VMU Wonders

The VMU, Dreamcast's memory card thingy, is a truly underrated piece of kit and I'm surprised that the idea never managed to stick with consoles that came after it. Sony tried to rip it off just months after the Dreamcast launch in Japan with the PocketStation, and Nintendo did there own teeny tiny handheld with the Pokemon Mini, but this is still the best smaller-than-a-game-boy-micro hand held out there. Thing is, a lot of people who are first time buyers of a Dreamcast won't know of the possibilities of this little thing, other than saving progress. As if the screen and buttons weren’t a dead giveaway,

Back when the Dreamcast was online, many games had websites you could access on the disk which would have special downloads to add to your games. These include some lovely seasonal themes and extra race tracks for the Sonic Adventure games, new mini-levels for Rayman 2 and replacement characters for ChuChu Rocket. Then of course there were the Mini games. These were unlockable in certain titles, and as long as you have some watch batteries in the VMU, you could play little games on it on the move. In the end not many commercial games actually used this feature (mainly Sega and Capcom titles), but like all things Dreamcast, the Homebrew scene got into the act and programmed countless games, animations and even music for the device. While only one game can be placed on a VMU at any time, there are in total there are around 100 games for download out there. Now most people won't want to go to the hassle to set up their DC online, however, how can you get all this stuff?

This is where the wonderful world of HomeBrew development comes in again. VMU Collections have been made that can be burnt to a CD-R and played through the Dreamcast, which not only feature save files for every released DC game but all the other downloads too. The two best discs are VMUBackupCD by and VMUTOOL by . I'll be reviewing both of these discs, as well as showing you the best downloads for the VMU
which are on them.

VMUBackupCD: Available at El Bucanero, this disc has a very simple layout with full descriptions on each file. Nothing too complex here at all. Also, there is a disc you can get that also features a tool called VMUZIP, which lets you compress the amount of blocks a save file takes. When these games are compressed, you can't se them in the game, but this is very handy for games you don't play often that take a lot of blocks. All the VMU Games are in one folder, and you run them through a emulator on the TV and on the VMU screen sitting in the square ole your controller
, although I soon discovered that while you can emulate the Mini games, you can't actually copy them to the VMU to take away, which is a real shame. The other snag is probably he music, which as far as I can tell is not turn-off-and-onable, and also rather dull so you may want to turn the TV to mute while using it. It is, however, very good for save files.

VMUTOOL: Available at Blue Swirl, this disc has a hell of a lot of features, including some that need some sort of Dreamcast to PC plug in system going on, but plenty that can be used with just the DC too. This disc's layout may not be as simple or descriptive as BackupCD, it lets you do a whole lot more. Want to copy a save file to another VMU that the DC Bios tells you "cannot be copied"? Sorted. Want to change the colour and image of your VMU on the Bios without clearing all the files off? Sorted. Want to emulate AND download the mini games? Sorted. You can even slap a new image on the background of the DC Bios. Also the VMU game emulator on this disc is better and the settings are a whole lot more customable. Only thing that I got with this CD was it's a bit fussy which VMU's it lets you edit, and out of my collection of 10 (including the 4 slots on a 4-in-1 card) 2 of the VMU's crashed the CD every time I went into them on it.

CONCLUSION: get BackupCD for the save files and compression tools, and get VMUTOOL for the editing and downloadable mini games. There both worth tinkering with. One last note: the Mini-Games run better when actually downloaded to a VMU then they do in Emulation, where they lack their sound and often play to fast.

Now, onto the best of the Mini-Games!

Sega Pocket GT
From what I can tell this game was only available on the Japanese import version of the game (judging by how there's some Japanese in this game, although not enough to make playing difficult) and there is in fact three different sets of levels to download: Japan, Europe and America. Actually more fun than the game it was downloadable from, you find yourself racing on 6 tracks each set, trying to beat the clock while avoiding rocks and other cars. Graphics do their job well and there's also a great training mode where you have to prepare your little racer geezer to be ready for the championships. Great stuff. 9/10

Soul Calibur 3-in-1
I don't remember this being downloadable with the game but it's in English so I presume it was. This download gives you three cute little games: a game where you bounce treasure off of Volvo’s belly (no kidding!), a word puzzle game where you have to swap letters about to make words, and one where you have to light up the right rope to blow one of the characters out of a rocket. For those who can read Japanese, there is also a Soul Cailbur Text Adventure game for download. 8/10

