Dreamcast Vs Wii U: Which Failed Harder?

Nintendo has finally revealed that the successor to the Wii U will be released worldwide in March 2017. This is good for two reasons. The first is that my birthday is in March so I might try to coerce my nearest and dearest to contribute some cash towards an NX as a present. That said, I usually don't get much more than a card written in feces/blood and a voicemail reminding me that I owe somebody a tenner when the anniversary of my birth rolls around, so I won't get my hopes up too much.

Update: we now know this console will be called Switch, so probably ignore the NX logo below. Ta.
The other good thing about this announcement is that finally, the Wii U has been handed a respite and the agonisingly slow death of the console looks to be coming to an end - euthanised, even.  Let's not beat around the bush here - the Wii U has been a bit of a disaster for Nintendo in comparison to past hardware releases, and while the system does play host to some fantastic games that simply ooze typical Nintendo quality, no-one can deny that the thing clearly occupies the 'also-ran' spot in both of the console generations it straddles.

For me, the Wii U was cursed from the start simply because it confused the fuck out of the casual market Nintendo was aiming it at; those people who bought the original Wii thought it was an add-on, and those who had Xbox 360s and PS3s were shown a system with a dinner tray for a controller and a bunch of launch titles that were already available (for the most part) on the console they already owned. Now though, Nintendo has pretty much signalled its intent by announcing the NX (or whatever it ends up being called) and so, just four years after introduction the Wii U looks like it'll be put out to pasture quite soon. Inevitably this has lead to forum threads such as this one, where the question is asked: which system enjoyed a better time during it's contemporary lifespan - the Sega Dreamcast or the Nintendo Wii U?
Source: ZhugeEX Blog
The news came out recently that it took the Wii U nearly 3 years to match the 10 million Dreamcasts Sega flogged in 18 months, and there have been many, many comparisons drawn between these two glorious console failures. However, we wanted to go step further and take a more in-depth look at the Dreamcast vs Wii U topic. While it's obvious that the Wii U hasn't really made a dent in Nintendo's $10 billion fortune (whereas the Dreamcast pretty much killed Sega), the question remains: which console pushed more boundaries, had a better games and excited the gaming world the most?

As I don't actually own a Wii U I thought it would be slightly hypocritical and unfair for me to write this feature by myself, so I've roped in previous guest writer, freelancer and all-round Nintendo knowledge fountain Martin Hinson to fight in the corner of the Wii U. We'll take a look at both systems' hardware, the games, the peripherals, online functionality and features before finally declaring once and for all which system was the most...er...least successful. Or rather, which failed the hardest. The winner of each of the following 8 rounds will recieve a point in the form of a 'swirl' or a 'U' and the one with the most at the end wins.
Before we begin, it's worth keeping in mind that this is just a bit of fun - something to read while you're on the bus or bored at work, so don't go all 'foaming fanboy' on us (please?). Also, we're looking at the consoles during their 'natural' lifespan and while they were contemporary; weaponising all the post-mortem Dreamcast stuff against the Wii U would be unfair because the Wii U is technically still a fully supported system and doesn't really have either a homebrew or indie scene on the same scale as the Dreamcast. Now the disclaimer is out of the way, let's get ready to rumble!
Round 1: Hardware Power and Basic Features
Dreamcast (Tom): Back in 1998 when the Dreamcast first launched, the system was considered to be something of a powerhouse. The Power VR2 chipset and the arcade heritage the system was coming from meant people were really looking forward to seeing what Sega's new hardware could do, and for the first time the Dreamcast promised to bring true 'arcade perfect' ports to the home. The technical specs of the console (including a 200MHz doo-dah and 16MB of thingies) and the Windows CE compatibility meant that the promise for PC conversions was also high and the Dreamcast was considered to be as capable as a mid-range PC from the same era. Indeed, a lot of games were ported from the PC and many looked as good as their computer-based counterparts.

For the time, the Dreamcast was quite an impressive little box and it certainly wowed me when I first saw shots of stuff like Sonic Adventure and Sega Rally 2. That said, the system does sit in a sort of weird middle ground in terms of technical ability between two console generations, with the PS1 and N64 on one side and the PS2, Gamecube and Xbox on the other. As for functions, there's not a lot the Dreamcast does out of the box apart from play games and (at the time) allow you to browse the internet/play online. No DVD player (although VCD playback is possible and there's evidence a bespoke video format was in the works) and no real bells and whistles are par for the course with a console from the late 1990s. The dashboard is minimalist in the extreme, with scant options (language, clock etc), a basic CD player, a VMU browser and a 'start game' option. But then, what else would you want from a machine that is first and foremost a games console?

