The Sega Dreamcast will go down in gaming history as the final throw of the dice for what was once one of the gaming market's brightest lights.
Following the dismal commercial performance of systems like the Mega CD, 32X and Saturn, Sega was already in deep financial trouble before the Dreamcast launched in 1998, so nothing short of a smash hit was going to pull the company out of the mire.
As it happened, the Dreamcast did moderately well in the short time it was active, but talk of the impending PlayStation 2 release meant many gamers didn't bite and only 11m systems were sold globally. Sega would exit the console hardware arena and become a third-party publisher, but those who were brave enough to take the plunge on this groundbreaking console were rewarded with some of the finest games of its generation. We've pulled together 10 of the best below.
Power Stone 2
The original Power Stone was the perfect launch title; not only did it show off the graphical prowess of the Dreamcast but it was also incredibly playable to boot, offering gamers the chance to smack each other around in a 3D environment packed with weapons and environmental hazards.
The sequel was more of the same, but contained some key refinements – four players could now take part instead of two and the levels were much larger, with the participants actually moving through them as time went on and the stages collapsed. As a multiplayer game, Power Stone 2 ranks as one of the best ever made; no party is complete without some four-player chaos, Capcom-style.
Comfortably one of the most surreal video games ever released on a mainstream console, Seaman isn't really a game as such – it's more akin to a virtual pet which you have to interact with and check up on each day. Voiced by Star Trek's Leonard Nimoy, this fish with a face can be spoken to via a microphone accessory and will even trade insults with you during conversations. As you nurture this odd creature it changes form several times, eventually assuming the shape of a frog, which is displayed on the cover of the box. With so much left for the player to work out for themselves Seaman is a truly unique gaming experience, and one that everybody should encounter.
Sonic Adventure 2
Sonic's relationship with the realm of 3D gaming hasn't been all that positive in recent years, but back at the turn of the millennium he could simply do no wrong. The first Sonic Adventure dazzled fans with its amazing visuals, but the second game really ramped things up, with more characters, levels and content. One of the most appealing elements of the game was a virtual pet mini-game which could be played on the console's Visual Memory Unit memory card. Ported to the GameCube shortly afterwards with new features, Sonic Adventure 2 ranks as perhaps the best 3D outing for Sega's spiky mascot.
Skies of Arcadia
With Sony locking down Square's Final Fantasy series, Sega was forced to create its own RPG titles for the Dreamcast, and it did so in style. Skies of Arcadia is perhaps the finest role-playing release for the console, mixing turn-based battles with massive airships, a fantastic soundtrack and plenty of exploration. Spanning two discs and many hours, it was critically acclaimed upon release and would later be ported to the GameCube under the guise of Skies of Arcadia Legends. It's a crying shame that Sega haven't seen fit to create a sequel; this is without a doubt one of the finest RPGs ever made and unsurprisingly fetches quite a high price on the secondary market.
Space Channel 5
With nothing to lose, Sega took some massive risks during the latter part of the Dreamcast's lifespan – and Space Channel 5 is one of the most notable. This wacky rhythm action title sees the player controlling roving space reporter Ulala as she attempts to out-dance enemies and rescue hostages. A wide range of supporting characters are featured, including 'Space Michael', clearly based on Michael Jackson, who enjoyed a long-lasting working relationship with Sega which stretched back all the way to the early '90s and the video-game adaption of his movie, Moonwalker. Jackson's role would be expanded in the sequel, which also arrived on the PlayStation 2.
Of all the titles released on Dreamcast, Rez is perhaps the one with the longest legacy; it was remastered in HD in 2008 for Xbox Live Arcade and was even part of the PlayStation VR line-up last year in the form of Rez Infinite.
Ostensibly an on-rails shooter in the vein of After Burner and Space Harrier – two old-school Sega hits – Rez boasts a trance-like soundtrack which matches the on-screen action; destroyed enemies emit beats which fit in with the music. With its Tron-like landscapes and challenging action, Rez is one of those video games which is ultimately timeless; the Dreamcast version may have been iterated upon and improved by subsequent re-issues, but it hasn't lost any of its appeal.
Namco may have been a staunch supporter of the PlayStation, but it wasn't above working with other platform holders, and with Soul Calibur it gave the Dreamcast a vital shot in the arm, which no doubt convinced many doubters to finally take the console seriously. A sequel to Soul Blade – which was ported to the PlayStation in 1996 – Soul Calibur showcased what were comfortably the best visuals seen in a 3D fighter up to that point. Graceful animation and plenty of moves to master gave the game incredible depth, but it was the replayability which really made it essential – unlocking all of the available characters took ages.
The Dreamcast is notable for being the first mainstream games console to ship with internet connectivity as standard, but the high cost of online gaming rather curtailed its impact. There were some glimmers of brilliance, however – one of which was the sublime puzzler ChuChu Rocket, developed by Sonic Team.
The objective is to guide a series of mouse-like ChuChus to the safety of their rockets whilst avoiding the unwanted attention of the cat-like KapuKapus. The solo mode was fun but it was the competitive multiplayer section – that saw players competing to save as many ChuChus as possible – which really sold this title. Sega kept the online servers running until 2003, but the game's legacy thankfully lives on in the recent Android and iOS ports
Created by legendary game designer Yu Suzuki – the genius behind Out Run and Virtua Fighter, as well as many other arcade hits – Shenmue was billed as the Dreamcast's blockbuster epic. With an estimated development and marketing budget of between $47-$70m, it could never realistically recoup its costs on the Dreamcast alone, but it ended up being one of the system's most beloved titles.
Set in what was, for the time, an incredibly realistic and immersive world, Shenmue tasked players with the job of solving the protagonist’s father's brutal murder, but made every effort to distract them from this undertaking by including real arcade games, a capsule-collecting meta-game and a seemingly endless array of characters to talk to. A sequel would follow on the Dreamcast which was later ported to the Xbox, and Shenmue 3 was recently crowdfunded via Kickstarter for PC and PS4.
Ikaruga is perhaps best known today for its Xbox Live Arcade HD remaster, but back in the Dreamcast days it was one of the console's last big exclusives. Developed by legendary Japanese codehouse Treasure – previously responsible for Gunstar Heroes, Radiant Silvergun and Mischief Makers – Ikaruga's hook was the ability to toggle between two different colours of shot.
Black shots would inflict major damage on white-coloured enemies but only minimal damage on black enemies, and vice versa. This created a tension where the player would not only need to avoid incoming fire, but also switch between the two colours to maximise destruction.
Another unique element of the gameplay was the fact that like-colour enemy bullets could be absorbed by the player's ship to charge up their screen-clearing mega-weapon. Ikaruga was also ported to the GameCube, while the Dreamcast version remained exclusive to Japan – making it quite pricey on the secondary market these days.
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