Hardcore Gamer Presents: Dreamcast 15th Anniversary Special

It was fifteen years ago that SEGA launched the Dreamcast and took their last stand in the console wars. Looking back on it all, no one could have imagined SEGA that we’ve grown accustomed to today. We now live in a world where Sonic games appear on Nintendo consoles, with the blue blur even speeding his way into the Smash Bros. roster. If you were to show the children of 1999 one of these games, they’d probably burn you at the stake for witchcraft (if only for the then-inconceivable graphical fidelity of modern consoles).

The rise and fall of the Dreamcast is a subject that fascinates us to this day, but now is a time for celebration. To commemorate the 15th anniversary of SEGA’s groundbreaking console, the Hardcore Gamer staff are going to highlight 15 of the games that defined the system. No matter what genre you love, there’s at least one game on the console that will make your heart sing.

Sonic Adventure

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The Dreamcast could not have asked for a better launch title than Sonic Adventure. After a noticeable absence on the Saturn, SEGA and Sonic Team redeemed themselves by kick starting the sixth console generation with a monster release that put the spotlight back on the blue hedgehog. As short lived as it was, Sonic Adventure was an admirable commercial success which allowed Dreamcasts to fly off the shelves at launch. It was a min-blowing showcase of what the console could do, and it was finally Sonic’s turn to transition into 3D the same way Mario did with Super Mario 64. The game itself wasn’t consistently good, but back then it was easy to forgive Sonic Adventure for its faults because of its many moments of brilliance. As time went on, however, our tolerance towards Big the Cat has gotten lower and lower.

The 3D, RPG- style world may feel very tacked on now, and playing as Sonic’s friends is a nightmare. But as far as Sonic and his soundly-designed levels go, they still provide some of the best platforming action which you can still go back to for a quick burst of classic Sonic goodness. Sonic Adventure is one of those games that I still find myself playing time and time again when I can’t think of anything else I want to play. The experience of sitting through the story mode isn’t always pleasant, but it’s worth going through once to unlock all of Sonic’s stages in the trial mode. – Jahanzeb Khan

Outtrigger

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Outtrigger came out at just the right time. At a moment in gaming history when arena frag-a-thons were all the rage, Outtrigger took to the ways of break-neck shooters like Unreal Tournament and Quake but gave the genre a slathering of neon coloring that was badly needed. Aside from its loud, arcade-inspired aesthetics, Outtrigger is one hell of a first-person shooter, making some of its competitors look like child’s play. Its action was gutting, its customization options were aplenty – especially for its time of release – and the gunplay was straight up point and shoot.

Opting for a two-versus-two format, Outtrigger was without a doubt one of, if not the fastest arena shooter on the market thanks to its confining, mostly horizontal maps, made all the more frenetic by its spawning power-ups and lengthy list of explosion-inducing guns. Though not talked about nearly as much as their other games, developer AM2 knocked it out of the park with Outtrigger, giving us one of the system’s best shooters. – Bradly Halestorm

SEGA GT

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There needed to be a game to rival that of Gran Turismo. While Gran Turismo was the most popular car simulator of its kind– especially at the time– it was only available on the PlayStation. Thus, SEGA recognized that there was an opening, and even a need, for another racing sim and gave us SEGA GT. SEGA GT is one of those games that is overflowing with features, content, and options. Its driving physics were tight, its controls responsive, its list of cars long; SEGA GT was the real deal, and in many ways, even outshines Gran Turismo.

Being trapped exclusively on the Dreamcast limited its audience, sure, but those that played the game understood why it was so critically acclaimed, even if it did at times feel like a Gran Turismo clone of sorts. But that clearly didn’t matter to most people as it went on to spawn a few sequels, seemingly indicating that SEGA turned a profit from its release, clone criticisms and all. But even its success was only possible thanks to fans openly embracing everything the game stood for. A true testament to racing fans, SEGA GT should always be remembered as one of the best, and one of the games that paved the way for car-sims as we know them today. – Bradly Halestorm

Power Stone 2

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Capcom had such a breadth of work on the Dreamcast. Perhaps its most coveted gem, however, was Power Stone 2 – a sort of answer to Nintendo’s wildly successful Smash series. As a four-player fighter, Power Stone 2 is one part traditional beat’em up, one part competitive brawler the likes of Capcom’s other famed franchises. To be more direct, the game is a refined fighting experience, but one that doesn’t require a career as a professional gamer to enjoy. With its zany action, intuitive control scheme, roster of unique characters, weapons for beating opponents down with, fighter movesets as well as frenzied, competitive tendencies, there really is a little something for everyone to enjoy, regardless of gaming expertise or preference.

