Martin, you have the floor...
I was asked by the lovely (ahem) man that runs this place to write an opinion piece on the Dreamcast. Why? Well, I've spent the majority of the last 13 years hating the system...or have I?
My journey started in November 1998. My local import shop, The Joypad, received their first batch of Japanese launch consoles, in which I initially had no interest. Three of the games were pretty poor in my opinion - probably the worst launch of all major systems - but when I saw VF3tb running, I decided I had to have one and subsequently shelled out a hefty £400+ for the pleasure.
The system got off to a rocky start, however. Not only was the buggy Virtua Fighter 3tb the only decent game on launch, the system shipped with no RGB cables at all. Now, for those of you that don’t know, RGB was the best available connection to the vast majority of TVs during the standard definition era; and gave an arcade-quality image as opposed to the very muddy image from the standard cables. This irked me greatly as I already had an RGB-enabled PS1 system and a modified Nintendo 64 which output the same high quality signal.
Next up was Sonic Adventure; a game that was hotly anticipated by all of us at the shop but which ultimately managed to disappoint on most levels. On the one hand it looked occasionally incredible and was certainly fun as a spectacle, but on the other the sheer amount of glitches and camera made the game a complete mess which felt unfinished.
The next great hope to justify my increasingly poorly-judged purchase was Sega Rally 2. That arrived shortly after Christmas following several frustrating delays, and much like Sonic Adventure the game was something of a mess. Scruffy visuals and a very choppy frame rate did nothing for the game which was actually really playable and full of content. I battled past the issues and managed to garner some enjoyment for the first time since Virtua Fighter 3tb. February gave us two stunning things, Power Stone and the hitherto absent RGB cable, and these two items transformed the machine for me. The former is a game that was brimming with excitement, style and fun, and was wonderfully fluid to play; whilst the latter cleaned up the image and the power of the console came shining through. Intense two player battles were fought at work and weekly at the shop as favourite characters were discovered and cheap techniques deployed. Well done to Capcom!
Blue Stinger came next - a terrible game! The only reason it got any attention was because there was nothing else like it on the system at the time.
Moving into the spring and summer and things started to improve with the excellent Shutokou Battle, the fun and underrated Buggy Heat, the superbly enjoyable Dynamite Cop, two really different and popular aircraft games in Aero Wings and Airforce Delta and of course, the visually mind-blowing Soul Calibur. While most of these weren’t perhaps the pinnacle of gaming, they were generally polished and highly enjoyable titles, something lacking from the system until then. Soul Calibur of course was stunning, although I didn’t quite love it as much as Soul Edge.
Late 1999 saw both the North American and PAL releases and many more top games came flooding in. The system was also unlocked with a free disc on a magazine, a demo of an Xploder or something similar. By loading this demo, it allowed the console to be region free which opened the door to all regions on my Japanese unit. This was both a blessing and yet another curse. It seems that Sega had coded various TV out options into each game, or at least allowed it to be coded. Japanese RPG Skies of Arcadia was one such game. I imported a US copy only to find it didn’t run via RGB which brought opening day frustrations flooding back. Furthermore, several high profile Japanese games had no RGB support before this so it was becoming something of a waiting game to see if a game would work on the system.
These niggles aside, things were picking up nicely on the software front with lots more to choose from and my £500 outlay had become a distant memory.
2000 was arguably the golden year for the Sega Dreamcast. Crazy Taxi arrived in arcade perfect form in January and was loved universally, although to this day I am still terrible at it! Dance Dance Revolution arrived in February and gave us many a laugh using the mats you could buy for it (never seen by the public!). Dead or Alive 2 also came in February and is simply my all-time favourite 3D fighter. MSR, Virtua Tennis, Power Stone2, Jet Set Radio, Ecco, Ferrari, Marvel Vs Capcom 2 and my all-time favourite Dreamcast and 2D fighting game, Capcom vs SNK.
There really was a lot to love, and I really did develop a fondness for my Dreamcast. Sadly it didn’t quite hit all of my gaming juices for as many good arcade style games it had, I always felt it lacked something truly special in the other areas. It lacked good football (soccer) games, decent RPGs (Skies of Arcadia aside, and I didn’t like Grandia 2), top first person shooters, high level action games and the absolute best racing games.
The PlayStation 2 launched in March 2000 and I tried to avoid it with all of my might, telling myself I didn’t need it. I went to the import shop and saw Ridge Racer V running and declared it wasn’t very impressive. The thing is...I was lying. I was craving it badly. It had the Namco presentation, the music, the flawless software that I didn’t have with the Dreamcast until several months after launch, that bitter taste was resurfacing. The PS2 felt professional, it felt ready, felt a lot more 'next gen' in many areas - a main one being the controller. I had never gotten over the terrible DC controller, why would a world leader in 3D arcade technology gives us a controller with just one analogue stick? It felt short sighted then, it just seems outright stupid now, not that the PS2 controller was incredible, just suitable. I didn’t buy the PS2 on launch but several months after, just a few months before the US release, and it cost me a staggering £500 with 4 games and a memory card.
The PS2 then, was wrestling with my attention along with the Dreamcast and still the PS1. With games like Final Fantasy IX, Chrono Cross and Vagrant Story, the Dreamcast saw less and less playing time and it's fate was sealed when the first images of Winning Eleven 5 appeared in magazines, this was to become Pro Evolution Soccer. March 2001 saw Winning Eleven 5 hit my PS2 and this title alone reduced the Dreamcast’s playing time to a minimum. April saw Gran Tursimo 3 with graphics and handling the terrible Sega GT could only dream of. Final Fantasy X came in summer and by Christmas with Metal Gear Solid 2 and Jak and Daxter among others, the Dreamcast was sold.
