The Dragoncast VS Cable

Like many consoles of the 1990s, the Dreamcast offers the option to connect two systems together via a system link cable to enjoy two-player action. This capacity to connect two Dreamcasts together is quite possibly one of the most under-used abilities of the hardware though, due to the scarcity not only of the link cables themselves; but also the tiny number of games that actually make use of system link play. Officially, there are only a handful of games that allow a pair of Dreamcasts to be tethered together with a physical connection for link play: F355 Challenge, Virtual On, Sega Tetris and Aero Dancing F. There's also the unreleased and unfinished vehicular combat title Hellgate from Jester Interactive too, should you wish to give that a go.
A very early demo of Outtrigger also hints at the functionality, but it was removed from the final game. However, this article isn't really about the software library designed to make use of the Dreamcast link cable. It's actually about the Dragoncast, an unofficial alternative to the ultra-rare Japan-only official Dreamcast VS Cable (code HKT-9500); and also about the outstanding entertainment provided by the dubiously translated English on the packaging.
Image credit: DCJY Facebook group member Arnold Javon Daye II
Coming from manufacturer Dragon 2000, the Dragoncast is just one entry in a fairly sizable catalogue of third party peripherals that also includes arcade sticks, memory cards, VGA boxes and rumble packs. There isn't a lot of information to be found online about this rather enigmatic brand, but the parent company appears to be called Sam-Factory; a marque which again leads to something of a dead end when using Google as a detective tool. There are a couple of articles and forum entries online that look at a Dragoncast fight stick (here and here), but the general consensus is that the controllers from Dragoncast/Dragon 2000/Sam-Factory are a bit on the cheap-nasty side when it comes to quality control.
Happily, I can say with confidence that the Dragoncast VS Cable fares a little better and does actually offer a specimen of more than acceptable quality. That said, even though this cable was most likely intended as a more cost-effective way of enjoying the Dreamcast's link play abilities, the Dragoncast itself is now something of a rarity and can command some pretty high prices when they pop up on eBay. Not as high as the official VS/Taisen/HKT-9500 cable, but still enough to make your eyes water...as mine did when I won this example recently...

So, lets take look at the device itself. Surprisingly for an unofficial peripheral, the Dragoncast is well made and doesn't feel cheap in the slightest. The connectors fit in their respective ports very well and the main 'junction box' in the middle of the cable is solid and doesn't rattle or creak. The cables too are nice and thick, and don't look as if they'd break or snap if wiggled around or bent into acute angles - overall it feels like a premium product, which is quite understandable when you consider there are no moving parts.
In operation, the Dragoncast does exactly what it is designed to do - it lets you access the oft unused link play modes hidden away in the aforementioned games. I hooked up Virtual On, F355 Challenge and Hellgate and had no problems at all getting the consoles to communicate and start some two-player link games (despite what this forum user says about fail rates in VO:OT). Sadly, I didn't have another human being in the vicinity to help me test the games in anger, but getting the matches/races to start was not an issue. Whether or not these third party link cables are inferior in terms of operation/data transfer speeds to the official one, I do not know, but from what I have seen the Dragoncast works perfectly.
So far, so unremarkable then. So lets move on to what is quite possibly the best thing about the Dragoncast - the packaging. Upon first glance, it looks like a fairly bog standard box, with a stylised depiction of the link cable and some features of the device displayed. And you'd be right. However, it's when you take a second look and actually read what's written on the box that the magic happens. See, the Dragoncast box has some of the most unintentionally hilarious translations of English, and for your entertainment I have decided to document the best examples here for your delectation (click for larger versions of these images):
At first, the front of the box looks fairly innocuous, but upon further investigation the following awesomeness can be found (all reproduced verbatim):
  • TO LINK YOUR FRIENDSHIP BY "DRAGONCAST VS-CABLE"
  • CAN CONNECT TWO DIFFERENT DC CONSOLE TO PLAY SAME MODEL GAMES ON DIFFERENT TELEVISION
  • HIGH TECHNOLOGY TO CREATE THIS PRODUCT
  • "2 METER" LONG LINK CABLE
  • FULLY COMPATIBLE FOR D.D VS GAMES
  • COMPATIBLE FOR: D.C ALL KINDS VERSION OF CONSOLE
The back of the box is better, and actually throws up some interesting questions - but first, the set up instructions are as follows:
  • FIRSTLY, POWER OFF YOUR CONSOLE.
  • THEN CONNECT YOUR TWO CONSOLE BY "DRAGONCAST VS CABLE" AND CHOOSE YOUR TWO FAVOURITE "VS GAME".
  • PUT YOUR FAVOURITE GAMES ON TWO CONSOLE AND POWER ON.
  • CHOOSE YOUR FAVOURITE GAME ON VS MODEL AND CHECK YOUR TWO TELEVISION.
So far, so good. But then we get to this point, which is where some confusion exists in the wider Dreamcast community.
  • NOTICE
  • *SUBJECT D.C GAMES LIKE BELOW:
  • (1) F-355 CHALLENGE.
  • (2) DAYTONA USA 2001.
  • (3) CAPOM VS SNK
Now, I'm not going to lie here. This threw me sideways. I knew about F355 Challenge having a link mode (well, it's hidden in the PAL version - you have to press X & Y at the same time on the main menu to make it appear); but Daytona 2001?! Naturally, I scrambled to see if this was true and tried the same trick as is used in F355, but to no avail. After a bit of a scout around the internet, I found this thread on DC-Talk and as predicted, the information on the back of the Dragoncast box is incorrect. There is no link mode in either Daytona 2001 or Capcom Vs SNK, regardless of what the Dragoncast box says. Who'd have thunk it eh?!

Anyway, after that crushing disappointment, the final part of the box gives possibly the best instructions yet...so it ain't all bad:
  • ATTENTION
  • 1. DON'T PLACE "DRAGONCAST VS CABLE" IN TO HOT, DANK OR UNDER STRAIGHT OF THE SUNSHINE.
  • 2. KEEP OUT OF THE STATIC ELECTRICITY AND OUTSIDE FORCE STRONGLY.
  • 3. DON'T DISMANTLE.
  • 4. DON'T MIXED THE MESS AND KEEP SURFACE CLEANED.
  • 5. DON'T CLEAN IT WITH ORGANIC SUBSTANCE.
So there you go. Don't place your Dragoncast anywhere near hot, dank or into the straight of the sunshine; and keep outside of the Force strongly, avoiding organic substances where possible. Basically, if you're Darth Vader, this thing ain't for you.
In all seriousness though, the Dragoncast is a solidly built link cable and works just as you'd hope. If you can find one for a reasonable price, and collecting rare and ultimately pointless cables is your thang then you'd be advised to snap it up. For the rest of you though, the Dragoncast (and the official link cable for that matter) probably isn't worth a purchase, if only because of the pitiful number of games that actually make use of it. One for the collectors only, methinks. Still, the box translations are class - that's something I think we can all agree on.

That said, this is the internet. Who am I kidding? There's bound to be at least one person who will take great delight in telling me how wrong my opinion is; and if that person is you, please feel free to join the argument discussion in our fucking horrible lovely Facebook group here!

1 comment:

hoogafanter said...

It would be amazing to grab this and two twin sticks to get my Virtual On... On?

But $600+ for a dream that would die once I realize I have no friends to play with just makes me sad... Maybe I'll just get one set of twin sticks and sadly destroy the computer while holding back the tears of loneliness...