Yesterday marked the official 10th anniversary of the Sega Dreamcast, and I was both honored and delighted to be able to talk shop about its hardware for a while. What I didn't have room for in that post, however, was what truly made the Dreamcast the legendary system it was: its game library.
Today we're going to fix that. While it's not altogether impossible for one person to fully expound on the entirety of the Dreamcast's complete lineup of software titles, it wouldn't be a fun project to undertake, and would probably be even less fun to read. Instead, think of this as a list of personal reccomendations. A catalog of games that I have loved over the past decade, or otherwise consider to be essential, must-have titles for anyone who's serious about building a collection.
So without any further yappery, hit the jump for a rundown of my favorite Dreamcast games. Oh, and by the way? This post is enormous. I don't recommend trying to read the whole thing at once.
The Dreamcast served a lot of different gaming purposes for a lot of different people, but the one thing anyone who owned one could agree on was that it had an amazing library. Tastes vary, experiences vary, and we've all got our own reasons for loving it.
With that in mind, the following is a list of my personal favorites. If you don't like it, rather than pounding out your "ZOMG FAILZ" because I didn't mention some NBNFLBA2K Sports title, you can go make your own. This one's mine, and as such, I'm naturally going to start it off with the shmups.
I hope you don't actually need me to explain this one to you. After decimating the egos of Japanese STG players in the arcade for a while, Ikaruga made its way to the Dreamcast in 2001. It changed the way we thought about shooters entirely, and for some of us, changed our idea of what a videogame could be.
Visually breathtaking, the game was a symphony of yin and yang in its color palette as well as its buddhist symbolism. There was a universe of meaning packed into its five stages, brought to life by the captivating art of Yasushi Suzuki. Its level design was incredibly complex and seemingly chaotic on the surface, but still so amazingly symmetrical and navigated by such a basic gameplay system that one can only marvel at its genius.
Upon experiencing it, conscious of the fact that the entire project was made real from start to finish by a team of only four people, the mind boggles. It remains one of the few games completely deserving of the lore and legacy that surround it, and to this day triumphs as my favorite videogame of all time. If you have a Dreamcast, this is as close as you can get to the true arcade version without having a NAOMI cabinet in your house.
Proof that the Dreamcast was still relevant long after its production was halted in North America, Triggerheart Exelica is barely three years old. It was released in 2006 on Sega's NAOMI arcade hardware, and got a console port soon afterward. Its imaginative blend of shmup and almost puzzle-like gameplay through the use of its anchoring system made it a quick favorite that stood out among shooters.
Beautiful character design, tricky level layouts and catchy music sealed the deal, and Triggerheart has since become a beloved addition to the Dreamcast's library despite its late arrival. Check out this version (or the new PS2 edition) to see the story mode that was completely left out of the XBLA port. Overall, a hugely fun, genre-defying title and a very impressive effort from Warashi, who had until then been known only for developing Mahjong games.
Known as Radio Allergy in the US, Radirgy is a somewhat underrated game even by STG standards. You'd think being a cel-shaded shmup would have gained it a little more notoriety, but its comparative obscurity just adds that much more to its charm. It looked cool, was a blast to play, and for me it pretty well embodied the era of the Dreamcast with its visuals and soundtrack.
The above video being a poor example of that sountrack, (I chose it for its picture quality), you can go here for a taste of its music. Although it was released in 2005, everything about Radirgy just screams Y2K, from its beanie-wearing, cellphone-toting characters to its Jet Grind Radio-esque graphics. It toed the border of cute-'em-up territory, with enemies that fired soccer balls and basketballs at you, and pickup items like noodles and popsicles. Present all that silliness with a bright, poppy color scheme and challenging gameplay and you've got a memorable shooter.
You might have some trouble finding it for Dreamcast, but you can play it now as part of the Milestone Ultimate Shooting Collection that was recently released for the Wii, which is also the first time it's been made available in English. It's a fun, thoroughly worthwhile title that will always hold a special place in my heart.
Very similar to Radirgy in both look and gameplay, Karous might almost be considered a sister title. It also joins Triggerheart Exelica in continued late-entry support of the Dreamcast, having been released in March of 2007. Like Radirgy before it, it was a blend of 2D and cel-shading, but with a darker, almost gothic vibe to it and a color palette to match. It's still just as fun to play, and both games are now available for the Wii as part of the aforementioned Ultimate Shooting Collection, which also includes Chaos Field.
