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Retro Corner – A Dreamcast Discussion

There are few consoles in history with a more saddening end than the Dreamcast. Debates as to whether it was a better console than the PlayStation 2 will probably rage for years to come, but ultimately it was Sega’s inability to entice more third-party support and the unstoppable juggernaut of the PS2 that were the death of this much-loved console. However, it was remarkable and forward-thinking in a number of areas – some successful; others less so. It was the first console to have online capabilities (preceding the Xbox and PS2 by more than three years), which was perfectly accompanied by some stellar first-party titles like Chu Chu Rocket and Phantasy Star Online. There was also the Visual Memory Unit, or VMU, which slotted into your controller to save game data, displayed additional information and allowed you to play mini-games as a standalone unit, which in reality was perhaps less practical than Sega would have hoped.

Whatever people may think about the Dreamcast, it was a powerful console for its time and a showcase for Sega’s development studios at the absolute pinnacle of their talent. Boasting a résumé featuring the likes of Shenmue, Jet Set Radio, Crazy Taxi, Rez and Space Channel 5, these titles barely begin to highlight the innovation and consistency of Sega’s software arm in their Dreamcast days. Not only that, but some Japanese publishers such as Capcom and Namco supported the console with utterly outstanding results. Ultimately, sadly, the competitive and fickle console market quickly swamped Sega, and despite selling over ten million consoles they announced in early 2001 that Dreamcast production – their final foray in the home console market – was to end within a matter of months.

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The console is a much-loved classic here at Thunderbolt Towers, and so we’d like to present a long-running debate by some of our most knowledgeable members on the finest Dreamcast games ever to see light of day:

Anthony Karge: I’m thinking each game that’s picked as your 1 spot will get 5 points, 2nd will get four points and so on. That should get most of the slots out of the way.

5. Shenmue – not the best game on the DC, but definitely one of the most memorable.

4. Jet Grind/Set Radio – a fresh, psychedelic ride. I loved it.

3. Virtua Tennis – I don’t like tennis, but I love this game.

2. Grandia II – probably one of the most fun RPGs I’ve ever played.

1. Soul Calibur – one of the best fighting games ever made.

Most overrated game: Resident Evil: Code Veronica

James Frazer: 5. Shenmue

Ah, the magnificent Shenmue. The Grand Theft Auto of its day, you could go seemingly anywhere and do seemingly anything in this fantastic world. You could visit the local shop and put coins in the little screw machines that popped out toys that you could look at and collect, there was a kitten to look after, Saturn games to play, lots of people to converse with and you could just sit back and watch the world float by.

There was also a fighting side to it, as you avenged your father’s death, so you could go to the local park and practise your moves.

There was so much to do in Shenmue, and I can’t go on in case I spoil the plot. But this was one hell of a game, and the sequel on both the Dreamcast and Xbox is considered by many to be one of the finest experiences. Not to be missed.

4. Powerstone 2

Nothing was better when your friends came round than this little beauty. You would all just beat the crap out of each other with lumps of scenery, weapons, turrets, whatever you could lay your mitts on. The action was kept fresh by the landscapes moving you on through levels, like Streets of Rage, and the action was always fast and frantic. Think Super Smash Bros, only ten times cooler. And then some.

3. Sonic Adventure

The only previous Sonic outing in 3-D was on the Mega Drive (or Genesis to those over the pond), the aptly named Sonic 3D, so to see Sonic and his pals in full on 3D, with voice and facial expressions was mind blowing. Locations were brilliantly laid out, with snowy valleys and lush hill tops to volcanoes and an underwater ruin.

Perhaps my fondest memory of Sonic Adventure was the link up to the Dreamcast’s memory card, the VMU. You could save your little A-life, or Chao, to the VMU and play a mini game to collect fruit and experience, and by connecting two VMUs together you could fight your friends and get stronger. Pokemon who?

2. Metropolis Street Racer

Despite numerous delays and the exclusion of online play, MSR was one of the Dreamcast’s triple-A titles. With stunning graphics, you could take cars around famous locations in Japan, London or the USA. Before playing, you set the games clock the same as real time; therefore if you were playing at 10 at night, the courses you raced on would be at night. Play at noon and the courses would be in full daylight. Amazing.

