Gone too soon.
The Dreamcast, SEGA’s unexpected console swan song, entered the home video game market in 1999 and swiftly exited in 2001. SEGA, in that very brief window, produced and published some of the most creative titles in the company’s history — and its third-party support was no slouch either featuring the likes of Capcom, Konami, and SNK providing numerous strong titles. As such, the Dreamcast has strong representation in several categories ranging from fighting games to music games to action games and beyond.
SEGA’s burned fan, retailer, and developer bridges as it made the slow march toward leaving the hardware business. Still, the console planted the next-generation seed with an integrated 56K modem, SEGAnet which facilitated online multiplayer play, downloadable content, and VMU (a memory card with a built-in LCD that enhanced certain games).
That’s enough history. Here are the eight best Dreamcast games that still hold up today.
Jet Set Radio
Jet Set Radio represents SEGA at its creative peak. No other company but the House of Sonic could have produced a title that sees gamers assuming the role of skate gang members who roam the streets of Tokyo-to spraying graffiti over rival gangs’ turf and tags, and running from the cops in an effort to free the city from the forces of oppression. It’s a straight up fight against the man, yo.
The rebellious spirit is supported by its incredible soundtrack, which is a hip-hop and rock mix filtered through Japan’s artistic sensibilities. The cel-shaded graphics gives the game a timeless, stylized look that still impresses over a decade later. Jet Set Radio is a unique chapter in videogame history, and it would do you well to play it either on a Dreamcast ,or on a PS3, Xbox 360, PS Vita, or PC where it was released in 2012 as Jet Set Radio HD.
Garou: Mark of the Wolves
Garou: Mark of the Wolves is more than a decade old, but it remains one of the games I fire up to new-school doubters to showcase the viability and beauty of 2D, sprite-based fighters. It’s an amazingly beautiful game with large, bright sprites, and sparkly special attacks animated with old school SNK’s loving care. But Garou: Mark of the Wolves isn’t mere eye-candy; it’s a deep, technical game that will keep fight fans returning for “just one more match.” It’s easily one of the best 2D fighting games ever crafted.
Over the years, Garou: Mark of the Wolves has been knocked by a segment of the fighting game community for being SNK’s Street Fighter III clone. There’s no doubt that the game’s heavily inspired by Capcom’s classic game fighter, but that shouldn’t be considered a negative by any means. SNK went to the drawing board and totally deconstructed and reconstructed Fatal Fury‘s visuals and fight mechanics to make it the best in the series to date. Line sways are gone, but the new Just Defend parry technique and T.O.P. meter give the game more depth than would initially appear. Garou: Mark of the Wolves may not play like classic Fatal Fury, but it’s set the standard for any future series entries should SNK Playmore decide to return to it.
Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike
Capcom’s Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike represents the pinnacle of late 20th century fighting game engineering — and some would argue that no competitor has surpassed it. Featuring an intricate combo system, insanely detailed animation that endures as the 2D standard, and a parry system that enables miraculous comebacks, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike easily ranks among the best 2D fighting games. A new HD version is now online, powered by GGPO.
The Dreamcast version features the expected fighting game modes, but also includes a “System Direction” mode which lets gamers tweak gameplay options. Other bonuses: Gil becomes a playable character after certain conditions are met, and each character receives a remixed musical theme. If you’re a fighting game fan, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike belongs in your collection.
Before RockStar Games introduced millions to the sandbox genre with its watershed Grand Theft Auto III, SEGA laid the foundation with Shenmue. The plot follows ’80s-era protagonist Ryo Hazuki as he hunts for Lan Di, a mysterious martial arts master who killed his father. The plot may sound like the run-of-the-mill action video game, but Shenmue is so much more.
Players roam the streets of Yokosuka, Japan in search for clues regarding the murderer’s whereabouts, enter fighting game-like brawls, and button-tap their way through Quick Time Events — a gameplay method that Shenmue helped popularize along with Die Hard Arcade. This is one of the first times in gaming where you could explore an open world, complete with day-night cycles and randomized weather events.
Ikargua receives the lion’s share of praise as the ultimate Dreamcast shmup, but it’s 2001′s Mars Matrix that inspires me to dust off SEGA’s finest system and put the trigger finger to work. Developed by Takumi and published by Capcom, this manic shooter fills the screen with rainbow colored bullets, but adds some fresh tricks to balance the gameplay and give you a fighting chance at survival, unlike its unnecessarily brutal brothers in the Takumi/Capcom “trilogy” GigaWing and GigaWing 2.
The gameplay is built upon the Mosquito system, which relies on absorbing enemy bullets and spitting them back at the attackers either as a bullet spray or a Gravity Hole Bomb that does big damage. Mars Matrix packs just six levels, but they are six of the most intense stages you’ll find in a shooter. Mars Matrix will destroy you repeatedly, but when you achieve that moment of clarity when you know the precise moments to weave, fire, and use the reflector to gain tiny instances of invulnerability, the game becomes more than a mere shooter. It becomes a reflection of your determination and focus, with each success or failure representing all that’s right with gaming and yourself.
Fire Pro Wrestling D
SPIKE’s Fire Pro D, like the other incredible Fire Pro games that came before it, isn’t a button-mashing spectacle like the old LJN and Acclaim WWF games. It’s timing based, so knowing when to press an attack button is vital. Plus, you have to slowly wear down foes by moving from light attacks to medium attacks to heavy attacks — try to bust out a heavy move the second the bell rings and you’re sure to get reversed. You unleash a punch and then a headlock. A headlock and then a body slam. A few body slams and then a few powerbombs. This gives Fire Pro a pace, a sense of escalation that other wrestling games lacked. That said, all of that could go out the window with a random CRITICAL, a move that instantly KOs the opponent.
Fire Pro D is also fondly remembered for its in-depth create-a-wrestler mode which features hundreds upon hundreds of moves, and hundreds upon hundreds of body parts and accessories — a diligent gamer can create nearly any wrestler in history. I filled my Dreamcast VMU to the brim with the likes of the Rock and Roll Express, The JunkYard Dog, Barry Windham and dozens of others. Even better, gamers could download new moves and wrestlers to keep the grappling fresh. Note: This is an import game that requires either a Japanese Dreamcast or a boot disc.
Cabbies, you finally have a video game that tells your story. Crazy Taxi, SEGA’s smash arcade game, raced onto the Dreamcast in 2000 bringing the high-octane fare-collecting gameplay to the home market. Crazy Taxi has a simple premise: you pick up fares and drop them off at their destinations in the allotted time frame. Meeting those goals aren’t quite that easy, however.
Crazy Taxi has just two stages to choose from, and only four slightly different drivers, yet burning rubber down the hills of sunny California is incredibly addictive. The insane driving, stunts, and racing against the clock keeps the game interesting, but a lot of credit also goes to the soundtrack that features The Offspring and Bad Religion.
Skies of Arcadia
Vyse may be one of the stars of SEGA’s recently released Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed, but that isn’t the air-pirate’s first video game appearance. He looted Valuan Empire airships to much acclaim in Skies of Arcadia, an Overwork-developed role-playing game that took the fantasy story and action into the clouds.
Skies of Arcadia features a series of floating landmasses that act as the game’s unique spin on an overworld. Vyse and his four-person crew raid sky-dungeons, battle monsters, and grab treasure — typical role-playing game fare. But Skies of Arcadia dares to be different by serving up airship battles and a VMU mini-game called Pinta Quest. Skies of Arcadia received a GameCube port, and the game’s characters appeared in another SEGA property, Valkyria Chronicles.