SEGA Dreamcast – All the features that ensured it was ahead of its time

There have been many, many arguments about SEGA’s Dreamcast, and where it ranks in console folklore.

The problems…

Some have argued that it was a mere Arcade-port-athon, with titles such as Soul Calibur, Crazy Taxi and House Of The Dead to name but a few, seen in coin-op format up and down the country. It should have been a killer reason to play SEGA’s white box – and was, to many – but it was also seen in a negative light; people wanted consistently new games, and didn’t seem to want to play a game that had once taken their attention on the machines at the local bowling alley.

Others say it was obliterated by the Playstation 2 in terms of library, advertising and install base. [This one is technically true, as it was actual one of Sega’s biggest regrets]. The SEGA Dreamcast did well enough when it launched in the US; it had a strong launch line-up including the likes of Power Stone, Trickstyle, Ready 2 Rumble boxing, and of course, the obligatory Sonic title. SEGA did well with the advertising too, and helped it sustain a healthy install base in its first few months.

SEGA didn’t keep the hype train running though, and Sony were gearing up to release the Playstation 2, which was grabbing peoples attention.

SEGA Dreamcast fans circa-1999 will remember it very fondly, though, as it actually pioneered a lot of what is seen as commonplace in todays gaming industry. And, we won’t even get to the games until later on.

sega dreamcast vmu
Its successes…

This is where the Dreamcast  shone, for many. It had many features unheard of at the time in console gaming.

One immediate feature of the console was the VMU (Visual Memory Unit). This was essentially a memory card, which also doubled up as an additional screen for the player to gain more information of their current game. Turn the game off, however, and the VMU could be taken away and played, to help level up more of your in-game characters – Sonic Adventure’s Chao breeding was one of its greatest accomplishments.

Next, its biggest trump card – online gaming.

If you were unable to afford a PC with a semi-decent internet connection, you’ll never have experienced the chance to play against other people across the world.

SEGA’s Dreamcast did that straight out of the box. Granted, the multiplayer section wasn’t catered for from the off, and the launch line-up of online games didn’t get the pulses racing – indeed, its first PROPER online game (ChuChu Rocket!) was given away free at first – but it was new. It was different.

It also gave birth to one of the most successful online multiplayer RPG games in the form of Phantasy Star Online. This pioneered online console gaming for many, as it showed you didn’t need to be confined to playing alone to progress through a story driven game. Phantasy Star Online got a sequel (Ver.2), which done even better than the first, and was now compatible with a new Browser disc which allowed you to use your existing ethernet connection, instead of clogging the phone up.

You were also able to download what was an absolute treat for players – FREE Downloadable Content (or DLC as we all shudderingly refer to it as). This would in the form of free characters, missions, or other items to assist you in your game; you can still find these online quite easily with a simple search.

sega dreamcast games
The games…

For many, this section will prove conclusively why the Dreamcast was a success in its short time, as many games these days can’t seem to replicate its extensive library of killer apps, including its game peripherals.

You had Sega Bass Fishing, which actually came with a plug-in fishing rod, to help replicate the feel of fishing whilst sat in the bedroom. There was Seaman, with an added Microphone add-on that let you talk to your fish, and help it grow.

The games YOU NEED TO PLAY…

Straight off the list is Soul Calibur. This fighting game from Namco is still in many ‘Top 100’ lists, and shows no sign of dropping off. It was a weapons-filled fighting game, with scintillating graphics that were rarely matched during the Dreamcasts tenure. It also had a quest filled story mode, which expanded the game to be much of a fighting game, without ever actually straying too far from it’s original style.

Skies Of Arcadia is an RPG that many still clamor for a HD remake (myself included). It had pirates, ship battles, downloadable quests, a tamagotchi (albeit limited) VMU game. And the main game itself was an absolute joy to behold for anyone.

Another game which set trends was Metropolis Street Racer. It was the first game to make entire sections of the city of London for you to race around, and had a unique day/night system, which used the Dreamcast’s internal clock to give you weather comparable with your current real-life weather system. The racing introduced a ‘Kudos’ system, where by your end race score was determined by how well you could drive.

Honourable mentions go to Jet Set Radio, Crazy Taxi, Res Evil CODE: Veronica, Power Stone, and, I’m sure, many others…

That basically shows you what the Dreamcast was all about!

…what? I’ve missed a game?

*Flickers through notebook*…

Ah, my apologies! Ok, one small matter left to attend to…

Shenmue…

This game has filled so many magazine pages, forums, debates and videos. This was SEGA’s flagship blockbuster game.

Shenmue was SEGA’s biggest production, cost-wise. They spent upwards of $45 million dollars, which was unheard of for any game at that stage, and is still pretty much unheard of even today.

Yu Suzuki began working on this game after previous IP’s such as Hang-On and Virtua Fighter, and he wanted more. He wanted BIGGER.

He chose to coin Shenmue as a FREE game (Fully Reactive Eyes Entertainment). His idea was that every character in the game had their own unique personality, and they all lived independently, and went about every day life as you or I would.

It was a fascinating concept that drew many people in, but also drew criticism from others for its seeming slow-paced nature. The aim of the game was to investigate an event at the start of the game (No spoilers!), and to do so, you got clues by researching what people were doing, who else was there, what time, etc. This information was recorded in your notebook, and you also had other time-killing activities. You could practice and improve on your fighting skills, go to the Arcade and play some classic Yu Suzuki games, or collect capsule toys of previous SEGA franchises.

Without divulging too much more about the game, Shenmue was a make-or-break IP that SEGA banked on being every bit as huge as the amount of money they invested in it. Sadly, the game failed to recuperate costs, and it hurt SEGA pretty bad. It seemed like SEGA were losing quite a lot of money at this stage of the Consoles life (sponsoring Arsenal FC is still seen as a very questionable tactic) and the Dreamcast started to wind down, towards bowing out of the console industry.

Conclusion…

Ironically, the Dreamcast seems to get a lot more love nowadays; either through rose-tinted glasses, or through a newer generation able to try out games which have all the bells and whistles of current-gen IPs, but without any of the annoying patches, day-one updates or paid for DLC which afflict a lot of games.

There is no denying that a lot of what we see now either began on the Dreamcast, or was perfected on it. The fact that the Shenmue 3 Kickstarter gained so much interest – and broke donation records – shows that people are still hungry for Dreamcast quality.

And y’know what? If that trend continues, we’ll all be much the better for it!




  • Cobb

    Very informative read, you have good knowledge on the matter. It’s a shame the console didn’t take off!

  • Ashley Moore

    Absolute brilliant article! I miss the Dreamcast and its no secret that this was one of the best consoles to date and very underrated. I feel bad for those who didn’t get to experience the truly awesome games such as Soul Calibur, Res Evil: Code Veronica and Shenmue 1 & 2

  • Jimmy the Turk

    Boss read. Loved the quirkiness of the Dreamcast.

  • John D’Arcy

    Great article! Makes me want to buy a dreamcast!

  • Mandeep Singh Bains

    Good article, never had the dreamcast, or any sega console for that matter as I was a Nintendo fan boy in those days. But I secretly loved playing on them round my mates house 😀