought with my own hard-earned cash at the tender age of 18. I had to wait a few months for that to happen, so I bought it in January, 2000 – so some months before Skies Of Arcadia came along.

Out of the box was Sonic Adventure and the daftly-titled Chu Chu Rocket. Chu Chu Rocket wasn’t really for me but I can see why it was/is so beloved. As a lifelong fan of the ‘hog, I was blown away by Sonic Adventure – especially that very impressive intro sequence with the city flooding. Uh, impressive for its day, naturally.

The pseudo-open world Adventure sections where you either needed to fetch a trinket or perform menial errand before you could get to the next proper ‘Action Stage’. But the level design could be genuinely incredible. Which might seem odd to those less than enamoured by this game’s charms some 20 years later. I am not so blinded a fanboy to not admit the game had very serious problems. Problems that became even less tolerable as the years rolled by. The camera actively fights you. Not quite as bad as it was in Sonic Adventure 2 where if you wanted to go further back in the level, then tough – the camera refused to be pointed in what it considered to be the ‘wrong’ direction.

But great level design, I believe is independent of a game’s larger problems as a whole. For example, Zool has a brilliant opening level despite being completely average in every other respect. So, hitting the jackpot in Casinopolis, riding a bumper car across a racetrack that stretches out across the night sky before dropping you off in the game’s equivalent of Disney World. Amusingly, this area of the park is called ‘Pleasure Castle.’ Hur, hur, dirty laugh.

Soulcalibur is still one of the greatest fighting games ever made, bettered only very slightly by its sequel. Which I didn’t think would materialise. I mean, the Dreamcast was a failed console – other than Sonic, nothing was guaranteed to live on.

Jet Set Radio remains one of my top 10 platform games, a landmark for the genre in how you negotiated the landscape and everybody has to at least try Rez. You would be incomplete as a person otherwise, as I’m sure GC would agree.

Didn’t play Metropolis Street Racer except for the demo, it handled great, just wasn’t my cup of cha.

The Shenmue games were genuine pioneers in the field of open world games and Skies Of Arcadia is that other Sega role-playing game that may tragically never get a remaster or sequel.

I never got the chance to play online, because that was probably beyond most us at the time. That controller was odd, too. You had to essentially play it upside down as the wire connected to the bottom rather than the top. The D-pad was big and chunky, if a tad sharp if you meant to do a lot of fireballs and dragon punches with it and the triggers were not ideal for shooters. But for Soulcalibur? It was ideal. In fact, playing Soulcalibur or any of its sequels has just never felt right on anything else. They go together that well.

I must mention the Visual Memory Units, or VMUs, that you plugged into the top of the controller. These were adorable and not only functioned as the system’s memory cards but were meant to be portable console too, having a little D-pad, buttons, and a screen. This meant that they ate through their battery in about a week. I’m not kidding. So playing any mini-games on it was not very viable. Unless you wanted to spend a fortune on batteries. The mini-games were about as involved and enjoyable as you could expect given their limitations. About the same as Snake on ancient Nokia phones…

What I most loved about the VMU is that it would always display something for every game you played. And not to worry too much when the battery went dead, it would still function as memory storage once plugged in. On Soulcalibur, you had a little picture of your character come up for whoever you were playing. Resident Evil – Code: Veronica and the other PlayStation 1 Resident Evils would display your health status. Skies Of Arcadia would adorably show you Cupil, Fina’s speech bubble-shaped pet who would chirp excitedly whenever you were around his food.

I have played most of these quite recently and, especially Soulcalibur, all hold up remarkably well. I haven’t been back to Code: Veronica for a while. I’m a little scared it will have lost its allure. Also, it is tricky as every Dreamcast I’ve had will eventually develop a fault to do with its power cable. Either that or the port for it. Because it can randomly short out and reset, meaning that you can lose hours. So I’m rolling the dice every time I turn it on.

As you can see, I loved the Dreamcast. Still love it. It is my favourite ever console, despite strong arguments from the Mega Drive, SNES, PlayStation 2, and even Switch. Sorry guys, nothing will ever be able to steal away that very special place in my heart where I can still dream about those Sega-blue skies…


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