A 1999 demo promoting the ruinously expensive Shenmue (called “What’s Shenmue?”) featured an exclusive scene in which then company president Yukawa-san could be seen slumped at his desk, head in hands, surrounded by piles of unsold consoles (above). Deep down, SEGA must have known the Dreamcast didn’t stand a chance even before they axed it two years later.
Even though the SEGA Dreamcast enjoyed a relatively short lifespan (officially somewhere between its 1998 Japanese launch and late 2002 termination) and wasn’t supported at all by the most powerful publisher of the day (Electronic Arts) the well-loved machine still boasts an impressive library of titles.
Even extending this “best of” list, from the originally planned 10 to a whopping 30 games, has seen me leave out such gems as cult top-down shooter Ikaruga, well-regarded sports sim NHL 2K2, online deathmatch game Outtrigger, stylish BioWare-made shooter MDK2 and Street Fighter III: Double Impact (to date the only home console edition of that entry in Capcom’s fighting saga), not to mention a glut of great sequels. In the name of variety, you won’t find Shenmue 2, Sonic Adventure 2, Craxy Taxi 2, Space Channel 5: Part Two, Virtua Tennis 2 or Power Stone 2 on the below list – though all are worth checking out.
Difficult to imagine on any of the current consoles, but this Dreamcast top 30 doesn’t host a single first person shooter – by far today’s dominant genre. The SEGA machine was ill-served in that particular area: a problem that might have been remedied, had the finished and ready-to-ship Dreamcast port of Half-Life 2 (for which the Blue Shift expansion pack was originally intended) not been cancelled mere days before release.
Instead DC gamers enjoyed an unprecedented wealth of arcade ports. Almost a third of the games listed below began life in the arcade, usually on SEGA’s own Naomi board – which was basically the same spec as the home console, making arcade perfect coin-op ports relatively straightforward business.
The Dreamcast was not only the first console with online gaming (at least outside of Japan where the Mega Drive went online in 1990), hi-definition visuals (when using VGA), motion controllers (SEGA Bass Fishing) and even DLC (action/puzzler Floigan Brothers: Episode One was going to support downloadable expansion had the console not been discontinued), but also pioneered many gameplay innovations and trends which would seep into the mainstream over the next decade.
The ill-fated console arguably housed a line-up of games more innovative and original than that of any subsequent manufacturer. In stark contrast to the SEGA of 2011, the company were then constantly shipping new IP with quirky sensibilities and hitherto unseen gameplay mechanics. A lot of the games of the Dreamcast era would go on to hugely influential over the coming decade and here’s my personal pick of the bunch, with added comments from my equally nostalgic fellow games writers Stephen Leigh (SL) and Robert Cook (RC):
30. Blue Stinger (Activision/Climax Graphics)
Admittedly survival horror game Blue Stinger doesn’t hold up all that well today, as I found when re-playing it briefly a couple of years ago. The crude graphics and god-awful voice acting were, in fact, even worse than I remembered – and that’s without mentioning the truly risible FMV cutscenes. Yet it’s always stuck with me, primarily because of its odd (possibly unique) release history.
Late in 1999, when the Dreamcast’s UK release date was pushed back at short notice, the planned launch title held to the original date and has the dubious honour of having been on sale several weeks before the hardware required to run it.
Despite its middling to low review scores, Blue Stinger proved a neat showcase for the new console, with nice graphical touches that impressed me at the time. For instance, when walking through a meat locker you’d see the character exhale water vapour and, after drinking a can of soda, the character would hurl the can behind his back where it would hit the floor and stay there (you’d normally expect something like that to disappear in those days). It was clunky and inelegant, but had some properly tense survival horror moments, some insane bosses, an epic score and nice lighting effects. It’s also the perfect antidote for anyone who finds today’s games too easy as it’s pretty brutal.
Climax graphics went on to make Illbleed (which was never released in Europe), another Dreamcast survival horror – though much more gory and disturbing than the relatively gentle Blue Stinger, which even featured lots of obvious in-game advertisement for obscure children’s racing game Pen Pen TriIcelon.
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