So why did I sell the machine? I clearly loved the best part of 2000 playing it. It was simply because I didn’t play it anymore and any cash towards new games was welcome back then.
All of this waffle does nothing to explain why I hate the Dreamcast though. I didn’t hate the machine at all, despite the many issues it has. Why do I hate it then? I’ll tell you.
Fanboys are the one thing that annoy me more than anything else in video games, the illogical inability to see flaws or balance something simply because you love a company unconditionally. Sadly I was surrounded by tons of Sega fans, and more importantly, Sony haters. I was constantly being sniped at for playing and loving PS1 and PS2 because Sony ‘had no soul’, they killed Sega or that Final Fantasy was boring and had no gameplay but Shenmue was the most exciting RPG known to mankind. Oh yes, even someone like myself who tries to keep the most balanced opinion on everything ended up crumbling to the wall of hate aimed at me.
Another issue with many Sega fans is the constant desire to blame everyone else but themselves for the downfall of Sega. The Mega CD was an expensive joke and despite housing some good games, hardly had a lot to offer over the Mega Drive and SNES. The 32X was the worst possible way to follow up the Mega CD and the Saturn was seemingly so badly thought out, the 3D felt like more of an afterthought. Not that the Saturn wasn’t capable, more it was so poorly designed it wasn’t worth developers trying to match the PS1 in terms of 3D, and sales reflected this: consumer confidence was at an all-time low with Sega. Nintendo remained fairly strong and Sony was riding the crest of a very large, self-made wave. Too many people use the argument that people only purchased the PS2 because of the DVD player, which is a notion I find laughable. PS1 sales were still absolutely huge during Christmas 1999 absolutely hammering the Dreamcast, I worked at GAME and we had queues of 50+ per day to buy systems. People were tied into the brand. It was strong, and it delivered on all counts.
Another issue with the Dreamcast is how it appears to be placed on an untouchable pedestal. You simply do not seem to be allowed to say anything bad about it. No mention of the high failure rates; and the VMU which was pretty useless by all accounts is oddly held up as being some odd forerunner to the Nintendo DS (that said, I do like it when it displays energy bars). The controller is absolute toilet too. Completely useless for 3D games and not exactly great for 2D ones either. The system has no real media functions, hard drive capabilities and the stupid clock keeps resetting! Granted, the online features are good however it wasn’t the first console with online features and certainly wasn’t the first time a console could be played online against other people...although I'll concede that it was the first to have functionality out of the box.
For me, the Panasonic 3DO was much more of true visionary console. It wanted to be a set top box, a console that did everything and that is pretty much what we have ended up with today. Personally I would love a set top style console but that’s another topic. While it's true that the Dreamcast had some cool ideas, they were mostly within software and I don’t believe this 'ahead of it's time' nonsense. It was clearly a product of it's time - the internet was always going to be intergrated fully into consoles of that generation, especially with Microsoft weighing in; the Dreamcast was simply first to the market and took the lead with the online side of it. However you look at it, online gaming would have happened eventually anyway.
Don't get me wrong though, the Dreamcast did offer some great software with many fresh ideas. Samba de Amigo, Sega Bass Fishing, PSO with multi-lingual voice chat and Seaman to name a few. Sega were certainly very creative.
So, when my Dreamcast was sold, my barriers were up and I hated the thing. I had forgotten all of the things I loved about it, the wonderful fighting games, the outlandish Sega software, arguably their most creative period, and the superb all around fun the console offered. I even adored the Japanese cases so much, especially the slightly thicker ones that came with games like Marvel vs Capcom 2. I had forgotten it all.
In 2008 rolled around I moved house. Upon opening a cupboard I came across a console carry case, emblazoned with Nintendo logos. I had no idea what it was so I opened it up and to my surprise I found a PAL Dreamcast inside. I had no idea how it had gotten there or when I even purchased it, and even to this day I don't know how it came to be in that cupboard. But I fiddled around and started to play it and couldn’t really muster up the energy, I still didn’t like it much. The games I had were Skies of Arcadia, Capcom SNK, Crazy Taxi and a couple of others. I sold all of the games and again buried the console.
Come 2014 and Twitter saw me chatting to Tom Charnock of this site rather a lot, and being the Dreamcast fan he is we started to chat Dreamcast. He inadvertently ignited something inside of my when showing his first import Dreamcast purchase. Upon seeing the case I had a sudden nostalgic desire to own it myself. So off to ebay and I scored a copy for £8. The game arrived with all inserts and it felt like I was back in 2000 - it was Capcom vs SNK. I realised one of the reasons I struggled in 2008 to enjoy the machine again was all because all of the stuff was PAL and came in those truly hideous cases and I am clearly an import snob. Back to eBay and the games starting coming in: Buggy Heat, Shutokou Battle 1 & 2, Sonic Adventure, Dead or Alive 2 Special Edition and several others were all purchased, all Japanese. I was in love again. I was finally reminded of why I enjoyed the machine so much in the first place. The only thing left for me to do now is to get another Japanese console to replace my PAL one as I don’t feel comfortable with that blue swirl!
To sum up then, I don’t really hate the Dreamcast at all, I’m actually pretty fond of it as it offers lots of high quality games, most of them in the arcade style. What I have grown to dislike over the years are Sega fans, the blind ones that is. The fanboys. Example: one such fan actually posted a comment last month on a YouTube video stating the Dreamcast was ‘much more powerful than PS2 because the games loaded faster.’ I truly despair.
Although I can’t pretend Nintendo and Sony fans aren’t just as bad...
Thanks for your time, and go easy in the comments section.
- Martin Hinson