Showing posts with label DCJY Features. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DCJY Features. Show all posts

You Had One Job! - European Dreamcast Game Box Screw-ups

Since the beginning of time - well, gaming - video games have come in boxes with artwork. The artwork was put there to sell the experience to you, to convince you why the game inside that box was the game you needed to leave the shop with that day more so than any of the others on the shelf around it. By the time our beloved little white SEGA box came onto the market, it was the sixth generation of gaming. Even games released for the microcomputers of the 80s had box art, so, by the late '90s, it was very much an established norm.

On the Dreamcast, there was a clear template for each region of how the box artwork should look. In Europe, you had the nice blue base template and logos; a front cover, a spine, and the back cover. So simple and elegant, everything looking uniform on a shelf... what could possibly go wrong?

Well, quite a lot it turns out...


Tokyo Highway Challenge

Right from day one, Dreamcast game publishers found sticking to simple templates difficult. Tokyo Highway Challenge (known as Tokyo Xtreme Racer in the USA) is actually one of the Dreamcast’s more under-appreciated titles. Leaning heavily into an Initial D vibe, the game places you onto Tokyo’s C-1 “highway” and tasks you with challenging and beating all the other illegal street racers in a quest to become the ultimate import racer. Quite how you do that in what are domestic cars in Japan I never did figure out, but that’s not what we’re here to discuss! So, how exactly did Crave fail on the console's European launch day with their game packaging?

Clearly using the white arc of the US theme.

Mistake: Using the US Dreamcast template on the front cover. Although it does at least look like they tried, seeing as they went to the effort of removing the little orange triangle that represents the console's power LED...


NFL Blitz 2000

Also on day one, it wasn’t just Crave that were struggling with the idea of box art. Step forward, Midway! In their defence (“DEFENSE!!!”), they did have more boxes to get right at launch with Hydro Thunder, Ready 2 Rumble and Mortal Kombat Gold all releasing alongside NFL Blitz 2000.

NFL Blitz 2000 is an arcade sportsball game. I hear it's good fun, but I won’t lie, I’ve never understood a sport called football where most of the game has the players holding the ball and running. Anyway, having graced us with multiple launch titles, I can confirm that Midway got the front and back of the game perfect. So far, so good. So what on earth could possibly go wrong from here?

Just the Dreamcast logo and the code on the spine.

Putting the game on a shelf only emphasises the issue even more... 

Mistake: Forgot to put the game's name on the spine.

Dreamcast Gaming on the High Street Stock CEXchange

This article is not endorsed by or sponsored by CeX.

With it being harder and harder to find retro games in the wild, especially PAL Dreamcast titles with an intact case, retro gaming is becoming an increasingly online-only affair.

Here in the UK, all but one of the brick-and-mortar gaming chains (GAME) have died out. There are some excellent independent game shops still soldiering on, though they are sparse and dwindling in number too. Fortunately though, we do have one last bastion of the high street in CeX (formerly Computer Exchange, and yes, it’s pronounced “sex”) where it is still possible to walk into a store and find surprisingly well-priced Dreamcast games on the shelves.
Better still, if you are looking for particular games, their website tells you exactly what they have in stock and where, allowing you to plan your very own road trip to secure your next classic. Or, if you don’t fancy the effort of leaving your house, you can order direct to your door, oblivious to the condition your purchased game is in, and running the risk of a brittle old PAL case being obliterated in the rough and tumble of the postal service.

Recently, the risks of what has become known amongst retro circles as “the CeX lottery” have been reduced marginally, as the retailer now distinguishes between games with and without their manuals (though you may still be left guessing whether or not the manual has ketchup stains). The other useful thing CeX provide is regularly refreshed pricing which tracks the current market, and, here at the Junkyard, we have meticulously studied these to bring you some small insights into the current PAL Dreamcast market.

CeX is actually how I unintentionally ended up re-entering the rabbit hole of all things SEGA Dreamcast back in 2016, when I stumbled upon a very nice condition Virtua Tennis for a mere £3.50 - which was possibly one of the most expensive “bargains” I’ve ever had.
How it all started (again)!
Believe it or not, despite what many say, the Dreamcast does still have a good selection of affordable games. Sadly, the console is also beginning to see an increasing number of titles with three-digit prices. We’re all aware of the MoHos and the Cannon Spikes, but 2024 seems to have ushered in more unexpected additions to the high-stakes ranks, and seeing as I have little else to do on this rainy British bank holiday Monday, I figured what better time to delve in to this than now?

The Dreamcast Directory: Websites We Love in 2024

Late last year, in a gratuitous act of procrastination, I authored a piece for the Junkyard that surveyed the hefty range of Dreamcast websites that had sprung up in the console’s “post-Sega” era but which had sadly since bit the dust. In reality that piece was an excuse to indulge in some nostalgic daydreaming about the period when I first came across the console as a nerdy teen: a bizarre time when the burgeoning unofficial world (Goat Store, Beats of Rage, Treamcasts) sat alongside the last vestiges of Sega’s official involvement (idiosyncratic Japan-only shmups and surprisingly resilient online game servers).

