During a stream put off by Greg Sewart of the Player One Podcast where he was playing 18 Wheeler: American Pro Trucker for the Sega Dreamcast, I typed into chat something to the effect of how when it came to Sega’s teams pitching games that would eventually come to the console, it was like Netflix where there was simply no bad ideas and everything made it into production. The comparisons didn’t end there for me though, from the way the Dreamcast made games not native system to the system better, to the sheer variety of games on the consoles and how it changed we played games on dedicated gaming hardware, the Sega Dreamcast was light years ahead of its time.
The Sega Dreamcast, quite frankly, has one of the most eclectic libraries of games and it’s what has helped the Dreamcast have such a long and enduring life twenty years after it launched in Japan. When it eventually arrived in North America, it would do so with the first true 3-D Sonic the Hedgehog game, Sonic Adventure, however unlike the Genesis, Sonic was far from the system’s brightest star. What made the Dreamcast so special was its library of quirky games like Crazy Taxi, a game where you play a taxi driver of all things, Samba De Amigo, a rhythm game that came with two plastic instruments long before the likes of Rock Band and Guitar Hero and Space Channel 5, a game from Tetsuya Mizuguchi – whose team just released Tetris Effect – where you as play an intergalactic reporter who fends off invading aliens with slick dance moves.
That’s not even mentioning the likes of Seaman where you interacted with a mutant fish creature via a specialized microphone that plugged into your controller and Typing of the Dead, a light-gun game played with a keyboard where the protagonists had Dreamcast’s strapped to their back. These weren’t cheap downloadable games either, these were full priced, pressed to a disc games. You would never see these games sitting on a store shelf now for their asking price, and Dreamcast was in many respects the last time you would see a console manufacturer put an equal weight towards the creator’s ideas and the people in production that had to make sure these titles sold. The Dreamcast was not without its fair share of not great titles, but when its games hit, they hit hard and left a lasting impression.
Like how it is scrolling through pages and pages of selections on Netflix, the Dreamcast’s library of software catered towards all tastes and there truly was something for everyone. Sonic Adventure and its sequel provided hours of platforming action, Sega’s sports line covered everything from football to basketball to baseball and tennis, Namco’s Soul Calibur was a system selling 3-D fighter and if blistering fast, 2-D fighting were more your speed, Capcom had you more than covered with two Marvel vs. Capcom games and several outings in the Street Fighter franchise. For a time, Sega’s Dreamcast was even home to one of the biggest horror franchises even today with the early 2000 release of Resident Evil CODE: Veronica. Sure, if you wanted a number after your Resident Evil game, you were safe with the PlayStation’s Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, however if you wanted to learn the fate of the Redfield siblings from the first two games in the franchise, you had to upgrade.
If you were patient though, you didn’t even need a PlayStation to experience the likes of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, as the Dreamcast would provide the best way to play certain games that were on other pieces of hardware, not unlike how you would re-experience a movie you’ve seen countless times on a streaming platform. In the late 2000’s Capcom would bring both Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis to the Dreamcast along with Dino Crisis where they looked better than ever. They joined the likes of Rayman 2: The Great Escape, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, and Acclaim’s Shadow Man among many others that were far better than what you would find on the likes of the Nintendo 64 and Sony PlayStation. While the Dreamcast’s oddly designed controller wasn’t quite up to the build standard of Sony’s original DualShock, Activision’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skate – easily one of if not the most popular video game brands at the time – shined on Sega’s last machine, as did Tony Hawk developer Neversoft’s Spider-Man which had visual flourishes not seen in other versions of the game like webbing on Spider-Man’s outfit and a mask that covered Black Cat’s face.
Netflix moved us away from traditional rental stores to accessing content right from our homes, and Sega similarly disrupted traditional local multiplayer sessions by being the first console to offer online play. The Nintendo 64 showed the world what a multiplayer, console first-person shooter would look like with its four built-in controller ports, but Sega upped the ante by including a modem, albeit one with speeds of only 56K, into the Dreamcast, allowing owners to play games like Quake III: Arena with others without ever having to see their opponent in person. A game that defined the Dreamcast, Phantasy Star Online, did the same thing with cooperative play, introducing console players to a genre synonymous to the PC: the MMO. Online play is standard in consoles now, but it was Sega with the Dreamcast that show developers what these genres could look like when played on something other than the PC.
The Dreamcast barely made it two years on the market before Sega was forced to exit the console market and focus on making games for hardware that wasn’t created by them. Few consoles in that short a time though made such a lasting impression on players and paved the way for innovations that are now standard in consoles. The one way in which the Dreamcast isn’t like Netflix is that it never became the platform to beat, instead burning bright and powerful as a scrappy underdog with a library of diverse, often odd, but still highly enjoyable line-up of games and features that would change not only how we play video games, but how developers make them.
Thank you, Sega. You dreamed big, and we’ll be eternally grateful to you for doing so.