Let It Snow


So, it's almost Christmas once again. Hard to believe there's been 9 of these disgusting, capitalist-driven things since the 'Yard started eh? We'll be celebrating 10 years this time in 2015...but until that glorious and momentous occasion arrives - it's business as usual here at the multiverse's inter-dimensional headquarters of all things even remotely Dreamcast related. Being vaguely 'in charge' of a privately-funded government black-ops organisational quango such as this does have it's perks. I've got a swivel chair in my vast oblong office, a desk, and a bust of Dogs Bower made from recycled Hassy cans. Oh, and a nice free-standing set of Argos' cheapest balsa wood shelves upon which I rest all of my Dreamcast paraphernalia. The only problem is that the weight of said items has somewhat bowed the high-quality beams to the point that the whole thing looks like some form of ridiculous wooden hammock; in which a monster constructed from blue plastic lies like the bloated corpse of a beluga whale. At least the company car is decent - it's basically Slash's cab from Crazy Taxi 2. The only thing is, one of the rules stipulates that I must drop off a group of rappers at a recording studio and Crazy Hop over at least one house during my daily commute. Starts to grate after a while.

The best thing about my enviable position though, is getting to write whatever the hell I like and having no-one approve or edit it (see above). And so, without further ado - on to the subject of today's post: Snow. Yep, that white stuff that occasionally settles upon the realm of men and renders it impossible for trains to run or schools to open. It's a quite mysterious substance and many experts have theorised about where it comes from. The most logical theorem I've yet come across it that it's God's dandruff, and when he has a good scratch of the old Holy cranium, the rest of down here get covered in his errant scalp flakes. Like I said - that's just a theory I read in a PhD paper that blew in through my window one sunny afternoon. Truth is, nobody really knows where snow comes from. That aside, lets have a look at some of the snow-themed stages and levels that found their way into otherwise un-snowy titles in the Dreamcast's library...

Incoming

Wacky Races

Red Dog

Dead or Alive 2

Sega Rally

Speed Devils

Outtrigger

Fur Fighters

Propeller Arena

Star Wars Demolition

Obviously, there are also the 'proper' snow-themed games like Snow Surfers, Polaris Sno-cross and Sega Extreme Sports, and there are also other titles that feature wintry environs such as Sonic Adventure and Fighting Force 2. I was hoping to include Code Veronica and The Nomad Soul here too, but I can't find my save from the latter and in the former I can't find my way out of the facility at the start of disc 2 in order to frolic in the falling white stuff and build a snowman. Ho hum. Anyway, all this talk of snow and such things is making me feel all festive, so without further ado I'm off to devour 18 Christmas puddings and down a bottle of Baileys before redecorating my kitchen walls and ceiling with vomit. Bye!

Toy Racer Dial-Up Connection In The Works

You may have read recently that the online-only multiplayer title Toy Racer is the latest Deamcast game to be dragged out from under a rock and plonked back onto the interwebs (or whatever it's called). And you'd have read right. The Junkyard was recently contacted by Bob Dobbs, a member of the popular Dreamcast-Talk forums, who confirmed that the game's servers are well and truly back online and running well. Unfortunately for most of us, you can only get your online fix of Toy Racer if you own a highly sought-after and expensive broadband adaptor for your Dreamcast, but those clever chaps are also working on a method that will allow you to hook up via your trusty old 33k (56k in the US) dial-up modem. Huzzah! Here's an info-burst from the man himself:

Dreamcast-Talk (International) & Dreamcast-br (Brazil) has yet another game back online. This one is Toy Racer. For the first time, the original game server software has been released (thanks to petter3k who contacted No Cliche, the programmers of Toy Racer). Dreamcast-br has already had a server running, but we do not know if their server is the original or not (Igor Isaias Banlian was kind enough to allow us the IP addy to play). In both cases, the game only connects via BBA (dial-up wants to go to Dreamarena). Currently, DC-Talk is working on a boot-disc to allow the game GD-ROM to use dial-up.

To note, DC-Talk was where the "Netopia" method of connecting your DC to the internet without a PC of any kind. It has much less latency than the troublesome DC-PC server set-up. I use it, which is purely hardware driven (developed by brourke228). The other is the and the PC-DC windows/VMware server portion to work with the Ryochan Linux PC-DC server method (brourke228 of DC-Talk developed the Windows portion).

Here's the science bit:
Brazil IP: 200.165.140.20:2048
TCP Port: 2048
UDP Port: 2049


As stated, the guys at Dreamcast-Talk are working on a boot-disc to get Dreamcast gamers up and running with a dial-up connection, and are currently ironing out some issues with the remnants of Dream Arena at present. For a full guide on how to get online with Toy Racer right now though, follow this link; and be sure to check the DreamcastBr Facebook group for further updates.