As this list of deceased Dreamcast websites was pretty lengthy—and could have been even lengthier if not for a couple of oversights—readers could be forgiven for assuming that the hobby of maintaining websites dedicated to a 25-year old console was fading away. Fortunately though, they would be badly mistaken, and therein lies the purpose of this follow-up: to shine a light on the plethora of websites that are alive, kicking, and proudly serving the Dreamcast scene in 2024.

In no particular order, I present to you the Junkyard’s comrades-in-arms:

Dreamcast-talk (https://www.dreamcast-talk.com

Founded in 2004, and thereby pre-dating the Dreamcast Junkyard by a year, Dreamcast-talk is undoubtedly the lodestar of the scene. The website’s founders set out to establish a forum where DC-heads of various stripes could converge to chew the fat, sans what was perceived to be the overly restrictive administrative practices of certain prior forums. Dreamcast-talk quickly achieved that goal, and has continued to do so persistently and reliably for two decades now. Theoretically it's a fairly easy gig: set out a bunch of themed boards where relevant topics can be discussed, weed out spam or egregious flaming, and undertake technical maintenance from time to time. In practice though, maintaining a forum can be a bloody nightmare, and the fact that a day rarely goes by without fresh posts being made or a new member signing up is a testament to how important Dreamcast-Talk remains. 165,348 posts made and not out: as solid an innings as you are likely to see from an internet forum. When the gold anniversary hits in 2054 I promise I’ll deliver a better present than a couple of paragraphs in a rambling blog post…

DCEmulation (https://dcemulation.org

DCEmulation is another of the scene’s OGs that is still trucking in 2024. Actually, screw that. Given that it was founded in September 2000 (!), and is by my estimation the oldest Dreamcast-focused website to grace the worldwide web today, it would only be fair to say that DCEmulation is the OG of the scene. When the historians finally turn their academic gaze to our beloved little white box, DCEmulation will probably be mentioned in every other footnote. 

As the name suggests, DCEmulation’s initial focus was on documenting and discussing the development of emulators designed to run on the Dreamcast. Naturally, due to the type of audience and contributors that flocked to it, this focus quite quickly broadened out to cover Dreamcast homebrew development in its entirety. A few years in, spats between admins resulted in some splitting (which is succinctly summarised by our German brethren at Sega-DC.de), but thankfully this behaviour wasn’t endemic. In fact, efforts turned from splitting to amalgamation in 2010, when DCEmulation incorporated the forum for the unofficial Phantasy Star Online server, Sylverant.

Although the DCEmulation Wiki has now been mothballed, the forum, which alongside the Simulant Discord server is home to some of the most knowledgeable Dreamcast coders out there, is still in active service after 729,068 posts. Props to [darc], Bluecrab, and the whole DCEmulation community for keeping the show on the road all these years. 

Top 12 Disney Games on the Sega Dreamcast

The Sega Dreamcast's short lifespan (relatively speaking) didn't lend itself to a large number of "big" licenses coming to the console. Alongside Sega's own franchises, we received a third-party lineup that was - again, relative to other consoles - not huge, with a couple of noticeable exceptions (think Capcom). This proved to be both a blessing and a curse for the Dreamcast. It allowed the console to hold a rather unique place amongst its peers: it wasn't plagued by sub-standard licensed games, but was also missing some rather popular titles, which led to the console being considered a little more "niche". Of course we did receive our share of big name releases, and alongside the sports leagues, professional skateboarder and vehicle licenses, we did see a small but not inconsequential number of games that fell under the umbrella of the worldwide media behemoth Disney.

Many of Disney's licenses, above and beyond their big-eared animated rodent, are popular the world over. And, as long as there have been licensed video games, Disney have been publishing tie-in games in order to ring as much money out of their animated movie releases as possible. Unlike some of their competitors though, Disney has a rather unique place in gaming with a series of titles released, especially in the early '90s, that were really rather good. Far from being quick movie adaptations, the likes of Castle of Illusion, Aladdin and The Jungle Book helped define the 2D platformer age and have aged particularly well both technically and in the nostalgic memory of players. 

Disney's legacy on the Dreamcast is perhaps not quite so fondly remembered, but there were still some decent animated adventures. Plus, thanks to the company's subsequent attempts at monopolising the entertainment industry, these days the Dreamcast now finds itself the home to several Disney-owned licenses that are worthy of at least a look. Some of the games on this list are probably not what you were expecting to see when you clicked onto this article (sorry!), but thanks to Disney's rather aggressive business pursuits, all of the games on this list technically now fall under the umbrella of The Mouse, even if they didn't originally on release...

(All pictures in this article were either taken by myself using my rather mediocre screen capturing setup, or from the fine folks over at MobyGames.)


12. Disney's Dinosaur

Just breaking into the top dozen of Disney titles on the Dreamcast is this tie-in with the somewhat forgotten 2000s movie "Dinosaur" - which always seems to be referred to as "Disney's Dinosaur" for some reason. Whilst it isn't one of the company's biggest or most fondly remembered films, it was still a decent family-friendly romp, and anything with dinosaurs in is always going to have a ready-made fanbase of kids who can't get enough of the prehistoric reptiles. 