Wii U (Martin): Launched in 2012, so late it is pretty much 2013, the Wii U is a powerhouse of hardware by Nintendo’s standards. Featuring stunning high definition graphics the Dreamcast can only dream of, and disc sizes that make GD roms seem about as large as the Atari Jaguar software library. Housed inside is a 1.24GHz tri-core CPU named ‘Espresso.’ This is instantly awesome because everyone seems to love coffee nowadays, so much so even the graphics are handled by a large drop of ‘Latte’ with the 550MHz chip. Of course in reality, coffee is only really nice after you have drunk so much of it that it makes you sick. This is kinda the same with the Wii U hardware, it’s just not as good as the rest. It is powerful for Nintendo, but way off the pace given it is only a touch better in terms of spec than the 2005 Xbox 360.

The Wii U has all of the basic features of consoles as expected. In fact, I’m going to pop a CD on now. *Loads CD* Invalid Disc. What?! That's right, Wii U doesn’t do allow you to play CDs or DVDs. Even the 3DO did that. You can still play original Wii games, so it's not a total lost cause but overall the power is somewhat disappointing. In the grand scheme of things it's been fine for Nintendo's first party games, but clearly this lack of grunt excluded it from the multi-platform party.
Winner: Dreamcast
Round 2: Hardware Reliability
Dreamcast: A lot has been said of the Dreamcast's reliability but speaking from experience, I have never had a system completely fail on me. Obviously all of the Dreamcast consoles I now own are at least 15 years old as the production of the unit ceased in 2001; and while some of them have loud fans or grind a little excessively when reading GDs, they all still function as intended. I've heard tales of graphics chips 'popping,' and while I'm not for one second saying that those stories are false, it has never happened to any of the systems I've owned. There are a number of things that can (and do) go wrong with the Dreamcast, such as discs not being recognised as games, the controller board fuse shorting, the internal battery going flat and systems resetting in the middle of a game...but those are things that can be remedied with a little DIY. The fact of the matter is that every single Dreamcast console is at least 15 years old, and that a good percentage of them are still in good working order is a testament to how reliable the hardware is.

Wii U: The DC sometimes turns off when too hot. It sometimes just resets to the menu for no reason. It makes grinding and clunking noises and has iffy ports. Of course none of you lot know this because there are only 5 Dreamcast consoles left in circulation and Tom owns them all. He's covertly destroyed the remaining systems, replacing them all with the much more reliable Wii U innards running a custom DC OS. Kinda like those muppets tried to do with that shitty Colecovision/SNES console fraud. Only until now, it has been a huge secret. The Wii U is made by Nintendo. They always make great hardware.
Winner: Wii U
Round 3: Controllers
Dreamcast: One of the biggest issues people have with the Dreamcast controller is that it only has a single analogue stick. At the time of release, the PlayStation Dual Shock controller had been available for some time so the omission of a second stick on the Dreamcast's controller is a little baffling. Another gripe is that the d-pad has no diagonals and that the triggers have way too much travel in them. The sharp edges of the controller and the way in which the cable comes from the bottom of the pad rather than the top are also complaints I've heard. Personally, I have no issue with the pad's design but I have noted that earlier units have a slightly antiquated mechanism inside the analogue stick that becomes quite difficult to use with any accuracy as time passes. I'm not going to try to defend the thing because the overall consensus it that something like the Sega Saturn controller is light years ahead in terms of comfortable ergonomics and input sensitivity (especially the d-pad). To that end, I'm happy to concede that if there's one aspect of the Dreamcast's hardware that could and should have been better designed, then the standard controller is it.

Wii U: The Dreamcast controller is so poor that even the terrible Wii U Gamepad is better. It baffles me today that a pioneer of 3D graphics could design a 3D-centric console with no right stick to control the camera. I’d like to know what the Sega bods were smoking during that meeting.
As for the Wii U GamePad...well it’s rather poor too, but less so. It has all of the correct button placements and a quite brilliant touch screen that is superbly useful to avoid trips to menus. Big issues are the poor battery life and the fact it feels just huge. Also no analogue triggers but let’s not pretend we were ever getting a new F-Zero or any serious racing sims. The biggest boon of the Wii U GamePad is that it allows you to play your games using the built in screen for when the main TV is in use. Last time I checked, I'm pretty sure you can't do this with the Dreamcast VMU.
Winner: Wii U
Round 4: Accessories and Peripherals
Dreamcast: Where do I begin? The number of peripherals and accessories for the Dreamcast, both first and third party is simply staggering. Arcade sticks, twin stick controllers, microphones, a camera, a mouse and keyboard, the karaoke unit, fishing rods, maracas, steering wheels, dance mats, light guns, rumble packs, modem upgrades, a train controller...the list is pretty ridiculous when you think about it. That's not even mentioning stuff like the system link cable, the midi cable for attaching a keyboard and the lesser-spotted ISDN connector. I guess the most useful of them all though is the humble VMU. A console within a console, the VMU is so much more than simply a memory card and who knows where the technology could have gone if the Dreamcast had been a success. It's hardly on the same level, but the rumours about the Nintendo NX having a system you can take away from the base unit really does sound reminiscent of the VMU if you stop and think about it.