A Maken X-mas



The Yard is definitely getting in the festive spirit right now. The non-denominational decorations are being liberally deposited on the towers of discarded Sonic Shuffles. The broken down yellowed cases from abandoned Dreamcasts are getting a lick of paint. And, most importantly, the annual dump truck of hard liquor is pulling in as I type. I tell you, there ain't no party like a Junkyard party!

Locking on allows you to see an enemy's remaining health.

         Hero Kei Sagami wielding the Maken.

Of course, the merriment doesn't end there, as there is also plenty of time to boot up quality seasonal titles like, errr... Maken X! Nothing says 'holiday season' more than a daemon sword wielding school girl slashing her way through hordes of swastika-emblazoned, Neo-Nazi enemies. Errr... an end boss is the Pope! Does that count as festive?

Maken X is a first-person slasher where you use the titular Maken - a magic sword that can control people's minds (the name translates as 'Daemon Sword' in Japanese) - to engage a number of distinctly designed enemies in close quarters combat. The combat essentially involves locking on to a foe and then slashing away when in range, blocking when attacked, or dodging with a variety of balletic manoeuvres.

As enemies are dispatched, power-ups are unlocked, allowing you to level up your character in a quasi-RPG manner, while periodically at points throughout the game you 'brainjack' other characters to gain control of their unique powers and fighting styles. This combination of mechanics keeps the combat fresh, as too small details like being able to return incoming missiles with a simple swipe of the magic blade.

Attacks can be blocked or dodged  with jumps, strafes and flips.
On the Japanese version of the game, this overall craziness is then cranked up to 11 with the uncensored enemy designs, which throughout either indirectly or, in some cases, directly pay tribute to Nazi Germany. Some enemies can be seen sporting red Nazi-style armbands, while others simply go the full distance and wear the infamous swastika. As aforementioned, just when you think things can't get more insane, you then have to fight the Pope. Unsurprisingly, the whole Nazi thing and Pope slaying was removed from the North American and European versions of the game.

There's snow in this level. Does that count?
Oh, the soundtrack is probably the best aspect of the entire game - a high-octane trance of drums and electro synth.

I get that you love being a Neo Nazi, but really? How can you even see?
So why not chase away the cold this winter with a heart-warming... errr, get in the festive spirit by decapitating legions of... errr, bring the whole family together within the loving embrace of religion... erm. Ah to hell with it! The liquor has been unloaded. Wahey!

The Odd Case of Monaco Online

We recently featured the Dreamcast's stable of Formula 1 racers here at the 'Yard, and it was concluded that F1 World Grand Prix 2 is probably the best recreation of the motor sport to be found on Sega's final system. However, there was a glaring omission from that list, and only now have I managed to acquire the absent title for analysis. What is this mysterious and largely unknown F1 racer? Why, Racing Simulation Monaco Grand Prix 2 Online of course! Is that the worst name ever for a racing game? It's definitely a contender in my humble opinion - try saying that to an automated cheats line after a few pints and you'll see why. Do cheats lines even exist anymore? Another mystery that needs to be solved...but first, lets get back on track (pun intended). The original Racing Simulation was released quite early in the Dreamcast's life and was one of the first games I played, as it was bundled as part of the Dream On Volume 1 demo disk. A fairly playable and nice-looking F1 game, Racing Simulation is a game that seems to have suffered something of an identity crisis - just looking at the box, manual and the GD-rom you can see that it has multiple names: it's either Monaco Grand Prix: Racing Simulation; Racing Simulation 2: Monaco Grand Prix...or a weird bastardisation of the two:
Did they forget the '2' on the cover?
These odd naming conventions aside, Monaco is pretty playable and has quite a lot going on with it's arcade and simulation modes as well as a 'retro' option where you can race vehicles of yesteryear. It appears that Ubisoft weren't done with the Racing Simulation engine though as they went on to develop F1 Racing Championship (published by Video System, of F1 World Grand Prix fame) which is essentially the same game but with an official license. Quite why Ubisoft didn't publish F1 Racing Championship themselves, I'm not really sure...but to allow their main F1 developing rivals to publish their game is just plain odd. The story gets even stranger though, as in 2001 Ubisoft released the game again under the mouthful moniker mentioned in the opening paragraph: Racing Simulation Monaco Grand Prix 2 Online. Talk about flogging a dead horse.

