A Rough Guide To Dreamcast Express

For a console that was only really supported for three years (more or less), the Dreamcast has left an impressive mark on the landscape of the gaming world. Looking at the system retrospectively, it's true that the Dreamcast was something of a commercial disaster for Sega even considering the record-breaking launches and relatively impressive sales figures. That said, it still amazes me the sheer volume of paraphernalia that was generated around the brand - from alarm clocks and pocket TVs to pens, jackets, mugs, bags and even tissue box holders...the amount of merchandise and superfluous branded tat that was spawned to celebrate the arrival of Sega's final console is bewildering. Some systems died on their asses simply because the public weren't aware of the thing's existence; but Sega were clearly on a mission to make sure that didn't happen to the Dreamcast, and while the platform didn't quite reach the commercial targets they had in mind, nobody can say that the firm was stingy with the marketing budget.

Marketing the Dreamcast brand was not strictly limited to stamping swirls on tea towels and mouse mats though - in Japan at least, Sega took things a little further by allowing gamers to sign up for a 'partner' service which furnished them with exclusive demo and preview discs. These could be played in their Dreamcasts and offered a sneak peek at future releases and featured exclusive bonus content that wasn't available anywhere else. This series of discs was called Dreamcast Express and seven volumes were released between 1999 and 2000, and they each comprise either a single or double GD set packed full of imaginatively-presented content.
Until very recently, I'd never even heard of this exclusive collection and it was only after Googling them that I discovered our very own Gagaman had previously mentioned Dreamcast Express here at the Junkyard way back in 2009. That post only featured volumes 4 and 7 though, and in the last week I managed to acquire a rather lovely full set of all seven instalments of the collection. As stated, they are absolutely full of movies and demos (some of which are clearly very early builds of common titles), and due to the nature of them being only meant for members of Sega's Japan-only 'Partners Club,' there's not much in the way of English text or audio...but it's not prohibitive. So without further ado, allow me to present a very rough guide to all seven segments of the Dreamcast Express series...

Please note that all of the content is in Japanese and some of it is pretty impenetrable to a thick and ignorant Englander like me, so don't be too harsh on my descriptions!

Volume 1
(Single disc)

Volume one features an early playable build of Buggy Heat (it's only one track and the controls are very different to the final game - you can 'look' around with the analogue stick in first person, for example), Pop'n Music and a rolling demo of Aero Dancing where you can't actually control the plane, but can change the camera view. There are also non-playable demos of Marvel Vs Capcom and previews of Geist Force and Blue Stinger. Elsewhere there's a 'making of' showing various behind the scenes sequences of the Hidekazu Yukawa advertising campaign; and a couple of Shenmue-related videos looking at the various merchandise and an interview with Yu Suzuki.
To be honest, there is a lot of movie content on all of these discs that isn't overly accessible to non-Japanese speakers, so I'm probably going to be skipping over a lot of it where it's just more 'behind the scenes' stuff. Another theme that is quite prevalent throughout the series is the 'rotating' cube interface, where the cube can be spun through 360 degrees with the d-pad and the trigger buttons can be used to orientate the faces. It's from these different faces that you access the content, be it playable demos, VMU saves or movies.

Volume 2
(Double disc)

This volume has a lengthy Tokyo Game Show '99 review, showing lots of footage of Dreamcast kiosks and merchandise. There's also a preview of Let's Make a J-League Soccer Club, Frame Gride and a cool Seaman promotional movie. The sheer number of movies on this volume is a bit bewildering, but others include Shutokou Battle, Street Fighter Zero 3, Cool Boarders, D2...the list goes on. There are VMU files for Climax Landers and some other game featuring a robot...but I haven't got a clue what it is to be honest!
The second disc included in Volume two is a playable demo of Frame Gride, and this volume also marks the first appearance of Dreamcast Express's two mildly annoying mascots, Candy and Dandy (pictured above) who do their best to pop up in every video and just generally annoy the hell out of you with their twee voices and dancing. Haven't got a clue what they're saying, but I'm sure it's complete rubbish.

Volume 3
(Single disc)

Volume 3 has a much more complete demo of Buggy Heat on it, which actually looks worse that the earlier demo in volume 1. There's a more developed menu and more options, and the bizarre controls have been replace with those of the final release so there's no more 'head turning' with the analogue stick. The other demo is Cool Boarders. Movie-wise, there's an interview with the developers of Maken X that shows a lot of development artwork and some cool-looking models. Quite why both of the interviewees are wearing sunglasses indoors is never made clear, however. There's a section called 'Present' that appears to be showcasing a load of prizes (signed artwork, jackets, Zippo lighters etc) that members of the Partner Club could presumably enter competitions to win. There are also videos of Shenmue, Espion-age-nts, Soul Calibur and Super Producers (amongst others), and once again Candy and Dandy get way too much screen time.