What’s best about Power Stone 2 is how it embraces being silly. It never tries to be anything it’s not; at all times, it seems to hold a degree of awareness that it’s this over-the-top fighter with big personalities and even bigger moves. To that end, it never wants to be an eSport (even though such a sport wasn’t even a thing at the time of the DC), it never wants to be a fighter-RPG hybrid like so many try to be now; it just wanted to be a straight-up multiplayer brawler. No tricks, no illusions – just fun. – Bradly Halestorm

Mars Matrix

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The Dreamcast would go on to be a beast of a machine for SHMUPs. Sure, most of them came postmortem, but that doesn’t stop folks from looking back on it with a certain fondness. One of its most heralded shooters came in the form of Capcom’s Mars Matrix. Now, let’s get this out of the way early: this wasn’t the next Radiant Silvergun or a shooter that was looking to shake up the genre with radical gameplay ideas. Instead, this was a by-the-books SHMUP that concerned itself with delivering a focused, polished effort.

With that design philosophy in mind, it managed to provide a refined experience as a result, one that would be immediately familiar to anyone who played games of its kind. In fact, Mars Matrix seemed to cater to that audience above all others; in that way, it was a tough-as-nails shoot’em up, relentless in its assault on players. It wanted to break folks and didn’t care how many times you’d slam your controller down in a fit of rage. No, it wasn’t SaiDaiOuJou-difficult, but it sure as hell wasn’t a walk in the park. This would have been off-putting, though, if Matrix’s mechanics weren’t rock-solid, but they were. Cutting the frills, this shoot-the-core installment gets overlooked by other Dreamcast SHMUPs, such as Ikaruga and Border Down, but it really shouldn’t. Because while it doesn’t innovate like those two, what is does do, it does with extreme care and precision. – Bradly Halestorm

Crazy Taxi

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I don’t remember a whole lot about the Dreamcast, it was a mere blip on the radar for me, but the one game that stood out to me, and for the most part still stands the test of time (or at the very least still brings in that beautiful sense of nostalgia) has to be Crazy Taxi. In my formative years I developed a taste for punk rock music. Already having been a near life-long fan of video games, you can imagine my delight as I first sat down to play this game at a friend’s house only to find Bad Religion, Pennywise, and the Offspring blaring back at me, all while I picked up passengers and dropped them off in a ridiculous high-speed chase to their destination for cash.

There were of course the “crazy” exaggerated physics, and it felt awesome to pull off a dash and a spin and see the tips rise out of your passenger as they egged you on to be more of an insane driver without crashing. They HATE when you crash. The worst part of the game was when the time was up, but it was also that time-limit which made the game so addicting, in relatively short bursts where you’re always trying to compete with friends or yourself to get a higher fare or license grade, the game never really got dull. Later iterations of the game never quite had the same feeling of fun that the original did, sadly, but perhaps that also adds to what makes Crazy Taxi a classic. – Mike Patuleia

Space Channel 5

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Around the time of the Dreamcast I was just recognizing a love for rhythm and music games. The system provided a few outlets for this love, although none were as out there as Space Channel 5. Starting up the game for the first time was like being brought into a completely different world. Instead of some post-apocalyptic wasteland or high fantasy setting I was dropped into some alternate timeline ’60s in space. At the center of this wonderful wackiness was Ulala, the reporter for “Space Channel 5.”

Gameplay was incredibly easy to grasp but far harder to execute. I don’t know how many moments I failed to properly time a “chu” or “hey” but it was a lot. Still, despite this lack of skill, I wanted to see Space Channel 5 through to the end. Honestly, the stylish music video style presentation entranced me the most. Of course, the phenomenal soundtrack was to die for as well. The retro-futuristic atmosphere, fun music, and oddball characters kept me going. Even now it’d be hard to find a game that exudes nearly as much funky flair. Space Channel 5 is a wonderful title not only for its great rhythm gameplay but for its totally unabashed willingness to be itself.  – Marcus Estrada

Shenmue

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The Dreamcast’s launch on 9/9/99 was one I won’t forget. The hype for the console was unreal, and beyond launch games like Sonic Adventure, NFL 2K, and Soul Calibur, you had games like Shenmue to look forward to. The oft-delayed one-time Virtua Fighter RPG finally hit shelves in November of 2000 and quickly became a classic.