Basically a boss rush from beginning to end, Chaos Field didn't exactly change the world when it was released. It was still a fun and worthwhile shooter, however, obviously inspired by Treasure games like Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun with its field shifting mechanic and sword-weilding ships. Its latest home is on the Wii, bundled as part of Milestone's compilation.
Castle Shikigami II
Released in 2004, Castle Shikigami II is another of the Dreamcast's more graphically impressive shooters. Its gameplay was incredibly satisfying, with a system that increased the power of your shot when you were ballsy enough to fly between enemy fire, and its music is some of the most beautiful you'll hear in a shmup. It's got a spooky, magical vibe to it, and was brought to the US on the PS2 with some of the worst voice acting and horrible Engrish translation I've ever had the misfortune of hearing. The Dreamcast version was only available in Japan, but even if you don't speak the language it'll still make more sense than the US one on PlayStation 2.
Mars Matrix was notable in that it only used one button for its system. Depending on timing and the status of your gravity bomb gauge, pressing the button in different ways unleashed different attacks. It also let you level up your fighter by way of experience points, and the Dreamcast version featured a couple of new modes that weren't found in the arcade. Not terribly ground-breaking, but still fun and definitely worth checking out if you can find it.
Originally published by Capcom for CPS II arcade hardware, Giga Wing was seven stages of madness, with the final one only available if you'd made it there without using a continue. It found a home on the Dreamcast in 1999, with an additional selectable ship, new music and a score attack mode. It's a fun game with a bit of a steampunk appeal to it.
Published by Capcom, Gunbird 2 was full of humor, had great gameplay and featured Morrigan as a playable ship. Yes, Darkstalkers Morrigan. Other playable characters ranged from Alucard, to a robot, to a fat guy on a flying carpet if you needed further convincing as to just how fun and silly it was.
Like a number of Dreamcast shooters, Under Defeat was developed by G.rev. It was released in 2006, which was only three years ago for anyone who missed the fact that this system was being supported that long in Japan. It had a military theme and a helicopter for its playable ship, which could be rotated and fixed at different angles by letting up on the D-pad. It's fun, it's full of explosions and manly shit, and it's one of the better-looking Dreamcast games out there.
Twinkle Star Sprites
This one? Not so manly. Twinkle Star Sprites is one of the most instantly recognizable cute-'em-ups of all time, and its gameplay is, as Aaron Linde would say, a Reese's peanut butter cup of two great genres mashed together into one tasty treat. Part shmup, part competitive puzzle game, it features magical witch girls on flying broomsticks, enemies in the form of balloons, clams and rubber duckies, and stuffed bunnies that are thrown as bombs. It's as fun to play as it is awkward to explain.
Puyo Pop Fever
Another competetive puzzler, (smooth genre transition FTW), Puyo Pop Fever was the last Dreamcast game to be developed by Sonic Team. Little blob guys called Puyo dropped from the top of the screen onto the playing field, and matching four of the same color would cause them to pop and disappear, hence the name. Doing this would unleash chain reactions and send a batch of annoying little garbage Puyo to your opponent's side, making for a fun and often intense puzzle fight. Puzzle ... fight ...
Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo
Oh, hi. Didn't see you there. Very similar in gameplay to Puyo Pop, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo was also made available on the Dreamcast, catering to fans who fell in love with it on the PS1, Saturn or in the arcade. if you haven't played it, I actually recommend the HD Remix version on XBLA or PSN over this one, as it features a hard drop, looks a thousand times better, and has been completely rebalanced (read: fixed). But if you happen across a copy, it's still worth owning to watch SD versions of Street Fighter characters duke it out over one of the most fun and addictive puzzle games ever made. Hm, Street Fighter ...
Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike
Oh look, another smooth transition to the next genre! Which, as it happens, is teh fightans. A topic you can't rightfully bring up without mentioning Capcom's Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. Many people consider it to be the best Street Fighter game ever made. I am one of those people. That doesn't mean it's my favorite, as it abandoned my main among all but a few of the franchise's most popular characters, but there's no arguing that it was a high-quality fighting game. And if there is, take it elsewhere. Also, for the record, Alpha 2 is my favorite Street Fighter game. But still not my favorite fighter in general.