Volume 4
(Double disc)

Volume 4 comes as a two part set, but differs from Volume 2 in that Disc 1 is just packed full of playable demos. The list isn't exactly stellar, but consists of:

  • Vermillion Desert
  • Panzer Front
  • Chu Chu Rocket
  • Evolution
  • Bangai-O
  • Berserk: Guts' Rage
  • Coaster Works
  • Tee Off
  • Some game involving Anime characters and high-pitched squealing
  • A golf game I haven't seen/played before in which the characters look like they've been indulging in too many Class-A narcotics, judging by the size of their pupils
Disc 2 is a more fleshed out look at the 1999 Tokyo Game Show, featuring loads of Dreamcast games. As the Gagaman said in his look at this disc, the menu is quite cool in that it's a representation of the TGS '99 floor plan and you can choose which exhibits you want to visit. Upon selecting an area to look at, a video then plays and you are shown around the venue in some cases and button prompts on the screen allow you to access certain other sub-sections of the demo. It's very well done and the amount of content is stunning. Just wish I could understand what was being said! It also seems that From Volume 4 onwards, Dreamcast Express all came as double disc sets, with disc 1 being for the trials and disc 2 being for movies and VMU files.

Volume 5
(Double disc)

Disc one of Volume 5 features demo versions of:

  • The Lost Golem
  • Toy Commander
  • Aero Dancing F
  • Jet Set Radio
  • Undercover AD2025
  • Carrier
  • Super Magnetic Neo

The movie disc features more rolling demos and familiar clips from the advertising campaign featuring Sega's General Manager Hidekazu Yukawa, as well as a selection of other Japanese TV adverts for the likes of Sonic Adventure, House of the Dead 2 and Shenmue. Along with this, there are movies of Dee Dee Planet Crazy Taxi and popular train 'em up Densha De Go! 2 Kousokuhen 3000.

Volume 6
(Double Disc)

Volume 6 differs slightly from the other in the series in that it is the first one to offer a different interface. The rotating cube and omnipresent Candy and Dandy are gone, to be replaced with a much more subtle menu system from which you choose your demos and movies. Also different is the way that disc 1 contains demos and movies, while disc 2 is called 'special disc' and has another totally different interface, looking more like a train station departures board. Playable demos include Super Runabout and Aero Dancing (again) and the movies include Ecco, Phantasy Star Online and Metropolis Street Racer. This is particularly interesting considering MSR wasn't given an official release in Japan.

Volume 7
(Double disc)

The final set in the series carries on the trend set by Volume 6 in that it comprises an 'Trial and Movie' disc and  a 'Special Disc.' Candy and Dandy's continued absence (apart from on the cover) can only be speculated on, but I would hazard a guess that people fed back to Sega that they were annoying as shit and totally unnecessary. Playable demos this time include Cool Cool Toon and Virtua Athlete, while the movie section consists of Tomb Raider, Spawn in the Demon's Hand and a really cool-looking submarine game called Time and Tide that I'd never heard of prior to seeing it on this disc. Certainly looks better than Deep Fighter, anyway.
The 'Special Disc' again has the same departure lounge type feel, but has a few more playable demos of Giant Gram, Napple Tale, 18 Wheeler, F355 and Sega Marin Fishing. Along with those, there are more VMU save files and the second part of a Skies of Arcadia encyclopaedia detailing various characters and items from the game. Again, it's all in Japanese so I haven't got a clue. Interestingly, there's also a little featurette on the Dreameye, but I couldn't get it to work. Maybe you need a Dreameye attached to get it to run? I don't know. And to be honest, by this point I'd completely had enough of trawling through screens of unreadable text so I'm calling it a day.

Final Thoughts
So there you go - each of the Dreamcast Express discs described in easy to digest nuggets. The whole premise is quite an interesting one and the fact that a lot of the video content on these GDs is exclusive to the series makes it quite exciting to be able to view. I'm sure most of the content has since been ripped and uploaded to YouTube, but it still feels quite A privilege to be privy to  items that were essentially delivered to a relatively small number of gamers and see what Sega was offering as exclusive bonus content. Once again, the Dreamcast Express series was not on general sale or given away like the Dream On or Generator demo discs in Europe and the US; they were sent out by post to people enrolled in the Dreamcast Partners initiative, so I'm guessing the total number of these volumes is actually quite limited. As a curio, they are very nice things to have in the collection and a thought-provoking snapshot of an era where it wasn't really possible to just jump online and have as much video or demo content available to you at the touch of a button.
There is another volume of Dreamcast Express available that I currently do not posses (it was a special edition or something), so if you have that let us know in the comments.

Update: Dreamcast Express Extra is now in the collection and you can find out more here.


nocarpayment said...

I think here in the US they did a decent job of initially marketing the DC. Me been a huge Sega fan i remember been very excited for Sega when the DC initially took off. Then it seem like by the Summer you barely saw Sega ads. To this day im still shocked that Sega pulled the plug after only 18 mos and remember been very upset.

CD ageS said...

Yea. SEGA USA was no slouch with Marketing the hardware early on