Wii U: The Wii U has absolutely tons of these. They are superbly designed in all types of colours and styles. They've made Nintendo more money than the entirety of the Dreamcast saga made for Sega (no proof of this by the way), they are utterly fantastic...and they're called Amiibo! Ok, it's fantastic for Nintendo. It allows them to lock certain game content behind a £10.99 pay wall that will often cost you £14.99 in shit shows like GAME stores...and they're quite cheaply made too. WIN. The Pro Controller is an excellent unit though - it feels great to use and works with the majority of Wii U games. You can also use all of your old Wiimotes with Wii U but we all know how much you miserable gamers like motion control…
Winner: Dreamcast
Round 5: Online Gaming
Dreamcast: I never actually played online with a Dreamcast during the time Dreamarena was up and running, so first hand experience is not something I can say I have. I did go online with the console quite a bit to browse the internet, but gaming isn't something I ever really did. That's just me though, and it's fair to say that thousands of other Dreamcast owners did play games online and I gather it was a fairly decent experience considering the technical limitations of multiplayer gaming using a 33k dial-up connection. In the US and Japan (on models produced after September 1999) a 56k modem was standard and so the online gaming aspect was likely a superior experience, and many online-enabled titles such as Daytona 2001 and Unreal Tournament came to PAL territories with the online modes completely removed. Perhaps the biggest games to really push the online gaming aspects of the Dreamcast were Quake III: Arena and Phantasy Star Online, and both represented the first taste of true online multiplayer for many console gamers.

Wii U: In 2012 Wii U was launched with no online voice chat or party options. *slow clap*
It’s quite hard to argue against a console that offered a pretty similar online experience almost 14 years prior to this. You can chat online with Wii U but only with friends in certain lobbies and never in game, at least not to my knowledge and I’ve owned my Wii U since Mario Kart 8 happened. Servers are normally solid and they are, well they are still on. So have that Sega.
Winner: Draw

Round 6: Other Online Functions
Dreamcast: The other online functions the Dreamcast allowed were things like being able to upload scores to leaderboards and download VMU files that activated special features in certain games. While these were mainly cosmetic in design (such as extra tags in Jet Set Radio or themes for Sonic Adventure hub worlds), they did offer a new dimension and were the first time many - including me - experienced DLC. Naturally, you could also browse the internet on the Dreamcast but it wasn't a brilliant experience. Pages were slow to load and the odd font the browser used made websites look weird. The internet of the late 1990s and early 2000s was a totally different place to the contemporary internet though; there was no YouTube, no Soundcloud, no Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, Wordpress or anything like that. It was primitive and slow and was pretty shit now I come to think of it. The Dreamcast browser was very much a product of the era and it was quite primitive in comparison to today's modern browsers with all the functionality that they bring. On the plus side, you could download images to your VMU and use them as a screen saver if you could be bothered to work out how to do it. Small pleasures, eh?

Wii U: The Wii U has lots of online functionality including quality modern staples such as YouTube, Netflix and Love Film. They all work well and are easy to use with GamePad. Miiverse is a thing too, not that I have any idea what that is. There's also a web browser that I haven’t really tried because the temptation to use it for porn is overwhelming and I worry that Nintendo would tell me off for being a naughty boy. As a side note, Sega didn’t when I used the Dreamcast for porn so there's that.
Winner: Wii U
Round 7: First Party Software
Dreamcast: The Sega of the Dreamcast era was a totally different proposition to the one that exists today. It was experimental, gung-ho and inventive and this spilled out into the company's arcade output. Many of these coin-ops found their way onto the Dreamcast due to the system's similarity to the NAOMI technology and as such we got some absolutely corking ports of stuff like Crazy Taxi, Sega Rally 2, Virtua Tennis, Virtua Fighter 3tb, The House of the Dead 2, Daytona 2001, Ferarri F355 Challenge, Cosmic Smash, Outtrigger, 18 Wheeler and Sega Bass Fishing. It wasn't all arcade ports though, as Sega and the various in-house development teams cranked out some truly unbelievable software. Shenmue, Rez, Sonic Adventure, Ecco the Dolphin, Space Channel 5, Jet Set Radio, Chu Chu Rocket! and the various Sega Sports games are all fantastic titles representing some of the finest examples of their respective genres.

Wii U: Nintendo make the best games, that much has always been true. There are no bad Nintendo games on Wii U. Even the PlatinumGames developed Star Fox isn’t bad, no matter what some of those ridiculous ‘professional writers’ say. There’s none of that choppy Sonic Adventure frame rate here, or dropping through the scenery. Or a cheat needed to make Sega Rally actually run at a stable rate. Wii U games were technically accomplished from day one. Sadly the majority of them are platform games. Or Mario games. Joking aside for a moment, Mario Kart 8, 3D World, Yoshi’s Wooly World, Zelda HD remakes and more are all excellent games.
Winner: Draw
Round 8: Third Party Software
Dreamcast: As with the first party support, third parties really did furnish the Dreamcast with some stunning games. Perhaps the Dreamcast's most prolific supporter came in the form of Capcom and the company published some of the finest games in its entire back catalogue on Sega's final console. The Power Stone games, Resident Evil Code: Veronica, Capcom Vs SNK, Marvel Vs Capcom 1 & 2, Project Justice, the myriad Street Fighter titles...the list goes on. Midway was another staunch supporter bringing many of the Dreamcast's best-loved titles, titles such as Ready 2 Rumble, Rush 2049 and Hydro Thunder. Bizarre Creations' Metropolis Street Racer, Infogrames' Le Mans 24 Hours, Namco's Soul Calibur, Headhunter from Amuze and the multitude of third party shmups for which the Dreamcast is famous. There are so many glittering gems in the Dreamcast's third party software catalogue it's difficult to name them all without just turning this into a massive list (although you can download the DCJY Ultimate Collectors Guide if that's what you want!). 

Of course, there are also a lot of utterly lamentable steaming turds: Spirit of Speed 1937, Urban Chaos, Exhibition of Speed, Nightmare Creatures 2 and Army Men Sarge's Heroes are all such games that spring to mind without much effort. But even though there are some truly terrible games, the number of classics is very high and far outweighs the number of bad apples. The Dreamcast does (in my opinion at least) have a library that is literally stuffed to bursting with outstanding games and the percentage of duds is miniscule in comparison to pretty much every other console there is.

Wii U: Wut?
Winner: Dreamcast
The Final Verdict
Just totting up the scores here. Bear with me, maths was never my strong point - even when dealing with single figures. Right...oh. Oh no. It's only a flipping tie! With a total of three 'swirls' (hardware power & basic features, accessories and peripherals, and third party support) coming up against three 'Us' (hardware reliability, controllers and other online functions) and the other two rounds being tied (online gaming and first party software support), we've ended up with a stalemate. This can mean only one thing...


Or are they? Well, no...not really. The Wii U and the Dreamcast both failed equally hard to reach their full potential in terms of sales, but that doesn't detract from the fact that they are both great consoles with great games that you can play right now! Whichever way you look at it, the Wii U is still a quality system that has played host to a ton of great Nintendo games and while the third party support has been a little weak, there are plenty of high quality experience to be enjoyed on it. Plus, there's that new Zelda game coming soon too. Likewise, the Dreamcast has a stunning library that still entertains to this day. Whether the Wii U have the same level of support from its fanbase in 15 years time is a moot point, but the fact remains that whichever system you own (even better if you have both), you're on to a winner.
Should've got these things PAT tested.


Robert Jones said...

Great article guys! Hope it gets the traffic it deserves.

Tonal Bliss said...

Enjoyable article. The Dreamcast is awesome but so is the Wii U.

Tonal Bliss said...

Enjoyable article. The Dreamcast is awesome but so is the Wii U.

antech said...

I feel like when comparing the two, you should've compared it's abilities to the surrounding consoles of it time, saying "oh the wii u has better graphics then the dreamcast" is hardly fair

Tom Charnock said...

We don't say that anywhere and the DC wins the hardware round so I'm not really sure what you mean. It also says that we're assessing each system based on its contemporary competition.

Unknown said...

I loled at the third party section "wut"

hoogafanter said...

Not a fan of how safe you guys played it here...