In celebration of the Sega Dreamcast’s 10th anniversary, we here at Elder-Geek salute the console-that-just-couldn’t in a burst of fond reminiscing. Bundled in with the hardware were several key features that would later become industry standards: like crisp, true 3-D graphics and online functionality. The Dreamcast’s ominous 9-9-99 U.S. launch date effectively began the sixth home-system generation, and although it arrived a while before the rest of the generation, its failure to attach to the American market eventually spelled its defeat. In March of 2001, Sega officially ceased production on the Dreamcast. The console since gained a cult-favorite status among a multitude of gamers.
But the largest disappointment in the Dreamcast lifecycle is that the little system managed to garner a more than half-way decent library in its few short years on the market. Arcade perfect ports (due to the Dreamcast utilizing the same technical innards as Sega’s own arcade cabinets) and unique new IPs dotted its landscape, but what were the true gems in this collection? What became the fan favorites of a fan favorite console? Elder-Geek’s here to dive into the catalog of what was with the console of “what could have been” to find out, these are the Top 10 Sega Dreamcast Games of all time.
Number 10: Crazy Taxi
Vehicular carnage was a popular theme in the 1990s, spilling over into the new century with Hitmaker Studios’ Crazy Taxi. One of the many titles to see an excellent port out of the arcade circuit, you take control of the driver of your choice and take on the simple task of ferrying clients to their destination. What set Taxi apart from the ever-vigilant arcade racing genre is that destruction and damage actually added to, rather than detracted from, player’s scores. This simple concept yielded scenic drives of danger that would make Lindsay Lohan proud, and it felt just as right at home as it did standing up in the ‘cades. Although the formula didn’t stay as strong through it’s sequel, it was some of the most fun you could have at home while it lasted. Major points off for a vomit-belchingly bad soundtrack on torturous repeat, but it wouldn’t be a taxi ride without music that encouraged violence against property and citizen, would it?
Number 9: Powerstone 2
The first of many fighting game series that had its heyday on Sega’s bulky white box, the sequel to one of its launch titles exploded beyond its predecessor’s brilliance with one simple inclusion: 4-fighter multiplayer. Sure, adding more characters, stages, and bells and whistles aided the transition, but it was the new ability to beat the crap out of 3 of your friends that made Powerstone 2 a deviously good time. The series’ trademark 3-D arenas filled with interactive improv-weaponry successfully combined the cave-man thrill of the beat-em-up with the more timing-sensitive, built-up rage combat of then-modern fighters. There was even a new “adventure” mode that had story-mode style progression and the additional thrill of an inventory filled with painful goodies, all kindly included for those of us without friends. PSP owners can now own the entire series, but for the time of its release, Powerstone 2 was one of the leading causes of violence among friends.
Number 8: Virtua Tennis
The greatest example of Dreamcast-online action, Sega’s own sports title revolutionized the Tennis video game market, by being the first good one available on console. Remaining one of the best sports games ever made, if just barely, Virtua Tennis was the perfect blend of easy to learn, difficult to master controls and addictive gameplay that had players of all varieties duking it out for hours on the couch or across the internet connection. The series has carried this formula across into the next and current generation, and the formula still manages to be one of the greatest experiences you can have despite having no knowledge of how to play the actual game. The best part? It doesn’t feature Mario.
Number 7: Resident Evil: Code Veronica
Yes, yet another multi-platform release to don a console-exclusive list, but for over a year, no other console had their grimy little hands on one of the better titles in the revolutionary survival horror franchise. It boasted some of the console’s best graphics at screenshot-glance, and the proven Resident Evil formula still frightened without the need for obtuse action sequences. Sure, saying its the second best story in the Resident Evil franchise is like saying it’s the second least painful flick at the groin, but it’s solid length and technical prowess provided more than enough incentive for Dreamcast owners to dangle the release over other console owner’s heads…while they still could.
Number 6: Sonic Adventure
The hedgehog’s first foray into an additional dimension is a testament to the speed-course gameplay format, even though the title suffers from a bit of nostalgia’s rose-tint. Any attempts at story were laughably bad and Adventure did suffer from some face-palming awkward open-level design, but when Sonic’s feet outpace Mach 2 and carry you through loops, springs, and gigantic gaps of air, much is forgiven. And unlike most in the franchise, Sonic Adventure manages to escape the “it’s-playing-itself” feeling and truly gives you a sense of control over the lightning-fast rodent, its sense of speed and – in some stages – impending danger unmatched in most platformers then and now. Plus, it was one of the last times we had only to deal with Sonic’s main crew and a few extras, before being bogged down by a dozen of ____ the ____ side-kick. And for the true fans, that means everything.