Moero! Justice Gakuen (Rival Schools 2)
This. This is my favorite fighting game. Ever. I could write a post twice the length of this one on why that is, and I might do that someday, but for now, I'll try to keep it brief. Project Justice, as it was called in the US, was a 3D fighter played on a 2D plane, not unlike Street Fighter IV. The difference was this nifty little sidestep maneuver that let you quickly move out of harm's way in a 3D space, which changed everything. The characters hailed from different high schools and academies, each with their own unique fighting style based on their respective field of study.
There was Shoma, the baseball player who'd wallop his opponents with a bat or throw a fastball at their faces. Nagare, the swimmer who might flipper-kick you to death or force you into an impromptu synchronized swimming performance. You might play as the school nurse, Kyoko, who could skillfully break every bone in an opponent's body, or violin player Yurika, who would attack with a destructive string of musical notes. The characters and their unique, outlandish special attacks and team-ups were what made the game.
For as insane as it was, the fighting was still inherently Capcom-flavored, and the series is even canon in the Street Fighter universe. When students go missing in the original Rival Schools game, Sakura Kasugano of Street Fighter Alpha fame shows up to help find the truth. She was even playable in this prequel, and in the storyline had been close childhood friends with Natsu and Hinata. I'm sad not to have seen more of Hinata after Rival Schools 2, as she's my ultimate main -- the one character I feel like I've most mastered in terms of fighting games. She does make quick cameos in Tatsunoko Vs Capcom if you play as Batsu, but I still hold onto the hope that I'll get to play as her again in a new game someday.
I can't imagine I won't write an entire feature on this game at some point, but this is just to put it on the Dreamcast list. If you can find a copy, snatch it up immediately. It's also packed with a ridiculous amount of extra content and is a tremendous value for what fits on one disc. Project Justice stands at the top of my wish list for an XBLA port, remake or sequel, and while I'm not holding my breath for such, it's nice to know Capcom hasn't forgotten about this truly awesome franchise.
Marvel Vs Capcom 1 & 2
You know this one by now if you haven't been living in a log cabin on the moon all year. You'd probably still know it even if you have. Marvel Superheroes battling it out against Capcom's finest was every bit as epic as it sounded, and even moreso in the game's sequel. Both were available on the Dreamcast, and MvC2 can now be found on XBLA and PSN; horible soundtrack and all.
Capcom Vs SNK 2: Millionaire Fighting 2001
After allegations of sprite theft on the part of SNK and years of company rivalry in general, it was time to settle the score. High in demand for a remake, Capcom Vs SNK 2 was the second game in the series that saw Ryu face off against the characters who allegedly ripped him off, who then fought the comeback they inspired, Dan Hibiki, who in turn ... oh, just play it. It's got Kyosuke from Rival Schools in it. Better than its prequel and one of the finest fighters ever made.
Garou: Mark of the Wolves
Speaking of both SNK and quality fightans, Garou: Mark of the Wolves hit the Dreamcast in 2001, as the grand finale to the Fatal Fury series. It was set ten years after the death of Geese Howard, and featured both his son, Rock, and the man who trained him, Terry Bogard, in the same game. It also starred Bonne Jenet, who was about as sexy as fighting game ladies come. Quite possibly my favorite SNK fighter, and the company has been talking about a sequel for years. I wish they'd shut up and make it already. In the meantime, you can play this one on XBLA.
Last Blade 2
One of the best and most accomplished fighting games the Neo-Geo ever saw, and a more than welcome addition to the Dreamcast's library. Last Blade 2 was different, it was outrageously fun, and I've had my ass handed to me in it more times than I care to mention. But that never stopped me from loving it.
The soul still burns ... A launch title, Namco's Soul Calibur dazzled early Dreamcast adopters with its graphics, which at the time were pretty impressive stuff. The gameplay might have often allowed you to mindlessly button-mash your way to cheap victory, but it was still pretty, still fun, and was filled to the brim with panty shots and bouncing oppai.
Sentimental Graffiti 2
This also had boobs. Because it was a dating sim. Yeah, I played it, SO WHAT? Stop looking at me.