As a game it has some interesting points – it's a puzzle adventure title aimed at the kid's market where you switch between a trio of characters, each of whom have different abilities and skills, and make progress by utilising the right character for the right task. The isometric/top-down graphics are nice and there are loads of snippets from the film included, but the game suffers from being just a bit average – which is a criticism that can be levelled against the movie as well. The puzzles aren't all that interesting, relying on the sort of generic setup that the all-encompassing "action-adventure" genre revels in. The combat is disappointing and the controls leave something to be desired. It's not a terrible game, especially if you're part of the target market or a fan of the film, but it's all a bit too generic and unremarkable to make it any higher on this list.


11. Buzz Lightyear of Star Command

Next up and just missing out on a spot in the top ten is an adaption of an animated TV series which itself is a spin-off from Disney Pixar's ever-popular Toy Story franchise. Centred around the exploits of the Buzz Lightyear character (although not the toy version we've come to love, but rather the character which the toy is based on in the film's own lore) this is a fun if sometimes generic action-adventure title, developed by Traveller's Tales (who are more well known today for developing the incredibly popular and multi-license spanning Lego games).

The action involves platforming, running, shooting and beating similar looking baddies, quite typical for a licensed game of this type. Whilst it is never particularly innovative, it does at least deliver an approachable and enjoyable gameplay experience. Graphically, the PlayStation roots of the game are rather glaring with blocky characters and a lack of texture that stands in stark contract to the best the Dreamcast has to offer, although they are still bright and colourful (it's worth noting the Dreamcast version was the first to release, although it's glaringly obvious that it was developed in tandem with the inferior hardware of Sony's machine). The links to the Sony release are also evident in the game's general performance, which holds up for the most part, although sometimes descends into bouts of slowdown. The game does deliver in other areas though, with a decent soundtrack and plenty of snippets of dialogue taken from the show, as well as some sort video clips. The issue throughout the game is that there isn't anything to really criticise - it does a good job at bringing the TV series to life for its young audience, but can never escape being a quite average, middle-of-the-road licensed title that feels very similar to a bunch of other similar games in the early 3D age. For those who love the character and have nostalgia for the series, it's worth a look today and it's far from being a bad game - but don't expect a poll-topping title here. 


10 Very British Games for the Sega Dreamcast

The British are an odd bunch. We're not really a country (look we're not, you have to admit it. It's like someone got a bunch of nations together who don't really like each other all that much, told them the same rich pricks are in charge of them all and everyone was like "oh okay" and went on about their business. Other than the Irish, obviously), but we have contributed far more than our share towards modern culture (partly by being real arseholes to just about everyone else and insisting they consume our culture whilst invading them), have terrible cuisine, terrible weather and a really, really shit flag. Yet the internet (and by "the internet", I mean Americans on the internet) views all of us Brits as a bunch of posh people who live in country estates who apologise to each other every other second; generally a bunch of genial, mostly nice and horribly polite people with bad teeth. Of course, the Europeans don't see us like that, and instead see us for our true selves - a bunch of gammon-faced troublemaking binge-drinking tourists who invented the sport they're now better than us at. And of course by "us" I mean "the English" because somehow the Welsh and Scottish get a free pass from everyone else despite them both sitting right alongside us when we were arseholes to the rest of the world. So yeah, we're not really a very nice country all in all, if you can even call us a country. What has this to do with the Dreamcast? Absolutely nothing - other than the fact that there are several games on this little Japanese 128-bit wonder that try and come close to truly capturing the real essence behind "being British" - and those games are my target for the latest in my ongoing series of lists about Dreamcast things.

So, without further ado, let's take a look at the ten most "cor blimey, fish n' chips, bottla wateh, tea and crumpets, god save the king" games on the Dreamcast.


Disney's 102 Dalmatians: Puppies to the Rescue

Set mostly in London (aren't all UK-based video games?), this Disney adaptation contains Big Ben, posh English people and dogs. All quintessentially British. The little canine stars travel to various locations either directly modelled after real-life locations (or at least as far as "modelled" can be attributed to a Dreamcast-era movie tie-in) as well as some more generic locations with a British feel. As the game is based on a live action movie and not an actual Disney animated film (which was always a bit of a weird mix), there is some definite artistic license taken, especially as developer Toys for Bob are based in the distinctly un-British state of California, along with Prolific Publishing, who dealt with the Dreamcast port. This all results in a "Disneyfied" Britain that will be familiar to most of us but doesn't quite reflect the hard streets of London or the rubbish-strewn, annoying middle class walker-infested countryside we all love. At times, you half expect Mary Poppins to emerge from a chimney with a hopping Dick Van Dyke singing some ridiculous song behind her. Disney's bastardisation of British culture is something we should all bemoan, especially if you've ever visited the city of Bath and had to contend with the culture-shocked American tourists despondently trudging the streets who thought that everything would be posh, cultured and historic but instead have to contend with crackheads trying to sell shit-stained PS2 games from a carrier bag to people on the street. And that's just Bath - can you imagine their reaction if they visited Swindon?

This is Piccadilly Circus. Sort of. Points for the phone box, but it's slightly less busy than I remember it.

The first appearance of a red double decker in the article. Surely more will come?

The British countryside in all its glory. Sort of.

Britishness Rating: As British as Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. Dancing chimney sweeps should, however, make a return.

British Town it Best Represents: London, I suppose. If you're American, anyway. 

Fragmented Almanac: Teaser Trailer and an Interview with Developer Roby Provost

Last month, the Junkyard office was abuzz with excitement when we caught wind of the news that Fragmented Almanac, a compilation of two eerie narrative-based puzzle games, was soon due to be released by fledgling indie studio ANTIRUINS on our beloved Sega Dreamcast. Alas, we don't actually have an office (yet), but the flurry of activity on our Discord and WhatsApp channels did a commendable job of emulating an exuberant water cooler experience nonetheless.

The duo of games contained within the Fragmented Almanac wrapper, The Hideout and Summoning Signals, have been in gestation for many years now, and whenever we had the opportunity to sample the work-in-development, our appetites for more only grew. At times it looked like the projects were sadly destined to join the extensive list of cancelled Dreamcast games, and so it was particularly sweet to hear that they are in fact now complete, and due for both physical and digital release in March of 2024.

Of course, after a lengthy session ogling the artsy ANTIRUINS website, I only wanted to learn more. Fortunately, lead developer Roby Provost has been kind enough to spill the beans in the following interview that covers everything from the conceptual foundations of Fragmented Almanac, down to the nuts and bolts of the game's printing and distribution. To put the cherry on top, Roby also provided us with a new teaser trailer that we are delighted to reveal for the first time here on the Junkyard.

* * *

DCJY: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us Roby. To kick things off, can you tell us what players should expect from The Hideout and Summoning Signals, the two games that are being released together as Fragmented Almanac?

Roby: They are quite unique games. They're not shmups, that's for sure! I honestly think that Fragmented Almanac might be one of the most polished indie Dreamcast releases we've seen so far. As I tried to explain on our website, it is at the intersection of video game, art and alchemy. It's a game that makes you dream, or at the very least, makes you think. We wanted to make a project that lingers in the back of your mind, trying to decode the meaning of "scroll". The whole release is designed like a puzzle: full of secrets, truths and symbols. 

This being said, they are not long games. We wished we could have made the full version of Reaperi Cycle, a game which The Hideout was initially a demo of, but it was way too ambitious - especially when we first started back in 2016. Still, we think that people who enjoy strange, narrative-driven games with some puzzles will enjoy Fragmented Almanac. It's definitely a unique proposition, as games like Seaman or Seventh Cross Evolution were. Of course, I really think Seventh Cross Evolution could have been way better. Maybe we'll have to make Eighth Cross Evolution one day 😉.

And if you had to categorise them by genre, would it be fair to say they are "point-and-click" adventures, or is that too restrictive?

I honestly struggle to find the proper term for these games! You don't even click to move around, so perhaps it's more like a cursor adventure? But even that doesn't have a great ring to it. Maybe they are puzzle games? Strange, narrative-based puzzle games?

Whatever they are, they have a distinctive eerie and mysterious style. What is the inspiration behind that?

I think eerie and mysterious is just in our DNA! More seriously, most of the inspiration for our games is drawn either from ideas of the past, or visions of the future - and in particular, things that have been forgotten or that are not bound to happen. The concept of the almanac, a book or document that predicts the time, felt like a great starting point. It's interesting to think about what motivated the creation of almanacs. Were their authors trying to create a system to anticipate the future? Were they trying to provide a guide, a sense of security? Some almanacs are based on the words of religious texts while others get their predictions from the stars. It was interesting to research the many forms that almanacs take, both visually and in the information we provide.

For us, the Almanac is used to somewhat guide and inform the player. As you play the game, you'll unlock fragments and access more lore and art from the game. Muet (Simon Chiasson Greffard), one of our team members, is the one who infused The Hideout with most of its alchemical philosophies. We dug deep within alchemical imagery and symbols and tried to craft something out of it.

NBA Showtime - For The Industry

Designed and published by Midway Games, Inc for the Sega Dreamcast in 1999, NBA Showtime is still worth playing in 2024, and its 128-bit graphics are worth preserving — for character artists and gamers alike.

When we position NBA Showtime on the Dreamcast amongst today’s sports games, something interesting happens. Showtime feels surprisingly fresh with its simple controls and tight playing moves. That is because Showtime is accessible in a way that modern NBA 2K purposefully never will be.

What’s more, Showtime’s old-school graphics and big time dunks led me to a major premise — design choices can impact the lives of the people who create and consume a game. That is because design choices made by big tech directly impact game budgets, development staffing decisions, and can even manipulate player spending habits, too. Powerful.

Without question, economical and responsibly made sports games are needed in the 2024 sports game market. NBA Showtime is a reminder of what is possible on hardware from over 20 years ago; and its 128-bit design may serve as a prescription in the face of an industry profiting billions off of gambling mechanics in sports games.

NBA Showtime’s Economical Design


Showtime’s economical design for the Dreamcast illustrates why arcade sports games are still worth playing. "The NBA on NBC", as it was known in the arcades at the turn of the millennium, is fun and super competitive without complex gameplay controls.

I did not expect to play Sega Dreamcast sports games in 2024. And upon powering up, I did not anticipate Showtime’s orchestral strings to invoke such strong emotions about its standing. But when we position it amongst today’s lineup of sports games, nothing actually compares. Whereas NBA 2K, the top selling NBA Basketball game series of the last decade, adopts a model of endless combinations and movesets, Showtime has just four buttons. Easy. One of those buttons is capable of launching three point shots high into the atmosphere, where the basketball seems to sky just long enough to remind yourself to breathe. Hence, the game does fun things with the sport through its iconic presentation — taking a three-pointer and turning it into an exciting event to replay over and over.

More importantly, Showtime is offline, and thus not connected to your credit card. It feels honest — unlike today’s games ruined by wallet exploits and complicated control schemes. The NBA 2K series, a prime culprit, builds its obfuscated player ratings and movesets into its game economy systems. Yes, the NBA’s flagship game has endless shops of in-game items to purchase. Everything is for sale.

Moreover, sports gamers today are at the mercy of the engineers at 2K Sports because 2K’s gameplay is constantly patched, often without notice — an unethical and potentially illegal business practice. For example, an animation purchased in week one of a game release might lose all value by week ten. Thus, 2K’s confusing layers of ratings systems are purposeful, designed to extract maximum funds out of players’ pockets.

Contrasting with 2K, Showtime’s rosters are locked in at specific ratings, and the game features a handful of player archetypes. Bigs, mids, and guards. That is it, and it works. Showtime is a game to enjoy, and its designers emphasized quick-hitting matches to keep the gameplay loop moving. For arcade machines, the gameplay loop was profitable, but on Dreamcast, players can play endless matches for a flat fee. For context, I purchased the game on eBay for the fitting price of $19.99 in late 2023.

Additionally, Showtime provides an abundance of what it calls its “coaching tips” in-between quarters that provide insight into the game’s AI and logic. Hence, we know a good deal about how Showtime works. And Showtime is not going to unilaterally change its player ratings any time soon via an online update.

When we look at Midway's arcade baller today, its simplicity comes across as a bit underrated. The graphics are blocky, the animations — awkward. But that is part of its charm, and the game can still hammer home the dunks on the genre to remind everyone it is still fun.

A 128-Bit Prescription for the Industry


Perhaps more importantly are the moral and ethical benefits of 128-bit gaming in 2024 in its various polygonal forms. In a word: remasters.

Remasters of 128-bit polygon arcade games like Showtime may be a compromise for all parties to the sports gaming ecosystem. That is because NBA Showtime’s art-style is highly affordable for the industry to adopt in 2024. As such, a remaster of an NBA Showtime in 2024 would be less laborious on designers, and cost less than most AAA games. For an industry known to run artists into the ground, a remaster is a win. While this argument glosses over the issue of obtaining the requisite licensing for all the players, there are always solutions when there is money to be made. We can trust in that notion.

The benefits of 128-bit games also extend to graphic designer and artist employment terms. Silicon Valley’s unethical practice of hiring and firing artists in waves is unnecessary when a 128-bit game costs a fraction of a major simulation sports production in 2024. The 128-bit graphic design choice is an act of acknowledgement to the artists from generations ago. Remasters can take us back to our roots, and maybe that is something the industry needs right now.

Lower development costs for a 128-bit production also thereby lessen big tech’s need to exploit players through in-game monetization systems. And while we cannot conclusively draw a line between development costs and microtransactions in our games, we can certainly argue the correlation. Lower costs have numerous benefits on the industry. Art direction matters.

Thus, remasters of classic sports games like Showtime represent a path towards dignity for everyone the game touches. Remasters can honor the original artists of NBA Showtime, while treating the artists of today with dignity. And remasters lessen the need for companies to build in morally bankrupt gambling modes into sports games. The premise is simple — companies should have a profound respect for persons and dignity. Human rights should be a part of our game design choices and the industry as a whole.
When we revisit NBA Showtime in 2024, it is less about nostalgia and more so about what the game now represents in the sports genre. The use of 128-bit graphics in sports games in 2024 is a practical path to more humane treatment of game artists and sports game players.

Dreamcast Covers that Go Hard (and Some More that Can Go Straight in the Bin)

Like the greatest album covers in the world, some games make a great impression even when sitting on a shelf. Whilst previews in the media, video trailers and word of mouth are vitally important, it would be wise not to underestimate the immediate impact a game’s cover can have on those with more impressionable minds. Generic artwork or uninspiring stylistic choices may be fine if the game has loads of pre-release hype or a big name license, but stick some glorious artwork from a talented artist on the cover and you're near enough guaranteed some extra interest.

The Dreamcast's small but beautiful library of games is jam-packed with turn-of-the-millennium style and innovation, and this is present in some of the artwork which adorned gaming shelves worldwide. Some are of course, iconic - Ulala's presence on the Space Channel 5 artwork, the striking simplicity of the PAL/Japanese covers of Crazy Taxi, Shenmue's epicness - but there are some that deserve more attention. These are works of art - they deserve to be blown up to a larger size, framed and hung in the finest of art galleries. So it's time to put my best gallery curator hat on and showcase why I think these fifteen choice cuts of Dreamcast cover art glory are examples worthy of so much praise, followed by five duds that deserve the complete opposite...

All covers used in this article come from Sega Retro, unless stated otherwise. Let's get into them...


The Dreamcast covers that go hard...

Spawn: In The Demon's Hand

I could have picked any of the cover variations of this release, as they are all absolutely epic in nature, but I've chosen the standard Japanese cover. Looking more like some great, unknown fantasy war metal album cover, this puts Todd McFarlane's comic masterpiece centre stage with a swirling mass of metal, cloak and spikes. Spawn is the ultimate badass antihero, an imposing demonic hellspawn, and a character that is designed to be visually interesting in whatever angle, pose or situation he is depicted in. As a game, In the Demon's Hand falls a little short, but the cover art surely must have led to a few extra sales.

The artwork for the standard Japanese version, as well as that used on other examples of the game, seem to have been taken from Spawn issue 95. The limited first print edition of the game released in Japan came with a cardboard slipcase with artwork similar to the US and PAL releases - all of which are based on the cover of 95.

The Japanese limited first print edition slipcase artwork (Credit: PlayAsia)

The US cover has the same artwork as both the Japanese slipcase and the PAL release. It's a bit cleaner than the standard Japanese cover, and not as impactful.

The cover art for Spawn issue 95, the artwork of which was the basis for the game covers above.

Mars Matrix (Japanese cover)

Takumi's underrated shooter delivers a depth to the genre that's unrivaled on the console, and has the best cover of any shooter on the system (particularly the Japanese version's cover). I will take no criticism of that viewpoint! This cover is a dynamic, colourful burst of energy which breaks away from the usual clichés seen on the covers of other shoot 'em ups, whilst never going so far out there that you'd be confused as to what genre of game it actually is. Taken as a whole, it's a piece of art; from the fonts used for the title (to continue with the metal references of this article, this text wouldn't look out of place as the logo for some sort of cosmic math metal band), to the colour gradation, to the sleek sci-fi lines and shapes in the background. The US cover (below) isn't awful either, but it lacks the eye-punching appeal that the Japanese release displays.

The US version does many things the Japanese version did, but the change of colours diminishes the appeal somewhat. Still, a decent attempt.

The Complete Guide to Commercially Released Dreamcast Indie Games

The fact that we're still blathering on about the Dreamcast some 20 odd years after the console's demise is testament to two things - the fact that we're sad little people still holding on to a mere glimmer of nostalgia about our youth as we rapidly approach middle age, and also the fact that the community will just not let this console die. We obviously don't talk about the first of those points much (we don't want to remind ourselves that we're becoming less and less culturally literate with every rotation of this damn rock around the sun), but we do talk about how "alive" the system is all the time. Probably too much, to be honest, as many people like to put the Dreamcast firmly in the "past" folder in their brain, preferring to remember what it was like when it was new and current. This is completely understandable, to view the console solely through a sense of nostalgia especially now that we have so many ways of experiencing the console's library which don't rely on having shelves full of games (or spindles full of CD-Rs). We're in that stage of the console's post-life cycle that has many people who left their video gaming behind when they were young dipping into the console once more, stirring up their memories of happier times, and no doubt probably quite confused as to why some of us never left the machine in the past and have continued to be fascinated by Sega's last great home endeavour to this very day.

Whilst the nostalgia is to be expected, it is the vitality of the current Dreamcast scene which keeps us writing about it. In between the tired posts of social media influencers asking people if they remember Sonic Adventure or Crazy Taxi, there has been an incredibly active scene covering every element of the Dreamcast for years. We have new hardware and controllers, games with online modes re-activated, more translations of Japanese games than I can actually keep track of, books, magazines, an entire series of arcade titles ported to the console, and a strong homebrew community that is creating some astonishing things. And it's that last point that allows me to pivot, finally, towards the point of this article. Alongside homebrew ports of classic titles (as I write this, the recent demo of the Metal Gear Solid 2 port is literally mind blowing) and fun little projects, we've now had 20 years of "proper" retail-released indie titles for the Dreamcast. My aim here is to document all of these in one article. I do love a long article...

I love Dreamcast indie titles. While they are not officially licensed by Sega, there is something very special about receiving a physical version of a game to be played on a console a quarter of a century old. The quality of the Dreamcast indie scene varies, which is to be expected, but even when a game is a bit crappy, I still have a certain sense of respect that it has been released on the console at all. Of course, I am a big weirdo, and will pick up anything you slap a "Dreamcast" label on, but for those who want to be a bit more selective with their hard-earned cash when expanding their Dreamcast library, a subjective view is always useful. In this article I hope to do just that - as well as take a look back at the various versions of the games that were released, where you can pick them up today, and any other interesting things that I can cram in before losing all excitement about writing this already massive article. This will also be constantly updated (hello, future people!) with my views on any new indie release, which will hopefully allow it to be a one-stop-shop for anyone interested in the broad DC indie scene - this will of course sit alongside our regular indie reviews from the entire DCJY team (I can also recommend Laurence's superb roundup of the indie scene in this article, if you want a slightly different perspective). It's also worth checking out our directory of indie developers and publishers, where you'll find direct links to all those involved in the indie scene.

Now, I need to add some context and "rules" here. The scope of this article will not include every single homebrew port or project - the first rule of the article is that it had to have been released physically and could be purchased by anyone. Of course, you can pick up a copy of any of the homebrew ports with nice printed inlays on Etsy - so that's when the second rule comes in: the physical release must have been officially sanctioned by the developer or rights holder. Finally, only full releases will count - so no demos, hacks or mods will be included, although total conversion mods that became standalone games in their own right do count. For the context of this article, only the games that meet the criteria I've just established will be called "indie releases". Will I probably end up breaking these rules to include something that I probably shouldn't? You betcha. Welcome to the wonderful world of "Mike doesn't stick to his own rules". 

Enough of my nonsense (well, enough of this opening bit of nonsense, there's a lot more nonsense that lies ahead, I'm afraid!)  - on with the article!

Vanishing Point: The Dreamcast's Secret Ridge Racer

In early January 2001, while most were still nursing hangovers and recovering from eating too many mince pies, Vanishing Point released on both the Dreamcast and PlayStation to little fanfare in what was an already overcrowded genre. As such, it unfortunately drifted off into obscurity as one of the most misunderstood and underappreciated racing games of its era.

The titular "Vanishing Point" was actually a reference to developer Clockwork Games' ambitions to create a racing game with neither graphical pop up or fog masking the draw distance. It was also inspired by popular arcade racers of the time, such as Sega Rally, SCUD racer, and there is definitely a taste of Ridge Racer in the visual and course design, with planes flying overhead, yachts in harbours, windmills, trains and of course, lots of big fancy bridges. 

Image credit: MobyGames

But before we go any further, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. The game's intro footage is about as misleading as any opening FMV could be for a game. You do not directly race against opponents, there are no aggressive two-way or even three-way races, nor are there oncoming tankers with explosions to satisfy even the craziest of pyromaniacs. That said, what is here, is a rather unique take on the arcade racer. Instead of starting at the back and working your way through the pack to first place, the structure is more like an open time trial. This has led to the misconception over the years that Vanishing Point is just a time trial game. While the aim is to beat each race's set time, the real hook of the game is the traffic you have to weave through as efficiently as possible in order to be able to hit that time - you can’t just follow the most obvious path around the course. The traffic is also multi-tiered, adding an extra layer of depth to how you must approach your driving.

There are two types of traffic AI, the first being basic "drone" vehicles which are just cars that happen to be on the road. They pose very little risk, as long as you just don’t plough into them. But what does make the driving of Vanishing Point much more interesting are other racers on the road who are also vying for the fastest time. Being ready to respond to whatever is going to happen in front of you makes getting past these particular drivers much more challenging; they are much less predictable, and will even try to get around the drone traffic, often taking themselves out in the process.

Image credit: MobyGames

This brings the three key pillars of Vanishing Point into view:

  • Momentum
  • Anticipation
  • Threading the line

In order to keep your speed up, you need to carry momentum through the corners of the course into the straights, which entails not slowing down too sharply or steering too heavily. At the same time, you have to anticipate the traffic ahead, and may find that the fastest path forward is also going to lead you directly into a three-car pile-up, adding a great risk/reward hook. This makes threading your line around the course and through the traffic vital, and once you're familiar with the handling, this is an extremely satisfying gameplay mechanic, especially when combined with the incredible sense of speed the faster cars have.

There are a variety of licensed vehicles from several manufacturers available, including Ford, Toyota and Audi, each with their own unique handling and physics models. The differences between the cars provide a good level of variety to races, as it means there are better ways to approach certain courses depending on the vehicle you have selected. The courses and also nicely varied in both layout and aesthetics, which helps to prevent the game from looking and feeling samey as you progress.

Image credit: MobyGames

The structure of the game is very much of its time, having you start with a very limited choice of vehicles and courses, with more choices opening up the further you progress. Not only do you unlock additional vehicles and courses, but there are entire new game modes to discover, including a "Stunt Driver" mode, with objectives for stunts to carry out, and a "Rally" mode. There are also some multiplayer modes, including the usual head-to-head racing, but also "Balloon Buster" and "Chicken Races", which altogether makes Vanishing Point a surprisingly well-rounded package with plenty of replay value. What’s more, although only two can play at a time, the "Knock Out", "Tournament" and "Winner Stays On" modes support up to eight participants.

Image credit: MobyGames

Visually, Vanishing Point has that "PS1 game" look about it… except, with a higher resolution, cleaner textures and a silky smooth frame rate of 60fps. The car models are rendered authentically, if a little lower in detail compared to other games on the system. 

The game is no slouch on the sound front, with some pretty beefy engine sounds and a soundtrack that never quite hits the highs of Sega or Namco’s greatest, but is far from terrible and fits the high-speed action well.

Clockwork Games didn't quite achieve their ambition of making a game that feels like Sega Rally, but once you learn to ignore the urge to correct the oversteer, there is a very smooth and responsive arcade racer worth experiencing. All in all, Vanishing Point stands out as a unique racing title on the system, and with its relatively cheap preowned price, it is a worthy of addition to any Dreamcast owner's collection.

Have you played Vanishing Point? If so, what are your thoughts on it? Let us know in the comments below or via one of our many social media channels.

