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 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.
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 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 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
- 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 one of Volume 5 features demo versions of:
- The Lost Golem
- Toy Commander
- Aero Dancing F
- Jet Set Radio
- Undercover AD2025
- 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 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.
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.
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.
Update: Dreamcast Express Extra is now in the collection and you can find out more here.