Samba de Amigo
Let's talk about rhythm and music games now. No, I don't have a smooth transition to this genre, probably because I can't think of one with you staring at me like a weirdo after that last one. We're moving on, keep up. Samba de Amigo had a monkey in it. With a sombrero. Seriously, I could just leave it at that, it's really all you need to hear to know that it was awesome. A dancing monkey in a sombrero, shaking a pair of maracas. That's Spanish for awesome.
The game also came with a rad peripheral, which was a real set of electronic maracas. You'd shake them in time with prompts on screen in high, middle or low positions to make the monkey dance, and the better the monkey did, the more people would show up to watch the monkey. It was really fun, and I could go on about how it probably largely inspired the Wiimote or some other technical bullshit, but seriously, all you need to know is that it had a dancing monkey in a sombrero, shaking a pair of maracas. Niero still has his and I get jealous whenever I see it.
Having already become a sensation in the arcade, Pop'n Music found its way to Dreamcast in 1999, followed shortly thereafter by the next three sequels. More importantly, Konami also released a genuine 9-button Pop'n controller to play it with. Part of the company's Bemani series, it was the cuter, brighter, more colorful version of Beatmania, but that didn't mean it was any easier to play.
I love it dearly and I've always sucked at anything beyond 5-button mode, which is still only its second-highest difficulty setting. The fact that people can play some of the EXtra mode songs in this game blows my mind, and if you want to see something truly amazing, ask RetroforceGO's Stella Wong to show you what full scale 9-button mode looks like. It's currently in its 18th arcade iteration, and has featured some of the best music to ever come out of a videogame.
Space Channel 5
Another one that you should already know about by now, REZ was a testament to the genius of Tetsuya Mizuguchi, and probably remains the title he's best known for aside from Lumines. The music was phenomenal, the rail shooter gameplay was incredibly addictive, and the experience was something you'd wake up from like a dream when it was over. The game was that immersive and hypnotic. It was like an LSD trip without the side effects of wetting yourself and waking up in jail the next day covered in butter and goose feathers. You can expeience REZ now in beautiful HD on XBLA.
Another shooting game that so refused to fit into a genre that I'll have trouble even explaining what it was. It was developed by Treasure, which should tell you something right there, and was an orgy of mechs, heat-seeking missles, explosions and fruit. The idea was to work your way out of its levels by blasting the unholy daylights out of everything, which was often a lot harder than it sounded. In short, it was madness, and it's something that must be played to be understood.
The House of the Dead 2
This is a shooting game that's much easier to describe. House of the Dead 2 was a lightgun game. It had zombies in it. You shoot them. It was fun in the arcade and it was just as great on the Dreamcast.
The Typing of the Dead
Yes, really. Set in the House of the Dead universe, Typing of the Dead was a game where you defeated flesh-hungry zombies by typing in words that were prompted on the screen, using the Dreamcast's keyboard peripheral. It's another one of those titles that you just have to play for yourself, and it's memorable to say the least. I like to think that now, as I write this article, somewhere out there the evil undead are suffering with every keystroke, even if I can't see them.
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver
Sadly, this franchise has been all but forgotten now, which is a shame because Soul Reaver was one of my absolute favorite games on the Dreamcast. It was the sequel to Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, and its villain and final boss was Kain himself, who was the protagonist in the prequel. The ways in which Soul Reaver approached tired game mechanics like health, player death, and dispensing of story and narative were nothing short of brilliance for a game that's now a decade old.
Most action-adventure titles even now can't compare to its imagination and fluid marriage of story to gameplay, which isn't really saying much, but doesn't change that fact that this game is woefully underrated. Its once-vamipre, now-wraith protagonist, Raziel, was a truly likeable character as well as a badass. It's an old game now and might not carry the same weight it once did, but if you can find a copy, please. Please play Soul Reaver. As far as I'm concerned, it was the best thing Eidos ever published.
Resident Evil - Code: Veronica
The first Resident Evil game to launch on hardware that wasn't Sony's, Code: Veronica was also the first that didn't use completely pre-rendered backgrounds. It also let you dual-weild two pistols, which was a welcome addition. It's one of the easier to find Dreamcast games out there, and if I had a dollar for every time I've seen it on a shelf in a used games store I could probably buy a few more Dreamcasts.
