There’s a stretch of storefronts on New York City’s 32nd St between 6th and 7th avenues that takes me back to kindler, gentler times whenever I’m in its vicinity. A game store which no longer exists pleasantly haunts my memory. Its name escapes me, but I can still see the interior through the fog of time. The store, you see, is where I purchased my Dreamcast during launch week.
Yes, launch week, and not launch day.
I had just started a new gig as a Bell Atlantic (now Verizon) customer service agent, so my first check wasn’t delivered until a few days after the 9/9/99 system launch date. SEGA had blitzed airwaves and print ads with Dreamcast spots — spots that made the Saturn successor look as though it could actually work as a viable gaming platform.
Though I was a SEGA guy during the 16-bit days, I didn’t get burned my the company’s many questionable market moves. I didn’t get a SEGA CD. I wasn’t even sure what the 32X was supposed to do until years later. I didn’t suffer the Saturn’s early death. I went into the Dreamcast’s launch with unbridled optimism.
Now I won’t get into the details of the console’s legendary launch games, or the ones that appeared, shortly afterward. That’s on record. We know of its awesomeness.
What we may not know, however, is if we’ll ever see a system carry such an immediate wow factor like that ever again. The post Dreamcast launch windows — from the PlayStation 2 to the Wii U — have failed to dazzle gamers to the same degree. Sure, many of the tech demos and CGI cutscenes looked great, but once those curtains were pulled back to reveal the truth of incremental, evolutionary changes, the hype lost some luster.
The Dreamcast’s launch was revolutionary. Sonic Adventure, in retrospect, is sullied somewhat by its exploration elements, but the traditional Sonic gameplay felt next-gen in a way that few other games had felt before — or since. Super Mario 64, of course, remains a groundbreaking title that pushed 3D worlds on home video game consoles, but it had to do so within the constraints of the cartridge medium. Sonic Adventure‘s scope, soundtrack, and visuals combined to form a game that was seemingly gifted to us from the future.
Now we’re ready for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and a number of other experimental gaming-related hardware. Between now and the 2013 holiday shopping season, we’re going to have fun speculating, predicting, and debating the merits of each.
But all I want is the magic I felt when I purchased my Dreamcast and launch games from that little import gaming shop on 32nd Street.