Open world games weren’t really around then beyond the overhead GTAs and Driver series, and neither of those immersed you in the world like Shenmue did. You can open drawers, explore them, buy sodas, interact with people, look for black cars, sailors, and even play classic Yu Suzuki games like Hang-On and Space Harrier. The QTE (quick time event) sections quickly became a gaming staple, and while its voice acting became the stuff of legend for all the wrong reasons, the core game design has aged very well. It’s also got one of gaming’s best soundtracks, and should be played by anyone who has a love for the Dreamcast. – Jeremy Peeples

Soul Calibur

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Soul Calibur was exactly what fighting games were missing. Up until then, the most popular arcade fighting games like Street Fighter III and Mortal Kombat were focused on combo-heavy hand-to-hand martial arts. Like its predecessor Soul Edge, Soul Calibur focused on weapon-based combat, which would later become the series’ defining feature. The introduction of eight-way running gave the game a large amount of fluidity and momentum, which complemented the already intense action. Even better was Guard Impacting, which allows players to offensively push opponents back with a guard, preventing damage and throwing opponents off kilter as well.

Soul Calibur became the benchmark of arcade fighting games on a console, delivering plenty of depth in its multiple fighting styles while also providing accessibility for any newcomers who were entranced by the flashy combos. It dwarfed its arcade incarnation with the Dreamcast’s graphical capabilities, evolving the animation fidelity and introducing more dynamic backgrounds. Cheesy dialogue and hammy narration aside, Soul Calibur created its own universe, with memorable characters and a kind of debonair that not even Tekken could match. While Soul Calibur would eventually become a multi-platform series, with Soul Calibur II appearing on the Dreamcast’s direct competitor consoles, the first installment in this iconic series pushed the Dreamcast technically and creatively. It was a prime example of not only fighting games on consoles, but a powerful statement for the SEGA Dreamcast as a legitimate contender against its competitors’ libraries.

It’s a tale of souls and swords that made the Dreamcast worth paying attention to. – Alex Carlson

Sonic Adventure 2

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The Dreamcast was around far too briefly, but that didn’t stop it from bringing the world terrific games from beginning to end. After launching with the amazing Sonic Adventure, it was the system’s twilight release of Sonic Adventure 2 that took the hedgehog to new heights. Boasting improved level progression and substantially less Big the Cat, Sonic Adventure 2 captivated both old and new fans with its delightful design and breakneck gameplay.

It doesn’t get everything right, and there are a few too many shooting and treasure hunting levels, but it’s easy to forgive once your feet hit the ground in any of the traditionally speedy Sonic levels. Sonic Adventure 2 will also be remembered for introducing Shadow, Sonic’s ultimate rival and an effortlessly awesome character. To this day, the game remains an excellent and worthwhile experience, especially for those desperate for a slice of the Hedgehog’s former glory. –Dermont Creegan

Street Fighter III

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Street Fighter III launched at a time when arcade hardware was still miles ahead of what consoles could have accomplished, and the term “arcade perfect” was thrown around whenever ports were reviewed. Now it’s something that we almost take for granted, but back then there were many releases that were in limbo with regards to a proper home conversion, and Street Fighter III was one of them. The PlayStation and Saturn simply weren’t capable of handling the cutting edge sprites and animations, and so the Dreamcast eventually housed a pristine conversion of Street Fighter III.

The game itself had a mixed reception in the arcades, far from being the same success as Street Fighter II or Street Fighter IV, but it had its legion of cult followers. By the time the first two games in the Street Fighter III series finally did arrive on the Dreamcast, the industry had changed its priorities. Still, those who were smart enough to invest in it discovered an incredibly deep and polished fighting game that took Street Fighter to a much bolder direction, both visually and mechanically. It was a fine showcase of what the Dreamcast could do, almost carrying on the Saturn’s legacy of being a 2D powerhouse (games like Last Blade, Mark of the Wolves, and Guilty Gear X also helped its case). The Dreamcast was fortunate to enjoy a timely home release of the third and final entry, Street Fighter III: Third Strike, a game that remains a tournament staple to this day. Despite so many re-releases on different platforms with network modes, Street Fighter III somehow just fits on the Dreamcast best. – Jahanzeb Khan

Skies of Arcadia

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On a system known for its stellar JRPGs, Skies of Arcadia stands out as the very best. But it’s not just the best JRPG on Dreamcast – Arcadia could well be the best JRPG ever made. With stunning art direction, a thrilling story, and not one, but two deep and robust battle systems to master, it is a singularly excellent game. Created by Overworks, the division of SEGA behind Phantasy Star, Sakura Taisen, and last generation’s stellar Valkyria Chronicles, Skies of Arcadia took full advantage of the Dreamcast’s hardware to render an immense, believable world beyond the scope of any JRPG to come before it. Arcadia is packed with things to do and offers a vast frontier of open skies to explore, but it’s really impressive once you enter a given area. The environments all tell stories – nothing particularly complex, but enough to give you a sense of a living world with history.