As you can probably tell from the name, Online is basically the first game (which is actually a sequel itself...damn this is confusing) but with added online functionality allowing players to race each other on any of the real-world circuits. As far as I can tell, Online was only ever released as a PAL title - which is quite strange in itself, seeing as we only got 33k modems stuck to our Dreamcasts - and upon playing it myself, I quickly deduced that it is indeed pretty much identical to the first (second) game but with minor graphical changes (the clouds in the sky are more pronounced in Online, for example - see below) and a modified front end, with the added online lobby options plonked in. Speaking of the front end, Online retains the decidedly 'old school' art style that the offline game used, complete with awkwardly-proportioned humanoids and background graphics that look like they were copied from a GeoCities ghost site last updated in 1996.

Below are a selection of images I grabbed from the two games; the shots on the right are from Online, the ones on the left from Racing Simulation 2 (or whatever it's called). As stated, details on the Online game are very scant but I managed to discover that the servers were finally switched off in 2003. It would have been cool to know if the game could support a full grid of 22 cars all being driven by real gamers...but if Online even sold that many copies, I'd be very surprised.
Super Mario makes a cameo in both games if you drive badly.
Did you ever manage to play Monaco Online...online? If so, how was it? Let us know in the comments.

Fantasy Stars

For me, the very mention of the word 'fantasy' when referring to genre instantly conjures images of semi-naked, sword-wielding warriors rippling with muscle; foreboding castles perched precariously atop crumbling mountains; and hoards of ogres and dwarves. Oh, and dragons. Lot of dragons. Mainly belching fire and soaring through the night sky looking for towns and villages to raze to the ground for their own sordid amusement. I wouldn't call myself a fan of the genre as such, but being someone who likes to occasionally remove myself from the boredom and drudgery of reality, I have dipped into the world of fantasy in the past. I've read a few books (mainly Tolkien's works), seen a few movies (mainly based on...erm...Tolkien's works) and even played a few board games (mainly based on Dungeons & Dragons), so while I would hardly call myself an expert in the subject, I do have at least a little bit of an idea what 'fantasy' is all about.

Actually, that's not totally accurate - my perceived knowledge is mainly constructed of Peter Jackson's show-reel mixed with a smattering of Krul and The Dark Crystal, but hey. To be honest, I'm much more of a science-fiction and horror fan when it comes to literary or celluloid classifications, and when the two combine (as seen in the Alien franchise), I'm pretty much in bio-mechanical heaven. That said, I do like to delve into fantasy realms as a gamer every now and then too, and recent titles such as Dark Souls and the upcoming Deep Down really peak my interest...even if I haven't actually played any of the Dark Souls games yet on account of their well-documented difficulty. I will in time, but I'll probably wait for the PS4 iteration of Dark Souls II which reportedly features a beginner-friendly difficulty option. Yes, I'm a wimp.
Anyway, what has all this got to do with the Dreamcast? Well, while the Dreamcast is now championed as a system with a catalogue bristling with arcade conversions and shmups, it wasn't always like that. Ask the average gamer about the Dreamcast and they'll no doubt recount the finer points of Crazy Taxi, Soul Calibur and Virtua Tennis. All fine games, I'm sure you'll agree. But what if you're after a darker, more gritty experience, battling the forces of unspeakable evil in a murky forest or swinging a sword through the dank corridors of a forgotten catacomb? I have news from the east, my lord - there's plenty of that going on in the realm of the Dreamcast too! Here, for your delectation is a mini run-down of some of the myriad fantasy-themed titles on the almighty 'cast...

Sword of the Beserk: Guts' Rage
Beserk is actually based on a fairly popular and long-running comic and anime series which never really gained any real exposure outside of it's native Japan. Created by manga artist Kentaro Miura, the series draws heavily from western Medieval-style fantasy and tells the story of a wandering mercenary named Gattsu (known as Guts to his friends), and his annoying flying elf chum Puck. This title is only based on a fairly small portion of the series, but the game revolves around a mysterious plant-based parasite which is infecting the citizens of the realm (known as Mandragora) and the failing attempts of the authorities to contain the outbreak. The parasite turns those infected into mindless zombies, so you can see why it's deemed as a bit of an issue. Guts is persuaded to get involved to find the root (see?) of the Mandragora outbreak and put a stop to it before the whole world is overrun.

The actual gameplay comes in the form of a fairly competent roaming hack 'n' slash where you control Guts and his massive sword, running around the various stages lopping infected villagers in half and generally kicking ass. The story is pretty good to be honest and is conveyed via some lengthy cut scenes - indeed, most of the game is comprised of cut scenes telling you what's going on. The 'rage' part of the title comes from the way in which Guts can activate a 'red mist' invincibility mode once the little meter has filled up, and this means you can just go mental swinging the massive sword around and filling the screen with claret. Berserk is a fun, albeit short-lived adventure and if you can put up with the constant movies and QTEs, there's a fine Medieval-themed adventure to be enjoyed here.