Jet Grind Radio
Jet Grind Radio was the talk of the 1999 Tokyo Game Show, with this fancypants new rendering technique it used called cel-shading. We'd never heard of it before, and if you can imagine what it was like to see something like that for the first time, you can understand why we all went nuts for it. You played as a punkass teenager, skating through levels based on real locations around Tokyo. You'd tag walls and anything else with spraypaint to claim them over rival skate gangs, all the while running from the cops and listening to locally pirated radio. The US version featured a Jurassic 5 song, which made me love it even more than I already would have just for its being incredibly fun and awesome-looking.
Chu Chu Rocket
Bwuh-bwuh-bwuh-BWAAAAHH!! What the fuck. With one of my favorite commercials ever, Chu Chu Rocket was kind of a puzzle game, but not in the traditoinal block-dropping sense. You were responsible for a group of mice, or Chu Chus, who would wander around in predictable formation on the screen. At the end of the level was a rocket, and your job was to guide the marching rodents by switching the direction of tiles on the floor that told them which way to go.
Again, WTF. Probably one of the weirdest games ever made, Seaman had you studying and raising little human-faced fish creatures. It was narrated by Leonard Nimoy, who didn't do a very good job of telling you how the fuck you were supposed to take care of little human-faced fish creatures. You had to figure that out for yourself by talking to them.
Seaman was one of the few Dreamcast games that made good use of the mic attachment, if you can call talking to a nosy, somewhat terrifying man-faced trout good use. It was simultaneously the weirdest and coolest idea for a videogame ever, and since it didn't end up giving me any nightmares, I loved it.
Another launch title, Powerstone remains one of the must-have Dreamcast games for its crazy 4-player arena fighting madness. There was no Smash Bros. for Sega hardware, but Powerstone's gameplay more than filled the void and is still some of the most fun you can have with a Dreamcast and three other people.
Remember that weird Twin Stick controller I told you about yesterday? This was the game that it was designed for. Virtual On was a 3D mech fighting game, which used those two sticks as a means of navigating the battle arena. If you've ever played it with that controller, you know what a cool experience it is. Virtual On has since found its way to XBLA, although it's just not the same without the Twin Stick.
The thing I remember most about this game, however, wasn't the controller or even the game itself, but the line of sweet action figures that were released for it. Badass mechs that had little Dreamcasts on their backs, with working lids and everything. They also apparently doubled as chew toys for small dogs, which is why I don't have one anymore.
Crazy Taxi took the classic idea of score attack and mashed it together with arcade-style racing, and the result was pure fun. Driving around sunny California collecting fares from cab passengers doesn't sound all that interesting until you throw in stunts and mayhem, and the game managed to turn an otherwise boring concept into something that was actually a blast to play. It was packed full of in-game advertising, but its soundtrack was also packed full of Bad Religion songs, making it about as awesome as a game about being a cab driver could be.
Sonic Adventure series
If you want to know the truth, I didn't like the Sonic Adventure series very much. I'm just adding it to the list on behalf of Jim Sterling and the many people who did enjoy it. JOURNALISM.
Phantasy Star Online
Possibly the beginning of online console gaming as we know it. It was sure the first game I'd ever played online. Not being a big RPG guy, I never finished Phantasy Star Online, or even got all that into it, but I'll never forget the feeling of picking up the controller at a friend's house and knowing that the other characters on screen were being controlled by real people somewhere. I know there are many of you who adored this game, and if you did, hit the cblogs. I'd like to read about your experiences with it and what it meant to you.
Shenmue 1 & 2
I saved it for last. Shenmue was such an amazing series that there are still people who will look at you in disgust and then follow it up with a swift kick to the nuts if you try to tell them there won't be a third installment. I've heard tell that Chad Concelmo's hobby of punching old ladies in the face started when a frail and elderly woman behind him in line at the bank one day quietly lamenteed to herself, "Shenmue 3 will never come." Somebody lost their grandma that day.
Shenmue was unprecedented in its interactive environments, real-time changing in-game weather, and the freedom it gave players to experience it as if it were taking place in a real world. A world where we were all looking for some sailors. Or a black cat. Despite the occasional silliness, its story was so great that it's no wonder grandmas everywhere have come to fear the fist that shook at the sky when the cliffhanger ending of Shenmue II was never resolved.
The Dreamcast offered so many things to so many different kinds of gamers that we all have a diferent set of memories about it. But whatever they were, no matter how different for each of us individually, they were all good. Now that you've heard my own reasons for why it was an awesome system, I encourage you to share yours, too.