Mini Pacman
A homebrew "port" of the game that as been on every format known to man (even Microsoft Excel). It may not run as fast as the original, and you are not able to see where about the ghosts are wandering about, but this is over wise a fine re-creation of the game. There's also some added features: a boost that lets you chomp faster for as long as you have the boost bar above empty, 20 levels including one in the dark, and even secret passage ways. 8/10

VMU Fighter
Possibly the best Homebrew title I have tried so far, VMU Fighter is a scrolling shoot 'em up with 4 changeling levels and some of the best SFX to be heard squeaking out of your VMU. Lot's of variation in the levels, and plenty to keep you coming back. 9/10

Chao Adventure 1 + 2
Downloadable off Sonic Adventure 1 + 2, you really need to do this on the actual game as it pretty much involves placing one of your own chaos onto an adventure where they bump into Sonic characters, get into fights and collect fruits. A lot of the game is made in he fashion of a virtual pet, where you leave it on and wait for it to bleep at you when an event occurs. Superb. 9/10

Chao Editor
An interesting homebrew download that lets you create your own Chao, or throw in one you have and edit it's stats (999 Power!), name, colour etc. Nice if you want to cheat n the Chao races on the games, or if you wan some truly freaky looking creatures in your garden. 7/10

VMU Football
Ok, so it's American football, but this mini-game features some brilliant animation and game play. Run trough all the opponents and make sure you don't get too close to them over wise they'll pounce on you. 7/10

Missing our old Etch-a-sketch pad? Now you can use the VMU to be it's replacement! Still very hard to draw with, though. 6/10

Zombie Revenge
Another average Sega title with a great mini-game to download, here you train up the characters and gain points which can be used in the game. Featured are two games including the rather odd Zombie Fishing. 8/10

Another homebrew "port". Cute SFX and still as additive as ever. 7/10

Space Invaders
More Homebrew classic game port goodness. 7/10

Tiny Tetris
"Tiny" is an understatement. You need very good eye sight for this. 6/10

Probably the most impressive of many VMU tech demos. Very short and vaguely interactive, but looks the bee's knees. 6/10

So while you should hardly expect Game Boy quality hand held games from your VMU, there is some nice stuff to pass the time away from it, so it's well worth a look into.

EDIT: Oops, I forgot to insert the links to the websitesthat provide these CDs! There up there now. I'll also add reviews of the Power Stone and Tech Romancer mini-games when I can remember what they were like.


Tomleecee said...

Wow - an exceptional post Gagaman, top stuff mate!

gnome said...

Exceptional +, if I may...
So, it's just buying one of those tiny batteries and the VMU actually becomes a tinyGB? Great. I also assume it'll give up beeping every time I turn the Dreamcast on...

The GagaMan(n) said...

Yep, it stops bleeping when it has batteries, plus when it's in the Controller the Dreamcast powers it so that doesn'r drain the batteries either.

rednuht said...

my space invaders VMU style
very simple game but one of the first and I commented every single line of the assembly source code for others to learn from.
I also did a quick simon says game.

The GagaMan(n) said...

Indeed, I have played (and reviewed one in the blog) those mini-games. Nice one.

Anonymous said...

just discovered the delights of the VMU as gagaman said, as someone who came to the DC late i have not seen all it's hidden gems... i have just played Chao adventure on my VMU. DC rules!!!!

P.S. what is it about the DC that keeps us hsnging on...??

Anonymous said...

just discovered the delights of the VMU as gagaman said, as someone who came to the DC late i have not seen all it's hidden gems... i have just played Chao adventure on my VMU. DC rules!!!!

P.S. what is it about the DC that keeps us hsnging on...??

Tomleecee said...

Yeah, The Gagaman certainly knows his way around the good old VMU! I'm not entirely sure what keeps us all coming back to the DC...it's got a certain magic to it I suppose, and is full of "what ifs"

The Dreamcast's full potential was never unlocked - maybe that's it?

Katsujinken said...

Great blog, superb content, loads of energy for the DREAMCAST!

Speaking of that I could really do with some help re VMU saves... Like HAYLP!! If you have the time?

Tomleecee said...

Of course, Katsujinken - how can we be of assistance?!