Trapped on Dreamcast: 10 exclusives that never left

In the dog days of the Dreamcast's reign, it became somewhat obvious and inevitable that Sega would take many of its most beloved franchises and port them to other systems. The pivot into becoming a major third party publisher was pretty much written in the stars, and Sega had the catalogue to pull off such a previously unthinkable task. The Sega of 2001 had a glittering array of first party gems that were screaming out to be unleashed onto the PlayStation 2, Xbox and Gamecube (and beyond), and nobody can deny that those first few years after the Dreamcast bit the dust were truly epic for Sega, as it left the hardware business and forged ahead as a major publisher.

"Sega is a company that has always dared to innovate and push this industry forward. Sega will continue to do so with its new strategy, and the result for consumers will be what you would always expect from a 'rules-breaker' like Sega - a library of pioneering, jaw-dropping content now available any way you want to play."

- Peter Moore speaking to IGN, February 2001

As well as arcade ports and first party games that were originally destined for the little white box, Sega took many of the Dreamcast's most iconic titles and either ported them to other platforms in-house, or farmed out responsibility to third parties. For the most part, this worked out pretty well for Sega and the games that made the leap often ended up having extra features imbued upon them. Sonic Adventure and its sequel, Skies of Arcadia, Ferrari F355, Crazy Taxi, Sega GT, Shenmue II, Rez, The House of the Dead, Space Channel 5...the list reads like a veritable smorgasbord of 'triple A' (Jim Sterling voice optional) experiences and franchises. Of course, this could also be said of the myriad third party releases that debuted on the Dreamcast; with esteemed titles such as Dead or Alive 2, Soul Calibur, MDK2, Headhunter and Resident Evil Code: Veronica all being ported. In the case of the latter, ported to death...which is ironic.

What I'm getting at is this - if you were a Dreamcast owner when the power cord was pulled from the console on that fateful day back in early 2001, you could quite easily have gone and bought a competing platform from any of the other major manufacturers and continued the Dreamcast party like it was 1999 (or 1998 if you were, y'know, in Japan). But what about the Dreamcast titles not only from Sega, but from third parties, that never made the leap from the sinking ship like so many digital rats? The titles that still to this day have never been ported to alternative platforms and can still only really be played on a Dreamcast, or an emulated Dreamcast, at the very least? Let's take a little look at 10 titles (in no particular order) that are effectively trapped on the Dreamcast, and never left for pastures new...


1. Seventh Cross: Evolution

We covered this little oddity a while back here at the Junkyard, so if you'd like to read a more in-depth analysis please feel free to check it out here. For brevity though, Seventh Cross is a game quite unlike anything else on the Dreamcast, in that you begin the game as a helpless organism that must adapt to survive the harsh alien landscape it is born into. 

From slopping about in a primordial pool trying not to become lunch for other lifeforms, to escaping the aquatic cradle and embracing a more land-lubber-esque (yep, just made that term up) approach to this crazy little thing called life, Seventh Cross is a truly bizarre experience. The game was localised in English but never received a PAL release, and it's not really very difficult to see why. I can't imagine many people would have been champing at the bit to give this a go during the early years of the Dreamcast's life when stuff like Pen Pen TriIcelon was vying for attention on store shelves. Um.


2. Gundam Side Story 0079: Rise from the Ashes

The Dreamcast isn't lacking when it comes to games featuring mechs head butting each other after spilling each other's pints, and Gundam Side Story is one of the better 'simulation' style offerings. Unlike the arcade brawlers like Tech Romancer, and the battle arena shenanigans of Virtual On and Frame Gride (see below), Gundam Side Story allows the player to slip inside the cockpit of a building-sized mech and take part in a first person tactical battle against enemy units on sprawling maps.

Cast your mind back to stuff like Iron Soldier on the Atari Jaguar, but add vastly superior graphics and a really quite engaging storyline and you're on the right track. While Gundam Side Story may look like a pretty basic military shooter, there's a huge amount of tactical play involved, and giving orders to your fellow mechs on the battlefield is an integral part of proceedings. Add to the mix a healthy dose of ranged combat and hand-to-hand mech fisticuffs and this is about as close to Pacific Rim as you can get on Dreamcast. Sort of.


3. Armada

Armada is a game that's quite difficult to categorise. In some ways it's an arcade shoot 'em up, in other ways it's almost an RPG, while in others it could be classed as a multiplayer couch co-op experience. Either way, it is an intriguing title that never experienced much in the way of success due to the fact that it was only released in the United States. A PAL release was scheduled and cancelled, as was the planned sequel. We have looked at Armada briefly in the past, check out our article featuring it here.

Essentially a top down space opera style adventure, in Armada you spend your time traversing the vast distances of the cosmos, plotting courses with co-ordinates and battling marauding alien fleets on the way. You can hire allies to help you fight off the alien threats you encounter throughout your journey and the game is playable by up to four people on one Dreamcast. It's almost like a couch co-op forerunner to stuff like Helldivers, where having some human comrades to assist you will make the game much more manageable (and enjoyable). It's also worth mentioning that Armada was originally conceived as an online multiplayer experience, but that option appears to have been removed during development. Still, it's an interesting and ambitious title that could have been way more popular had it been released with an online component as originally intended.


4. Frame Gride

Long before From Software had cemented itself as the premier outfit creating medieval themed games that are impenetrably difficult and unfairly obtuse for the sake of it, the Japanese developer was creating medieval themed games featuring giant robots punching the wattle and daub out of each other. Frame Gride is such a game, and is basically a battle arena type affair in the vein of Virtual On or Heavy Metal Geomatrix, albeit with mechs that look like massive suits of armour and a really unique (for the time) olde worlde yet simultaneously futuristic aesthetic.

It's quite reminiscent of certain elements of the Warhammer ecosystem in all honesty, with some faux religious undertones and tales of fallen empires and whatnot. The gameplay is quite familiar if you're a fan of this genre, as you get to equip your bot with various ranged and mele weapons (big swords and axes) and basically have at it. Frame Gride is a Japanese exclusive, but a fan-made English dub was released a few years back, which really helps play through the single player mode if you can't understand a word of Japanese. Like idiotic old me.


5. Illbleed

Illbleed is the spiritual successor to that other glorious Dreamcast B-movie homage, Blue Stinger, and the similarities between the two are almost instantly recognisable if you're a fan of producer Shinya Nishigaki's work on the console. Illbleed takes a step away from alien invasions and mutated lab workers that spew coins when hit with a lightsaber though, instead inviting the player to explore a sort of twisted theme park (namely the terrifying sounding Michael Reynold's Virtual Horror Land) where each of the stages takes place inside its own horror-themed movie vignette.

In essence Illbleed is a survival horror title, but it has very little in the way of similarities to titles such as Resident Evil, instead ramping up the campiness and introducing some light tactical elements and an ensemble cast of characters. There can be some comparisons drawn to games like Eternal Darkness in the way Illbleed occasionally breaks the fourth wall with clear nods to real world horror films and other games, but as a standalone experience on Dreamcast it really is a gem. Illbleed is quite hard to find for a reasonable price in the current climate, but well worth the effort if you can track it down. Also, I've mentioned this on the DreamPod multiple times but if you get the chance you should definitely read this interview with Shinya Nishigaki from 2015, over at Gamasutra.


6. Carrier

Another survival horror title, Carrier is a game that borrows more heavily from the tried and tested Resident Evil rulebook, but still manages to throw some of its own unique features in for good measure. The premise is that a gigantic super carrier, the Heimdall, has gone off comms after completing its maiden mission and numerous teams of rescuers are sent to the stricken vessel to discover what's going on. These rescue teams also end up going radio silent, and so - in true S.T.A.R.S. fashion - a special ops team called SPARC is sent in to get to the bottom of the mystery. The helicopter carrying the SPARC team is subsequently shot down on approach to the Heimdall and crash lands on the flight deck, and it's here that you assume the role of the lead protagonist Sgt Ingles and enter the vessel to discover the crew's fate.

Not long after entering the ship, mutant zombie things with flowers for heads attack and the survival bit takes over. It's a 3D, fixed camera affair with fully rendered environments and some cool features, such as being able to aim weapons at enemy weak spots, and also a scanning device that allows you to see if NPCs you encounter along thew way are infected with whatever mutagen has turned the rest of the crew into the aforementioned flower pot men (and women). If you enjoy these types of games, there's a lot to be gleaned from Carrier, and it hits all the right notes with suitably appalling voice acting and some reassuringly familiar 'find the key, open the locked door, kill some previously unconscious enemies' gameplay. It doesn't look as polished as Code Veronica, but Carrier makes use of its 3D environments with some great camera work. All in all, Carrier is worth tracking down.


7. Buggy Heat

Buggy Heat, or TNN Motorsports Hardcore Heat if you prefer, was a launch title for the Dreamcast in every territory, and seeing as every self-respecting console launch should have at least one decent racing game in its arsenal, the fact that the the Dreamcast had several is to be celebrated. In all truth, Buggy Heat was probably one of the weaker titles at launch, with offerings from Genki (Tokyo Highway Challenge) and Sega (Sega Rally 2) offering more in terms of visual splendour and long term challenge respectively, but Buggy Heat - as I explained in my deeper dive article from a few years ago - just has a certain charm the other early racing titles don't. I will qualify that by stating I also feel the same way about Multi Racing Championship (MRC) on the N64, so take from that what you will.

On face value, Buggy Heat is a very bare bones arcade racer, but delving a little deeper you will uncover some very interesting additional features that are quite unique on the Dreamcast. For starters, the visual style still holds up today - it isn't trying to be super realistic and the almost cartoony visuals have aged exceptionally. There are also some quite nifty gimmicks, such as being able to toggle a view that lets you see how your driver is operating the vehicle's controls, which is rendered fully with polygons in a little window in the corner of the screen. Quite why this was included is anyone's guess, but I like think it was a 'you realise this is a Dreamcast!?' type moment. Finally there's a rather ingenious embryonic take on what would later be described by Microsoft's flagship Forza series as 'drivatars.' Essentially, Buggy Heat allowed you to create a rudimentary AI that could be trained to race like you and could then be uploaded to the game's server for other racers to download and race against. Naturally this function no longer exists, but if you have a friend who also owns a Dreamcast and a copy of Buggy Heat you have no excuse not to start training your Buggy Heat AI and put it on a VMU for them to race against. Just don't feed it after midnight. Or let it escape onto the internet and threaten to enslave all mankind.


8. Iron Aces

For a console that lived such a short lifespan, the Dreamcast received a huge number of games featuring two-winged flying contraptions - contraptions known to any citizen of modern society as an 'aeroplane.' Almost every type of flight game is covered, with AeroWings offering both aerial acrobatics and combat, Deadly Skies offering arcade dogfighting and Toy Commander offering the ability to fly unhindered through a toilet's surprisingly effluent-free u-bend. Iron Aces again offers something unique in that it is a WWII inspired flight combat experience, but one set across a fictional archipelago where the various islands are an analogue for the real world nations involved in the 20th century's most devastating conflict. 

Iron Aces offers an interesting - if not entirely accurate - take on retro warfare, with machine gun dogfights and dumb bombs - there are no heat seeking missiles or laser guided bunker busters here. There are some really cool night stages where you light up the skies above various cities as searchlights break through the darkness, and missions where you must stave off naval bombardments from the air. A nifty little game that's fairly cheap these days - give it a whirl if you spot it. Check out our article on Iron Aces here.


9. Zusar Vasar

A game with a name as bizarre as the concept it is built around, Zusar Vasar is a Dreamcast exclusive that is every bit as off the wall as it sounds. It's essentially a racing game, where instead of cars, motorbikes, speed boats or futuristic hovercraft, you take control of a chariot that is pulled by robotic animals. You read that right. The types of race you can enter into are split into three distant flavours, with land, water and air based races all requiring you to marry your chosen chariot with a specific type of robotic animal pairing, depending on the environment.

Aaron published a rather excellent video review of Zusar Vasar on the Junkyard several years ago (watch it here), and in the video he explains how the various types of land, aquatic and avian robots are suited to each domain. While it's easy to poke fun at Zusar Vasar, I suppose it is this type of concept that is a product of the era of the Dreamcast, when strange game concepts were all the rage and the Dreamcast was the platform to explore them on. Having played the game myself quite extensively I can say it is a rather enjoyable experience, but one that requires some getting used to (the chariots are a bit skid prone), and definitely a remnant of a bygone era in game design. Check it out if you get the chance, and don't be put off my the name.


10. L.O.L.: Lack of Love

You know how I said earlier that Seventh Cross: Evolution was a game like no other and involved all sorts of highfalutin concepts about evolution and life forms just trying to survive in a harsh world? Well, that wasn't entirely true. See, Lack of Love is a game that also uses this framework to present the player with a sort of top-down view of how living things of all persuasions need to work in unison to progress and how we're all connected, man. Rob Jones wrote an excellent retrospective on Lack of Love a few years ago here at the Junkyard, so please go and read that if you'd like a more in-depth description of what Lack of Love really is. 

For the sake of this whistle stop tour though, you essentially take on the role of different types of organism and must complete missions in order to assist other similar lifeforms in achieving their goals. It's basically Quantum Leap but you play as an amoeba instead of Sam Beckett endlessly jumping into other people's bodies while Al asks Ziggy for instructions. Yes, I just likened Lack of Love to Quantum Leap.


And there's more...

Of course, there are many more better-known games that are effectively stuck on the Dreamcast with no way of ever being freed and ported onto other home systems. Games like Outtrigger, Max Steel, Daytona USA 2001, Ooga Booga, I-Spy, Flag 2 Flag, Elemental Gimmick Gear, Blue Stinger, Toy Commander, Mars Matrix, PenPen TriIcelon, Sega Extreme Sports, Berserk...and of course the thousands (millions?) of esoteric Dreamcast exclusive Japan-only titles that only the more hardcore collectors (or my esteemed colleague Mike Phelan) will ever see. For some this is a boon to the Dreamcast and yet another reason to seek out a console and keep playing it. For others, it's a shame because relatively few people will ever get to play them. You can't play what you don't know exists, right? Known knowns and unknown unknowns and all that jazz.

I started writing this article just as a way to get back into the swing of writing longer form stuff here at the Junkyard, but at this point I'm kind of wistful. This is almost a sad story because on the face of it, these games that are effectively locked on the Dreamcast are in danger of being lost to time. In 20 years will anyone but the most hardcore of gaming historians or collectors even remember The Ring: Terror's Realm, Lost Golem or Napple Tale: Arsia in Daydream? Actually in the case of The Ring, it's probably best that abomination is erased from human history. But I digress, and at this point I'd also like to note that there are plenty of other articles and videos online about this very subject, and they're all worth reading too as they do focus on other games not listed here. Google is, as the old adage goes, your friend.

Anyway, before I go off on a massive tangent about the importance of digital preservation, I'm going to end this here. Please do let us know in the comments or on Twitter which common or garden/lesser-known Dreamcast exclusive games are your favourites.

Related articles:

8 comments:

DCGX said...

Very cool. I think people would be surprised how many DC games are still exclusive to the system. Over the last few years I've been picking them up, no matter how good/bad, just in case their prices skyrocket like so many games have recently.

pcwzrd13 said...

I approve of the Quantum Leap reference.

Tom Charnock said...

Oh boy...

Tom Charnock said...

Thanks DCGX. It was difficult not to turn this into 'every awesome exclusive on Dreamcast' but I'd have been here for at least a month writing it haha

James Harvey said...

A great article as usual Tom, and now I really want to play Illbleed.

DCGX said...

@Tom - lol sure. Actually, I think highlighting some of the less great or even not good exclusive games is interesting, because they have the best chance of remaining DC exclusive.

Tom Charnock said...

It's been brought to my attention that Gundam Side Story 0079 was ported to the PS3 in 2014 as part of a compilation of 'side stories,' however I'm not changing this article. I'm going to leave it as is so that people can see my outrageous cock up, and then come to the comments and call me names...!

DCGX said...

Well, it looks like that compilation was only released in Japan, so 'Gundam Side Story 0079' is still a North American Dreamcast exclusive.