You earned Kudos points by winning races, completing challenges and pulling off stunts such as two wheel driving, powerslides etc which then unlocked more powerful cars.

Still fun to this day, Metropolis Street Racer was one of the finest racing titles to grace a console.

1. Phantasy Star Online

The idea of playing an RPG in which you are beamed down onto a wild planet to beat down the local wildlife in search of your general’s daughter sounds brilliant. The idea that there are also many weapons, armours and spells to find and trade is also brilliant. Awesome too is the idea of sidequests in which you undertake missions from clients on the planet surface in exchange for cash. But online? Against other people?! This is insane!

The very fact that I could be sitting in my living room, fighting aliens on a soon-to-inhabited planet with a guy from America was insane. But not only that; with the aid of a keyboard you could- gasp- communicate! Gone were the days of issuing set instructions to AI controller team mates, gone were the days of Rambo-style games where you were the only hero. Now there were four heroes, all from different parts of the world fighting together. Witchcraft I tell you, witchcraft.

Away from the whole online focus, PSO was actually a very simple and repetitive game; you cleared one ‘dungeon’ of spawning monsters, collected the items they dropped and then went onto another until you either completed your quest or found the warp module to take you to the next level or boss.

But there’s no denying how god damn cool PSO was in its day. To play with other human controlled characters without the implications of catering for three friends and dividing the screen into four wasn’t known outside of PC Gaming. And all on dial up, too.

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Matt Wadleigh: 5. Shenmue: even with all the negative aspects of the game’s design, I still loved this one.

4. Jet Grind Radio: some of the most original gameplay out there. Great characters, nice use of cel-shaded graphics, and very interesting levels to boot.

3. MDK2: getting past the maddening difficulty level of this game reveals a great storyline with three very original characters. A unique and comfortable control scheme compliments the game’s great graphics.

2. Grandia II: best battle system ever? Yep. Great characters, scripting, and storyline? Yep, it’s got those too.

1. Tony Hawks’ Pro Skater 2: the best Dreamcast game, bar none. Who cares if it’s a port? The game sports the best controls of any of the Tony Hawk games released because of the great design of the DC controller, very sharp, crisp visuals, and loads of gameplay.

Marc Golding‘s valuable contribution: Having never owned a Dreamcast, or played a single Dreamcast game, I can authoritatively say everyone’s choices here SUCK!

Nathaniel Greenleaf: Hmm, everyone has a pretty good list. Soul Calibur has to be number one though… it’s still in my Dreamcast even after all these years.

Jim Smith: are you all nuts?

5. Resident Evil: Codename Veronica

4. Jet Set Radio

3. Soul Calibur

2. Grandia II

1. Samba de Amigo!!!!! (Of course – especially if you actually have the right controllers…)

James: But I have the Japanese version of Samba de Amigo. I can’t understand a sodding thing!

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Marc: Code Veronica isn’t good Anthony? What’s the deal on that one?

Matt: I played Code Veronica and didn’t like it that much myself. I thought it was boring and campy.

Marc: But Matt–isn’t that every RE game?!

Anthony: I hated Code Veronica because it took out all the improvements that were in RE3. That’s just ridiculous.

Nathaniel: I liked Code Veronica… but that’s just ‘cause I’m a RE fan… and it’s still pretty low compared to the others. It was the first RE in full 3D though.

Jim: Graphically (when it came out) RE: CV was brilliant, and you could track and shoot two targets at the same time, which is zombie mashing nirvana.

But yes, they took out the dodging routines from the third game and stuff like that.

My only issue with RE: CV was the ridiculous back tracking. It’s seemed inordinate, even for an RE game!!!

RE2 is still my fave…

Matt: I liked RE3 the best. It was the scariest in my opinion, because you never knew when the Nemesis would try to get you.

Jim: I liked RE2 because you got to shoot cops!

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Sophie Cheshire: What ho boys!

I do agree that Resi: CV was a bit of a let down, should have been tighter and shorter, just lacked the scares of the prior two.

Anyway:

5. Phantasy Star Online V2.
Version 2 has it over the original simply due to the better character balance and expanded playing options (eg. PvP, new difficulty mode etc). It’s still a lovely game and one that I still play offline both on DC and GameCube

4. Space Channel 5
Would like to go with Rez, but again that didn’t make the USA. Space Channel 5 I adore for being camp, silly, compulsive and just so well designed and playable.

3. Soul Calibur
Well duh!

2. Crazy Taxi
The dictionary definition of addictive. I played that game so much that the tips of my fingers nearly fell off due to white-finger. My high score in that game is still one of my proudest achievements.

1. Shenmue
Although Shenmue 2 is actually a bigger and better game (and lacks the dreadful voice dubbing), Shenmue is still an awesome and beautiful game.

Honorable Mentions: Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram, Sonic Adventure, Streetfighter 3, Bangai-O, Project Justice, Chu-Chu Rocket.

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Steven Chan: 5. Virtua Tennis
I’ve always been a fan of tennis games, and this was certainly one of the best I’ve play even up to now. Decent length single-player and multiplayer was just so much fun. I think everything was perfect, including the side switching between games, etc. (VT2K, I think, did it right but swung the camera so that the server was always on the bottom – bit disorientating.)

4. Crazy Taxi
Pure genius, pure arcade fun. You could get so much fun out of 10-15mins of play, but once you knew the city and the locations of the majority of the fares, you could go on for 30, 40 minutes, sometimes an hour at a time. Crazy Taxi 2 was more of the same, but the jump button made things a little too silly (if that was possible) – it just didn’t feel right that you could force a jump without having to find some sort of ramp. The Sega mini-games here (and in VT) were probably the start of something we see in practically every other game nowadays.

3. Metropolis Street Racer
Where would PGR and street racing be without this, the original MSR? Yes, slightly flawed in the Kudos system and not exactly a difficult game (if a little lengthy), but the idea of being able to drive around the London streets for someone who lives in London, you couldn’t ask for more.

2. Phantasy Star Online
Pipping Grandia 2 to the only RPG slot (but only just!), PSO was a sort-of (gnnnn) MMORPG on a console – the first of its kind, maybe? Certainly one of the best, at any rate. And over a 32kbps modem! I remember playing this during my Uni days, when we didn’t have broadband, trying to sort out the times to play and login, battle through the dungeons, playing way past midnight when the other housemates were asleep and didn’t need the phoneline. And the hilarity that typing ‘shoes’ came up with ‘s**es’ (or something similar) in because of the language filtering! Shame about the hackers and that the servers have been stopped. I’ve always wondered if it’s possible to set up your own local network/internet server?

1. Shenmue 1 & 2
It was storytelling at its peak. The first time I read about this, it sounded amazing. (A 16-chapter game!? It had to be amazing.) The restricted locations yet unrestricted motions of your gameplay, allowing you to spend time doing whatever you liked, you determining when the story should continue, being distracted with the little things in life; it all made for something that I haven’t seen in any other game that I’ve played. And I’m all for these story-based games. Combat evolved slightly between the two games, and the idea of carrying over your fighting moves and inventory items was a stroke of genius – it made the connection between the games and of you to Ryu that bit stronger; it gave the notion that the journey continued from exactly where you left off and that you hadn’t missed a thing. And those Quick Time Events. Nothing needs to be said about it, because its legacy can be seen in so many games – it’s proper cinematic interaction.

If I was a multi-millionaire, I make sure that Yu Suzuki produced the game to its very end. Goddamn, where is it!!!???!

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Anthony: So here’s the standings…

1st place: Shenmue – 13 points
2nd place: Soul Calibur – 11
3rd place: Phantasy Star Online Version 1 & 2 – 10
4th place: Grandia II – 8
5th place: Metropolis Street Racer – 7
6th place: Jet Grind Radio – 6
=6th:Crazy Taxi – 6
8th place: Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2 – 5
=8th:Samba de Amigo – 5
10th place: Virtua Tennis – 4
11th place: MDK 2 – 3
=11th: Sonic Adventure – 3

Sophie: Personally, I think that MSR shouldn’t be in the running as it was so badly bugged. I managed to finish that game using various bug exploits, so even though I enjoyed it, it wasn’t the perfect package GT is.

I also think we really should have PSO, as otherwise we have nothing to represent its revolutionary online capacity. Also the fact Grandia II is basically IMO a slightly above average RPG that didn’t even match the wonderfulness of Skies of Arcadia means I don’t think it has a place in the top DC games. Frankly I wouldn’t put it in the top 20.