Number 5: Phantasy Star Online
The other grand example of the Dreamcast’s online capabilities, Phantasy Star Online took the series’ space-drama into a frontier as unexplored and frightening as any stretch of space, the internet. The main reason for Sega’s inclusion of an in-console modem, the ability to go on a good old-fashioned RPG adventure with up to 3 friends proved to be a major selling point for the title, and for good reason. The dungeon-crawling and item-grabbing gameplay ala Diablo fit perfectly with energy swords and guns, combining to make an infinitely replayable experience, despite the wait for your less grinding-inclined friends to level up to a respectable plateau. In a genre that still grapples with the idea of online-play, Phantasy Star Online was an innovative as it was addictive, and a harbinger for where we see RPGs attempting to go even now.
Number 4: Skies of Arcadia
Easily one of the greatest RPGs of all time, Skies of Arcadia stood out among the Dreamcast’s RPG library like a Nordic bodybuilder among infants. This is probably because the console wasn’t known for its traditional RPG collection, but it’s the fine-tuning of the traditional elements of the genre to perfection that made Skies such a breath-taking experience. The idea of air-pirates plundering floating isles and rescuing captured women was another refreshing turn in a genre bloated with emo former-mercenaries rebelling against their industrialist origins. Multi-layered battles, beautiful graphics, and a gorgeous soundtrack quickly launched Skies of Arcadia to the top of any true RPGer’s must-have list. Plus, it installed a mini-RPG to your controller’s VMU unit, and that’s awesome.
Number 3: Jet Grind Radio
Admittedly more important to Elder-Geek than most gaming publications, the simple joys of defacing public property just never seemed so elegantly designed than in Jet Grind Radio. Amazing cell-shaded graphics and one of the best soundtracks of its – and all – time, it told the story of a group of headstrong skater punks (in roller form, not board) rebelling against the law by spraying graffiti all over the walls of a quirky and undeniably cooler version of Tokyo, Japan. Before even Grand Theft Auto III came and made legal disobedience cool, Jet Grind Radio blasted its way into your eye sockets and wouldn’t let go. Another example of simple gameplay leading to impossible-to-put-down addictiveness, the game unfortunately sold worse than Chinatown Wars on the DS, dropping to $10 less than a year after its release. The Xbox later received an updated port of the title, but for those of us that new it in its natural habitat (and always knew roller-skating was cool), we deface our nearest public building in this game’s honor.
Number 2: Shenmue
The game that launched a thousand fan boys, Shenmue was built as the game that would Change Everything. While its ultimately disastrous sales prevented it from doing so, it’s strong central gameplay and engrossing storyline built it one of the strongest and most dedicated fanbases to ever attach itself to a video game. The supposed three-part tale of young martial artist Ryo Hazuki’s revenge for his father (who fell at the skills of a master criminal and martial artist) Shenmue popularized both the quick-time event and like-it-or-not realism, an odd but functional combination that only further the story’s subversive immersion. The world of Shenmue ran on its own time, full to the brim with side activities and go-nowhere conversations about finding sailors. Even those not gripped within its story couldn’t deny that every moment of Shenmue was expertly paced towards something grander to come. Alas, fan’s patience outlasted the franchise’s profitability, with the three-part story arch yielding only two games and a MMO rumor. Fans of the formula got a spiritual sequel in the Yakuza series, but the dedicated Dreamcast owners can still pinpoint the exact moment when forklifts took on a whole new meaning.
Number 1: Soul Calibur
If the strength of a console was truly determined by those games that launched beside it, the Dreamcast would have outsold the Playstation 2 and we would all be playing on our Dreamcast 2s instead of reading this. To-the-frame pitch perfect controls combined with eye-blisteringly brilliant graphics, the original Soul Caliber set many the bar in the fighting game market for the entire sixth generation, only outpaced by the very apex of the PS2 near the end. Obtuse fighting arenas made the game’s deeply customizable weapon-based fighting system that much more dangerous in the right hands. Still one of the fighting games we can return to either in our button-mashing moods or tournament-fighter moods, Soul Caliber was a benchmark in more video game histories than pretty much any other game released then or now. It is the greatest port in all of video game history. It is the greatest launch title in all of video game history. And, without a shred of doubt, it is the greatest Sega Dreamcast game in all of video game history.