Every year on September 9th, I remember the Dreamcast. It was my ritual, for some years after it's inevitable death, to invite friends over and reminisce and play the thing. And though I didn't do that this year, on catchy 9-9-09, it was certainly in my thoughts.
Some of us speak of it like a dead relative, the uncle we knew for just a couple of years, who would engage us in wonderful talk and play; some of us speak of it like a famous figure who died before his prime, wishing they could have given it support in its pivotal, live-or-die moments.
People are blogging here about how they hardly gave it a second glance until years later and regretted it, or how we're all liars in our 'love' for it. All valid, to be sure, but dammit, I was there for the whole ride.
I remember buying the Official Sega Dreamcast Magazine just before it came out, anxiously reading the review for Sonic Adventure (I think they only gave it an 8! Their honestly only enamored me!), reading interviews with Sega folk in Next Generation, and gushing about the clever memory cards, the potential of the online connection, and oh my god, the launch games!
I didn't have a Playstation at the time, so I wasn't used to quality releases coming out on such a regular basis (something I think Nintendo still needs to figure out - then again, not all of those Playstation releases resembled quality) - I wasn't used to having a loaded demo disc every other month, and I even surprised myself in how much I enjoyed sports games for the first (well, maybe last) time ever.
Being only like 12 at the time, I begged my parents to pre-order one, but I didn't know until Christmas whether that truly happened or not. It did, and in the last week of the previous century, I played the shit out of Sonic Adventure, and then Toy Commander, and then Soul Calibur, and loved every minute of it.
Back in those times we only had 56k internet, and only on weekends (because it was long-distance, and we had free long-distance on weekends), and I will never forget firing up the Dreamcast just before the clock ticked to midnight on Friday nights so I could hop on the net and look at porn in my own room.
But seriously, the games.
Sonic Adventure, though not without its faults - awful side character gameplay, a somewhat buggy camera, an overworld that felt like filler at times - actually made Sonic work in 3D. Its sequel would make the awful mistake of requiring that you play the shitty side character levels to advance to more Sonic ones (damn those Knuckles levels!), but this was a pure adrenaline rush through downright gorgeous levels at break-neck speed.
Soul Calibur, with its challenging and diverse mission mode, added an incredible layer of depth to the already deep gameplay mechanics. Honestly, the Dreamcast had a lot of great fighting games - Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Powerstone (if you count it), and Dead or Alive 2 (which I didn't play for the tits - well, maybe in part) ... never have I found fighting games to be more varied and just plain fun.
I remember very distinctly that following Easter. My sister had played a bit of Crazy Taxi and fell in love with it, and for a girl I could hardly get to play Mario 3 past World 2, she was very persuasive to my parents about WANTING THAT GAME. They got it for her as an Easter present, and I got RE: Code Veronica (how generous of them!) and the Dreamcast kept spinning nonstop all month. Even my mom played Crazy Taxi. I don't know about her enjoying it, but I can't recall her ever being willing to play any other video game. Ever. Before or after.
Then there are the impossibly whacked out games, the ones that somehow got published and actually marketed and were actually good - and of course despite plummeting Dreamcast prices, only those who already had the system gave any sort of damn. Jet Grind Radio - I had an incredible blast with this game, with the fluid rollerskating controls and complimentary level design, totally crazy music, spraypaint mechanics, running from the fuzz, an eclectic cast of characters, and an absolutely gorgeous demonstration of cel shaded graphics - this game is like nothing else, save for its Xbox sequel, which beefed up the level size but toned down the rest of the antics. Shit, I really want to play JGR again, just thinking about it.
And who can forget Seaman? Possibly the most frightening Tamagatchi-esque game ever invented, and one that will creep out your friends and family because you make a point to talk to it. Here is a "nurturing game" that actually got me to wake up ten minutes early to make sure Seaman was fed and his tank was at the proper temperature. Otherwise, he would BITCH! I still remember one of my friends somehow convincing my Seaman that I was gay, and forever after, he kept asking if I was getting along with my "hubby." Damn creepy fish with man-face.
And of course Chu Chu Rocket, the clever and cute and again, just plain weird puzzle game. I spent a lot of hours alone trying to get my mice safely into their rockets and out of cat's mouths, but the true fun was the chaotic free-for-all that was multiplayer mode, slapping directional arrows every-which-way and watching all hell break loose real quick. (This paragraph probably makes no sense if you've never played the game.)
And then, of course, the system died a quick and solemn death. The Official Dreamcast Magazine announced it would be no more, and the list of upcoming games dwindled to almost nothing, Sega exited the hardware business and became a then unthinkable third-party publisher, and people went and sold their Dreamcasts for PS2s. But I didn't. It would be years before I got a PS2 (maybe out of spite?), and I continued trying to get my hands on the rest of the weird catalog that I had missed: Shenmue, Phantasy Star Online, Sega Bass Fishing, and so on.
There was a glimmer of hope in Sega's early development for the Xbox that I wholeheartedly endorsed. Games like GunValkyrie, Jet Set Radio Future, and Panzer Dragoon Orta made me feel like Sega had made the right decision: they could still publish games as a third party, and they got to take advantage of the ever-increasing power of new consoles.
Of course, you fuckers didn't buy those games either, and now we're stuck watching Sega pathetically release 3D Sonics that just don't work.
In any case, this was ten years ago. I hold a grudge no more. But know, Destructoid!!! that at least one of us actually owned, played, and loved the damn thing when it needed support most. The Dreamcast represents Sega's first true step into 3D - with a capable system, but most importantly, games that actually took advantage of the medium and really shined. I hope some day they will return to publishing games in this spirit. Dreamcast forever!