But as long as Soul Calibur wins I’m not too fussed!

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Jim: Okay – I have to admit I gave up on MSR about halfway through as part of a ‘next best thing’ phase (you know – the next best thing came along…) so it might be buggy buggy – dunno. You’re probably right. I didn’t just quit coz I was shit at it or anything…

But I have to strongly disagree with you about Grandia II vs Skies of Arcadia, Sophie. I know you disagree (come on – let’s haggle) but Grandia II has the tightest, most interactive combat engine of any RPG I’ve ever played and, since most of RPGing is combat, it is one of the best. Skies of Arcadia I found quite an irritating title because of all that monkeying around with crystal colours, and that random searching for flying artefacts (FAQ please!)

In fact, I’d say that Grandia II‘s fantastic combat engine has turned me off RPGs since. FFX, Xenosaga, Wild Arms 3 – I’ve tried these 3 but found them increasingly dull because the combat is so your-turn-my-turn-your-turn-my-turn-you-dead. As opposed to strategic time reactive counter-based combat in Grandia II. Jump in any time Anthony and back me up on this one (!).

…And Crazy Taxi had amazing graphics (still has in retrospect) but it really only is a 15 mins at a time arcade game, let’s face it…

…But I do like Soul Calibur!!!!

Matt: And Grandia II was one of the best games on the Dreamcast. Skies of Arcadia was unnaturally annoying.

Josh: Both Grandia II and Skies of Arcadia were vastly overrated. The Dreamcast was not a system you purchased because of good RPGs.

Sophie: I do think thats a good point, to be honest my only beef with the Grandia II inclusion is that I almost feel this list should be of games that were ‘special’ and defined the DC, the only RPGs on the DC I found to be like that was… PSO!

I do kind of think dear old Chu Chu Rocket should be there, damn that’s still a fun game both for puzzles and multi-player.

I forgot about Unreal Tournament as well, I ADORE the DC version of that. Beats out Half Life, Goldeneye and Quake III as my all time favourite FPS game!

Anyway, I like the idea of maybe two lists one of games that will definitely have wide appeal and maybe one of more obscure titles for the DC adventurer, that means we could talk about Seaman some more!

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James: who says girls have no place in games? With comments like that, you should start your own company!

PSO + Chu Chu Rocket = pure bliss.

Josh: Oh, and I know I can’t really complain because I didn’t vote in the earlier phases, but no NBA2K1 or NFL2K1? Those were two of the best sports games ever and playable online even! Unreal Tournament and Quake III were up there as well because of their fantastic online multiplayer.

Matt: Unreal Tournament and Quake III are better on PC. The Dreamcast versions were alright, but they couldn’t compare in my opinion.

Josh: Unreal was better on PC, but the DC version of Quake III was amazing.

Nathaniel: Quake III was a blast … even though it was only 4 player and got choppy at times … it totally blew my mind that consoles could be as fun online as PCs. Hell, I think Xbox Live has to give Dreamcast some credit for pushing us into the console online era.

You can actually still play Quake III online still with DC. You just need to search for an old old Quake III server… but I don’t have dialup anymore or the bba adapter.

James: Quake III was the best DC online game next to PSO, Chu Chu Rocket (how did we forget Chu Chu?!) and Toy Racer (don’t laugh).

I still play Chu Chu Rocket today- the music was brilliant and it was so much fun!

MSR was brilliant from start to finish, a real racing fans game.

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Josh: You’re right! Chu Chu Rocket and Toy Commander aren’t on there either…

Jim: This whole topic’s like this:

You say potato, I say potato
You say tomato, I say tomato
Potato, potato
Tomato, tomato
Let’s call the whole thing off…

That’s an old Fred Astaire song for you uncultured types out there.

It seems the Grandia II debate will rage on based purely on personal preference, as will Crazy Taxi. And Samba de Amigo

Like all great consoles, it’s almost too difficult to choose the best Dreamcast games because there really was something for everyone. It may not have had the most extensive line-up of software, and it may not have been the most powerful console next to its competitors, but the incredibly high quality of the games more than makes up for this. This debate raged back and forth for weeks and months amongst the Thunderbolt staff members, and while not everyone agreed with the final choices there was one thing no-one argued over: that the Dreamcast deserves to go down in console history as a tragic legend.

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2007.

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