6 Games that Scratch the Shenmue Itch

There really isn't anything quite like Shenmue. As most Dreamcast fans know by now, the gameplay of Yu Suzuki's magnum opus, which juxtaposed snail's pace sleuthing around Japanese suburbia with frantic Virtua Fighter ass kicking, was polarising back when it surfaced in 1999. I am one of those many crazy people who absolutely loved everything Shenmue had to offer, especially the game's focus on the minutiae of everyday life. While some might prefer to escape to lands of medieval fantasy or vast universes of the future, I was completely entranced by the real world in which Shenmue was set, and the ordinary people that inhabited it. It felt like I'd finally found the game I'd always wanted to play.

In the 18 year absence of the series' third entry, I still needed something to scratch the Shenmue itch, and with many now wondering when a fourth instalment is going to happen, I find myself searching once again (seriously though, #LetsGetShenmue4). That's why I thought I'd present to you, dear reader, a selection of games that I believe capture the essence of Shenmue, some in more ways than others. Of course, I'm not implying that any of these games trump Shenmue in stature or quality. I'm simply suggesting that you may find some of the same enjoyment in them that you found that first time you assumed the role of Ryo Hazuki, as he set off on his quest to irritate his fellow townspeople with excessive deadpan and waste all his money on plastic Sega-shaped tat (a man after my own heart, really).

The Yakuza Series
For those of you who aren't aware of the Yakuza series (if you even exist at this point), it is a modern Sega franchise that often draws comparisons to Shenmue for obvious reasons. While Yakuza didn't necessarily copy Shenmue's homework, we'd be lying to ourselves if we didn't admit that the later games in the series definitely take some inspiration from Shenmue, at least when we compare the two at face value. A man walks angrily around a Japanese neighbourhood, beats up a load of thugs, chugs a drink, then heads to the arcade to play Space Harrier… I could be accurately describing Shenmue or Yakuza with that sentence, and the internet’s gaming population at large have picked up on these somewhat shallow similarities also. There’s not a single day that goes by without someone shouting "why don't you just play Yakuza?!" at some poor unsuspecting Shenmue fan on social media.
Image credit: New Game Network
When you start to play any of the Yakuza games, however, you soon learn that the series very much has its own identity and its gameplay differs in many ways to the adventures of Ryo Hazuki. Sure, later Yakuza games started to incorporate a lot of the same time-waster stuff that is a beloved staple of the Shenmue series, like arcades and gambling, but Yakuza is overall much faster paced, and its beat-em-up style of brawling is even more dynamic and ridiculous than Shenmue's. Think Dynamite Cop on steroids. Let's just say you're not really taking time to appreciate the scenery in Yakuza, unless that scenery is a bicycle you can pick up to smash a dude's head with. Which style of game you prefer is all down to individual taste, of course.
Image credit: New Game Network
What the two series do have in common though is a commitment to escapism. Just like Shenmue, the Yakuza games contain excellent stories, all featuring likeable characters and gameplay loops that will keep you immersed for hours on end as you bond with characters through missions and become fully encapsulated in Japanese nightlife. For those still longing for that fourth Shenmue, Yakuza is a pretty fitting game to fill the void, and with a whopping number of instalments to play that span multiple console generations, you've got plenty to work with. Go forth and be the best organised crime bloke you can be.

The Persona Series
In the past, Shenmue has been branded a "life simulator" by fans and critics alike. Well, if there was ever a series that took that concept and ran with it, it's the Persona games. Created as a spin-off of Atlus' dark-as-heck Shin Megami Tensei RPG series, Persona has grown from a quiet cult hit to a monolith franchise in the last decade. Combining turn-based RPG gameplay and creature fusing with (from the third game onwards) time management and relationship building, Persona will steal your heart and not give it back. Play it for a few hours and you'll soon find yourself thinking in the same mindset as the Japanese high school student turned defender of humanity you play as, asking yourself such questions as: "should I slay demons tonight or go sing some karaoke?"
Image credit: New Game Network
While turn-based RPG battling and creature training has more in common with Pokémon than Shenmue, Persona's commitment to exploring the finer details of real life and asking you, the player, to make decisions on how to spend the main character's precious free time definitely shares some similarities with what Yu Suzuki was going for back in '99. While Persona is a lot less interactive than Shenmue (it's a JRPG, so be prepared for text galore), it goes a bit further in some ways. In Persona, you form more than just one-sided Ryo Hazuki relationships, and most activities you do in your free time have purpose (such as karaoke), boosting stats of some kind, rather than being there to simply kill time.
Image credit: New Game Network
As far as recommending a game in this series to start you off, I'd say start with Persona 5 Royal or the upcoming Persona 3 Reload (both of which can be found on modern gen systems and PC), simply for their sheer size, depth of mechanics, and level of graphical detail. The best storyline, however, is definitely that of Persona 4 Golden, which was previously stuck on the PS Vita, but eventually got ported to PC and Nintendo Switch, along with eighth/ninth generation PlayStation and Xbox systems. Small town countryside vibes, combined with the best plot and characters of the whole series, definitely makes Persona 4 Golden a candidate for everyone's first Persona game. Reach out to the truth!