Dragons Blood
Known as Draconus: Cult of the Wyrm in other territories, Dragons Blood is about as close to something like Dark Souls as you're likely to get on the Dreamcast. Set in an fantasy world populated by giants, demons and magic, you begin the adventure by choosing whether to play as either Cynric - a warrior; or Aeowyn - a sorceress. As is the norm in these types of game, the character you choose dictates the way the adventure is played out, so while the levels and the objectives remain unchanged, the way in which you play varies. Cynric has a more direct 'stab everything' outlook, while Aeowyn's game is more geared towards using spells and magical projectiles to vanquish the enemies marauding around the neighbourhood.

Dragons Blood, rather oddly, doesn't feature any actual dragons as far as I'm aware and the name change for the PAL version is something of a mystery to me...but that aside, this is a fairly decent third person slasher. The levels are pretty open and free roaming (although there are way points that you must follow in order to progress the story) and you are often presented with forking level paths. At the end of each stage you get the chance to indulge in some fairy basic character levelling and upgrading so it ticks all the boxes as far as pseudo Dungeons & Dragons-style gameplay goes. Defence is as important as attack here, so you'll spend a good amount of time hiding behind your shield before darting out to attack foes with your weapon of choice...although it never really feels as good as Ocarina of Time's combat; but then, what does? The visuals are fairly nice and there are some very impressive architectural designs going one (the floating castle approach looks outstanding, for example); and the environments are very varied, but Dragons Blood sometimes feels as though it is adhering to too many stereotypes of the genre (if that makes sense?) - magic, elves, warlocks and the like all make an appearance. The floaty physics aren't great either. Those minor gripes aside, Dragons Blood/Draconus is an enjoyable fantasy romp and has high production values throughout.

Soul Fighter
Featuring one of the worst introduction sequences I've ever seen (where the king spouts boring nonsense to no-one in particular with the worst Sean Connery impression yet pressed to disc), Soul Fighter is a traditional roaming beat 'em up set in the land of Gomar, where a curse has transformed the majority of the citizens into mutated animal hybrids. As one of the three main characters, it's down to you to roam the towns and villages round-housing the souls out of these mutants and returning them back to human form.

Graphically, Should Fighter looks very nice - all of the characters and enemies have a very 'solid' look to them and the motion capture is really quite impressive - especially the kicks and combos. The thing is, Soul Fighter is pretty formulaic and actually a little bit dull. It does do some interesting things, such as allow you to play in a first person mode, but it's a by-the-numbers kind of game. Follow an arrow, smash some heads, collect the items...move on and repeat to fade. You'll find boss battles at the end of stages and chests to break open...but it all moves at a very sedentary pace and you'll ultimately find yourself getting a little bored before you get very far. Soul Fighter was quite an early release for the Dreamcast and I do remember seeing a lot of adverts for it back when it released and while it does look nice, the gameplay experience is pretty dated.

Gauntlet Legends
The third game in the Gauntlet series, Gauntlet Legends started out as a 4-player arcade game that allowed players to save their progress via a unique password system. The game was later ported to the main home consoles of the era, one of which was the Dreamcast (obviously). The gameplay is pretty basic to be honest - you choose a character from one of the various classes (differentiated by strength, speed, armour and magical ability) and then set off across the realm ridding the land of all sorts of evil imp-type creatures who pour into the stages through portals. You can destroy these portals to cut off the never-ending supply of foes, and also level up your chosen character by defeating more enemies and collecting gold and other power ups.

As stated, the game is a pretty standard port of the arcade title and as such it looks fairly decent. The levels themselves are less like the standard mazes of the original Gauntlet and feel more 'organic' on account of the multiple levels and 'outdoors' nature of the majority of the environments. Upon first playing Legends I wasn't really taken with the basic nature of the game - you simply wander around the map collecting keys and hemming the attack button and searching for the exit...but after a while a sort of naive charm shone through and I kind of 'got' why some people like this series. It can be quite satisfying levelling your character and finding stashes of gold. Overall, Gauntlet Legends is a fun little game and is really meant to be played with three other players alongside you, but even as a single player experience it can be fairly entertaining.
While this is by no means every fantasy-themed game on the Dreamcast, the boundaries do get a little blurred with some of the other titles I could mention. Things like Dragon Riders, Silver and Lodoss are indeed set in their own fantasy worlds, but they are more RPGs and if I start talking about those, other things like Evolution, Grandia and Time Stalkers could also get pulled in. There's Soul Reaver too, but again that's more of a supernatural adventure and is slightly different from the games listed above as it has you playing as a vampire rather than as a sword-wielding hero type. But what do you think? Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments...