10 Great Dreamcast Games That Deserve More Attention

Popularity for the Dreamcast seems to be at fever pitch these days. Not since the launch of the console in its respective territories has demand for the system or reverence for its library been so high, and once again the internet is awash with talk of a 'Dreamcast Mini' in the wake of Retro-bit's announcement that they are working on some new hardware for Sega's back catalogue of consoles. With this in mind, it's also quite evident to gamers such as myself, those of us who were there in the trenches during the late 90s the early 2000s, that a whole new generation of gamers have discovered the Dreamcast in recent years; and intrigued by this also-ran's almost mythical status have seemingly embraced the Dreamcast to continue its legacy into a new era.
The thing is, it's also become apparent through my online interactions with a lot of younger gamers or those who didn't own a Dreamcast back when it was a contemporary system, that the same games get mentioned whenever anyone speaks of the Dreamcast's (admittedly fantastic) library. While we have looked at the dark underbelly of the console's software lineup in the past (go here for a rundown of some of the worst games on the Dreamcast), there are a whole host of other titles that were lost in the avalanche of arcade ports and big-name first party releases. So yeah, while Shenmue, Soul Calibur, Spirit of Speed 1937, Jet Set Radio, Power Stone, Crazy Taxi and the other blockbuster Dreamcast titles bathe in the warm afterglow of a resurgence in Dreamcast popularity, there are many more that rarely - if ever - get a look in.
That's about to change though, as we take the briefest of looks at some of the first and third party Dreamcast games that might not hit the heady heights of the aforementioned titles, but which are great fun and deserve a bit more attention from the discerning Dreamcast owner. This could almost be the basis for a sort of 'alternative' line up should a Dreamcast Mini ever actually become a reality.

Please bear in mind that most of these games are also on other consoles, are mostly quite common, and this is by no means an exhaustive list (it only has ten games on it). Oh, and this is just my opinion. yours may differ, and that's cool. Just hold off calling me a moron on social media until you've read through the list. Then you can call me a moron. Not that anyone actually reads anything before commenting these days...

4 Wheel Thunder
The second game in what was meant to be Midway's trilogy of Thunder games (after Hydro and before the canned Arctic), 4 Wheel Thunder is very much a game that deserves the attention of anyone even slightly interested in arcade racers or over-the-top, mud-soaked off road action.
Developed by Kallisto Entertainment, 4 Wheel Thunder actually stared life as a very different game and was brought into Midway's Thunder fold quite late in development. Upon release, it garnered some pretty favourable reviews with the visuals and presentation singled out for praise. The thing is, it really didn't have the same arcade trappings of Hydro Thunder, the same 'pick up and play' appeal and actually had a very steep difficulty curve, wherein unless players hit ever turbo boost icon on the circuit, a first place finish was rendered impossible.
Still, as an example of what the Dreamcast could produce in terms of visuals (there's literally zero distance fogging) and arcade style thrills, 4 Wheel Thunder is hard to beat. Combining expansive outdoor courses and tight indoor arena circuits means there is a lot of variety on offer, too. That it sits in the Thunder series is actually quite a boon for the title, as if it had been released in its original non-Thunder guise it is quite possible that it would have been criminally overlooked - even more so than it arguably has been already. Everybody remembers Hydro Thunder, but 4 Wheel Thunder? Not so much...and that's a bit of shame. Well worth a look if off roading is your bag of spanners.

Jimmy White's 2: Cueball
This is such a weird and overlooked game. Released pretty early in the Dreamcast's life after the PAL launch, Jimmy White's 2: Cueball is a spiritual successor to the wildly popular Jimmy White's Whirlwind Snooker that made considerable waves on the 16-bit consoles of the early 1990s. Where Cueball advances above Whirlwind Snooker is that it offers so much content...a veritable glut of bar and pub games, arcade games and even a fruit machine. It's less a snooker/pool game, and more of a pub simulator to be honest. Only without the stale aroma of sweat, farts and old pints of flat ale.
The first thing that'll hit you if you play Cueball is that there is a 3D hub world where you are free to wander around a sort of mansion that has an American style bar and a stylised English study, both of which offer a plethora of different games. The bar offers pool, arcade games such as Dropzone and a one-armed bandit; while the study offers traditional snooker, darts and draughts along with a roaring fire in the hearth and a lovely classical soundtrack.
This is much more than simply a snooker sim - it's a pretty packed retro gaming package that offers a really astounding amount of content. The main snooker and pool modes offer a tremendous amount of replay value, competitions and game modes (including trick shots); or you can simply chill out and watch the disembodied hands of Jimmy White play snooker by himself. Play with himself. Hurr hurr.

Millennium Soldier: Expendable
Millennium Soldier: Expendable (or simply Expendable in North America) is a top down shooter that was available to purchase at the launch of the Dreamcast. A port of an earlier PC title, Millennium Soldier: Expendable is set in a distant future where mankind has spread amongst the stars, colonizing new worlds and leaving a skeleton crew behind on each planet to operate terraforming technology. However, an alien race known as the Charva has taken an interest in mankind’s ability to transform previously uninhabitable worlds into lush utopias and sets about visiting each new world in turn, wiping out the defenseless colonists.
In retaliation, Earth sends a team of clone-like, artificially grown warriors to retake the colonies and rescue the civilians on each world. Taking the form of a traditional top-down shooter, Millennium Soldier: Expendable gives the player control over one of these super soldiers and they are then tasked with traversing various installations and killing any Charva they come across. The worlds are littered with weapons and grenades, as well as a host of highly explosive boxes, crates and gas bottles which can be used to inflict splash damage on enemies. Judicious use of the strafe controls are advised as the levels can become claustrophobic and the numbers of enemies can be overwhelming in places.
Mission objectives include video game staples such as collecting keys and opening locked doors, but invariably the overriding theme is the same from level to level: kill all the enemies, avoid being shot, get to the end of the level before the timer runs down, and then kill the gigantic end of level boss. Rinse and repeat. The visuals are rather good for the time Millennium Soldier: Expendable was released, with some huge explosions and lots of neon lighting effects; however there is a lot of fogging and the action can slow down when a lot is happening on screen. An enjoyable two-player mode increases the fun factor - overall Millennium Soldier: Expendable is a solid entry in the shoot ‘em up genre.

Pro Pinball Trilogy
A compilation of pinball titles released on the PC and PlayStation, Pro Pinball Trilogy is almost a 'best of' of the Pro Pinball franchise. While it doesn't feature the first in the series, Pro Pinball: The Web, it does feature the Timeshock, Big Race USA and Fantastic Journey tables that were each given individual releases on other formats. In terms of bang for buck, Pro Pinball Trilogy is certainly an improvement of the piecemeal previous versions.
Pro Pinball Trilogy is actually the only pinball game that was ever released for the Dreamcast, and that it is a highly competent digital analogue (oxymoron?) of the popular arcade game is pretty commendable. Not only does Pro Pinball Trilogy feature three great tables and a heap of interesting features to keep the discerning pinball fan occupied, but it also goes beyond the call of duty in terms of additional bonuses and extras.
Ball physics are great and the tables are all individual enough to hold the interest, but it is the wealth of options and customisation afforded to the player that make this game stand out. There are the standard viewing options and a mode where you can explore the table in great detail, but you can also mess about with the table dot matrix screens and access vendor menus and perform soak tests, mechanical calibrations and all other manner of technical explorations. Did I mention it plays a mean game of pinball too? Well worth a look if you're into this type of thing.

MDK2
Probably one of the most ambitious PC to Dreamcast ports around, MDK2 is a masterclass in how to transfer computer games to console. Retaining all of the PC original's tongue-in-cheek humour, and furnishing the game with a pretty impressive visual update for the Dreamcast, MDK2 is easily one of the best early showcases for the graphical grunt the system had over its contemporaries.
While the original MDK was ported to the original PlayStation, it suffered from some pretty drastic visual downgrades. In the case of MDK2 though, this wasn't required to get the game running well. Indeed, the Dreamcast game features some outstanding visual effects, such as real time player shadows and high quality real-time lighting effects, sprawling draw distances and amazing sniper rifle zooms. Not since Golden Eye 007 on the Nintendo 64 had sniper rifle scopes of this magnitude been seen in console games.
For those not familiar, MDK2 tells the story of Max (a multi-armed genetically modified dog), Dr Hawkins (a scientist) and Kurt, a janitor who unwillingly gets entombed in the the experimental coil suit and becomes the accidental hero tasked with saving mankind from alien invaders. You do get to control all three in MDK2, but the majority of the game comprises the player assuming the role of Kurt, drifting around with his futuristic glider array and sniping enemies from afar with the iconic gun-enabled helmet. Be warned though, the game does get monstrously difficult as you progress.

Wetrix+
Wetrix+ is a game that nobody was really expecting to come to the Dreamcast. Originally a Nintendo 64 puzzler, the game was given a pretty drastic visual overhaul, had some new modes added and then put out on the Dreamcast with literally no fanfare whatsoever. This is unimportant though, as the core gameplay mechanics from the original were left fully intact and Wetrix+ is every bit as engaging as the Nintendo 64 game was.
A highly stylised take on the Tetris formula, Wetrix+ presents the player with an isometric playing field suspended in a psychedelic void, where clusters of arrows fall from the sky. If theses clusters happen to consist of upward pointing arrows and hit the playing field, then the ground raises in the shape of the cluster. Likewise, downward arrows will lower the landscape. All well and good, you may think. It's only when water droplets enter the equation that the real fun begins.
See, in Wetrix+ it is down to you to prevent water from seeping from the edge of the playing field, and you can only do that by fashioning dykes and ravines with the land raising (and lowering) 'normal' pieces before the rains come. Add to the mix bombs that obliterate your precious canals and deluges of wet stuff and you have one of the most frantic (and difficult) puzzle games on the Dreamcast. The package is rounded out with a quality multiplayer mode and a whole host of single player options. Great water physics and music round the package out.

Red Dog: Superior Firepower
A game in which you take control of a big, red dog. Of course, I jest (pretty sure I already used that joke in the distant past, too). No, Red Dog from Argonaut sees you take the helm of a futuristic, multi-wheeled armoured assault vehicle that also has the ability to pivot in the centre and deploy a shield that can reflect enemy fire back from whence it came.
A fairly early Dreamcast exclusive, Red Dog features some pretty decent visuals, with a great deal of variety in environments and some superb detailing on the Red Dog unit itself. Sadly, this doesn't extend to the enemies you will encounter, but you can't have it all. One of the stand out aspects of Red Dog is the physics engine, with the unit bouncing around and taking on the landscape with some really impressive suspension and inertia effects.
That said, the difficulty level in Red Dog is pretty high, and you can't help but wonder if this was a factor in the general air of 'meh' around this game back in the early days of the Dreamcast's life. If you can master the slightly cumbersome controls (the strafe commands in particular suck serious levels of ass) and rise above the unforgiving difficulty level, Red Dog offers a fantastic sci-fi adventure. Has some pretty great multiplayer death match and racing options too.

Gundam Side Story 0079: Rise from the Ashes
Gundam Side Story 0079: Rise from the Ashes is a free roaming battle simulator based on the popular Mobile Suit Gundam series of cartoons, animated movies and literature. Initially released in 1999 in Japan and in 2000 for the North American market, Gundam Side Story 0079: Rise from the Ashes did not receive a PAL conversion. A single player only title, players are cast in the role of Lieutenant Rayer of the White Dingo squadron and must pilot a giant Gundam battle mech against the invading Zeon Forces.
The game is heavily story based, and makes great use of high quality cut scenes and dialogue sequences during which the stage for the various missions is set. Set in the near future, the storyline involves the aforementioned antagonistic Zeon Forces purposely crashing an orbiting space colony into eastern Australia, totally destroying the city of Sydney. From here, a worldwide assault is initiated on the various governments of the world but slowly Zeon is pushed back to Australia where a last stand takes place. The whole of Gundam Side Story 0079: Rise from the Ashes is set in Australia, and missions vary from search and destroy to all out warfare against enemy Gundam units.
Played from a cockpit view, players have the ability to jump great distances and use the various projectile weapons attached to their Gundam to engage the various enemy units from afar; or get in close and use a powerful laser sword to battle hand to hand with other Gundams. There is a heavy reliance on squad based gameplay, as allied units can be ordered around the map and given various commands such as whether to attack the enemy or guard certain areas or the player’s Gundam. Overall, the game has a very cinematic feel and the visuals are great, with some fantastic explosion effects and sprawling cities which are fully destructible. The controls do take a little getting used to, and can be a little confusing at first, but with perseverance comes great reward as Gundam Side Story 0079: Rise from the Ashes is one of the best battlefield simulators for the Dreamcast.

Armada
Armada is a difficult game to categorize, as it draws heavily from both the role playing and shoot ‘em up genres. Released in 2000 in North America only, Armada represents something of a unique experience on the Dreamcast. At first glance, it appears to be a space-based top-down shooter in which the player must move a tiny spaceship through the cosmos, shooting enemies and upgrading weapons systems; but with extended play it quickly becomes apparent that there is a lot more to Armada. The storyline is intrinsic to enjoying and understanding Armada: set in the distant future, mankind has left Earth far behind and colonized the galaxy, but in doing to has become fractured.
Several new civilizations have evolved from humanity and are now under attack from a mysterious bio-mechanical Armada which is destroying planets and has one clear intention: to destroy the remnants of humanity. At the start of the game, the player is asked to choose a race to play as (these are the Terran, Nomad, Eldred, Scarab, Drakken and Vorgan races), and each offers its own benefits and weaknesses in terms of starships available and weapon types. Starting from the last planet in the galaxy that is a safe haven for the various allied civilizations, the player sets out in their ship and must explore the galaxy, form allegiances with other starship captains, trade resources at outposts and ultimately destroy the titular Armada before it destroys mankind.
One of the more original aspects to Armada’s gameplay is that it is designed to be played by up to four players simultaneously and with multiple controllers plugged in, teams of starships can roam the galaxy, upgrading weapons and engaging enemy fleets in battle. Armada can be played alone, but the local multiplayer aspect is a major selling point. The galaxy in which Armada takes place is absolutely gigantic in scope and it is very easy to get lost as your ship powers between various outposts, space stations and planets. Luckily, it is possible to note down galactic coordinates and warp between points of interest to save time. Exploration, real time space battles and heavy RPG influences make Armada an intriguing prospect for fans of science fiction and space-based games. The reasons for the cancellation of the PAL release are unknown; and a sequel, Armada 2: Exodus was in production and promised online multiplayer action, but was never released.