The game’s musical score makes use of the Dreamcast’s superior audio hardware and increased disk space to phenomenal effect. From the soaring opening theme’s irresistible call to adventure to the battle music’s pulse-pounding intensity, the soundtrack makes the game feel truly epic. Hearing it in all its uncompressed glory gives the Dreamcast version of Skies of Arcadia a distinct edge over the Gamecube remake, despite that version’s extra content. – Geoff Thew

Grandia II

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Grandia was a critical darling on the Saturn, but its North American PlayStation port was coldly-received due to changes made to its structure. Grandia II hit the Dreamcast and gave many their first true dose of the franchise’s greatness. With a more traditional town structure, Grandia II stood out from Skies of Arcadia, and its blend of real-time and turn-based battles kept people engaged at all times.

Being able to pick which battles to fight on the overworld helped it avoid the random battle pitfall that dragged many RPGs into the ground, and a soundtrack that remains one of the best you’ll hear. Owners of the Dreamcast version are able to get the soundtrack included with the game, while PS2 owners miss out on that and get a very flawed version of the game as well. The PS2 version should be avoided, and even though you’ll spend more on the DC original, it’s worth the extra money since the final product is so much better. – Jeremy Peeples

Canon Spike

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The Dreamcast era was one of Capcom’s best runs as a developer, and the last time their games came to define a console. With a slew of 2D fighters from both the Street Fighter franchise and the Capcom Vs. series, they came to be known as the best non-Sega supporter of the system. Cannon Spike was something you didn’t see them take a crack at often — an overhead shooter. Starring iconic characters like Mega Man, Arthur from the Ghouls ‘n Ghosts/Ghosts ‘n Goblins series, and to a lesser extent, Cammy and Charlie from Street Fighter, you went around various stages and shot the ever-loving daylights out of creatures. The game’s largely boss rush structure was unique at the time and stands out today. Now, it would be a twin-stick shooter, but the existing homing and shooting setup works fairly well.

Those craving a more visceral play session can always use melee attacks, where you’ll use things like cannon drills from Cammy or GIANT IMPALING LANCE STRIKES from Arthur to topple your enemies. The game can be “beaten” in mere minutes, but its score attack nature makes it infinitely replayable, while its roster makes it one of the better gateway shooters on the system. – Jeremy Peeples

Jet Grind Radio

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Jet Grind Radio might not have as tight controls as other platformers, but that doesn’t stop it from being the tightest game on the Dreamcast – at least if you speak ’90s. Smilebit’s graffiti roller derby extravaganza is cooler than just about any game out there, and it knows it. In the futuristic city of Tokyo-to, gangs of skaters known as “rudies” fight for territory the only way they know – by taking their magnetic skates to absurd heights and leaving tags there for all the world to see. Headphone-clad Beat and his gang the GGs are aiming to take over the city one district at a time, but to do it they’ll have to fight through cyborgs, fish men, and police who don’t believe there’s such a thing as “excessive” force. These events are narrated by the insane and loveable DJ Professor K, who also cues up an eclectic soundtrack that puts just about every other game on the market to shame.

Jet Grind Radio features some of the best J-Pop, hip hop, and dance music in the business – and most games about street art would be content covering those bases – but it also mixes in funk, acid jazz, indie rock, trip hop, and even heavy metal from none other than Rob Zombie. This game has a tune for every mood, and whether you’re dancing or thrashing, every last song will make you want to get up and move. And move you shall, for this game demands fast, precision platforming at every turn. You’ll need to string together insane combos if you want to reach the apex of every zone, and mastering these moves will reward you with some incredible bonuses. Unfortunately, the clunky Dreamcast controls make this more of a challenge than it should be – a problem that’s remedied in the Xbox sequel Jet Set Radio Future, but not in Jet Grind Radio’s own HD remake.  If you can get past that, though, you’ll find that the gorgeous cel-shaded graphics and kickass music hold up even today. – Geoff Thew

 

Though the Dreamcast is long-gone, it’s not forgotten. Its legacy lives on in frequent HD remasters from SEGA, and the universal adoption of online play shows how ahead of its time the system truly was. Indie developers keep it alive too, releasing new games for the aging hardware on a regular basis. As time goes on and our hindsight grows sharper, we see more and more how incredible SEGA made their last hurrah.