Evil Twin: Cyprien's Chronicles
A very late game released in 2002 by Big Ben Interactive exclusively in PAL regions, Evil Twin: Cyprien's Chronicles is perhaps the only game in this list that is a little hard to come by. Also, due to the fact that it was only released in PAL territories, the price has sky rocketed in recent times...which is quite strange considering the budget price point it was released at back in the day.
However, even due to this relative rarity Evil Twin gets a mention because if you are able to track a copy down you will be treated to a visually rich, highly original 3D platformer with a great narrative. The controls are a little iffy, and the cutscenes are embarrassing by today's standards but if you look past these minor issues then what you get is a Lewis Carol style romp through some really inventive and pretty dark (thematically, not in terms of screen contrast) worlds that exist in the mind of the eponymous Cyprien.
Equipped with a slingshot, Cyprien ventures to the imaginary world of Undabed to rescue his pal Lenny and encounters a cast of weird and wonderful characters along the way. The way the world looks as though it is cobbled together from odds and ends, bits of cloth and junk is really cool; although sometimes you wonder if the extreme level of detail in the worlds is what makes the frame rate slightly iffy at times. Evil Twin is quite reminiscent of Rayman 2, both visually and in gameplay, so if you liked that you'll probably enjoy Evil Twin too.

Conclusion
So, here are 10 lesser-known and lesser discussed Dreamcast games that we'd highly recommend you check out if you get the chance. Yes, the Dreamcast is renowned for the previously mentioned 'A-List' titles among the star-studded software library, but sometimes it is rewarding to go off the beaten track and investigate the more obscure. On this note though, this is far from a definitive list and there are tons of even more esoteric and rarely mentioned titles on Sega's console. What are some of your favourite and oft-overlooked Dreamcast titles? Let us know in the comments or join the conversation in our Facebook group or on Twitter. Now you have earned the right to call me a moron, but only if you got this far...

All of the images in this article were captured using a Beharbros Akura HDMI adapter connected to an AverMedia ExtremeCap U3 and my trusty Apple MacBook Pro. If you want to use them, go ahead but please give credit. Ta.

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12 comments:

itsstillthinking said...

Always thought one of the Dreacmast greatest games was Ecco The Dolphin: Defender Of The Future. It has amazing music, great visuals and some stellar level design and set pieces. While most find it boring i think its like Shenmue where you need patience to explore and figure out the puzzles to progress. Its not a game for everyone but its something that everyone should at least try

jon lee said...

Fantastic article and perfect for tjose new to the scene looking to go beyond the titles usually listed. However, on NO account should you buy spirit of speed as when he wrote this the author was off his medication and hallucinating

Stefan Nowak said...

Next to Pro Pinball Trilogy, Neo Golden Logres is also a pinball game for Dreamcast ;)

Tom Charnock said...

Oh yeah, forgot about that one!

mad as hell liberal said...

The only game I think that should be on everybody's list but never is is Shadow Man amazing game mazingly not so hard amazingly complicated amazing puzzles amazingly long amazingly goofy controls

Peter Kaminsky said...

I believe MDK 2 was first released to Dreamcast and not the PC.

Peter Kaminsky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Kaminsky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anthony Harrap said...

Great article Tom! I'm always up for a bit of Speed Devils or Soul Reaver or Rush 2049 myself. Also got to mention the ports of GTA 2 and Tony Hawk 2 as well. Oh and Fur Fighters and Toy Commander and Rival Schools and..... (geez the list doesn't really stop does it?).

hoogafanter said...

MDK2, Armada, and Gundam are all amazing games. I've had them since 2000/2001 and they're still in my library...

Wonderboy said...

Can I add virtua striker to the list, I can't really explain it but I've always been addicted to it! It's a Dreamcast game I go back to again and again.

Segasocks said...

Well I only own about half of these games so certainly some food for thought! There are so many amazing titles on the Dreamcast though and these days the vision Sega had makes even more sense!

I know everyone bashes Spirit of Speed but I have had several hours of enjoyment/bemusement/amusement and frustration whilst attempting to get something out of it and in the end I think I just about succeeded! I should add that I used the wheel and chose to ignore the mental frame rate and graphical issues that make you wonder if someone has spiked your drink whilst playing!