I don’t tend to do er, “relevant”, blog posts these days but I couldn’t let the Dreamcast’s birthday go by without saying something, could I?
Seventeen years ago today (please adjust for your local timezone) Sega’s last-ditch attempt to win the hearts and minds of gamers launched in Japan, wowing stalwart Sega fans and curious Playstation owners with… let’s see… Godzilla Generations, July, Pen Pen TriIcelon and a really bad port of Virtua Fighter 3tb. Oh dear.
Still, as we all know things soon picked up on the software front and the console ended up being home to some of the best and brightest games of its generation – it even had some third party support, which is pretty remarkable considering the balls-up they’d made of just about everything post-Mega Drive.
But having things pick up wasn’t what made the Dreamcast special, it was the way Sega threw the creative kitchen sink at the console – a real “can do” attitude that made it feel like Sega were up for funding any good idea their development teams came up with, and they didn’t care if it was “sensible” in the traditional gaming sense or not. Thanks to this combination of classic Sega fizz and more than a dash of desperation we ended up with games that explored the birth of digital life via the medium of trance music, retro-space dance battling reporters, and time travelling dolphin adventures in outer space superbly narrated by The Doctor (#4). You just don’t get headline first party releases like that any more… probably because the last company that tried that hit the floor so hard they bowed out of console production forever, but let’s not dwell on that point.
Sega also gave the world the VMU, which about a day after gave way to the dreaded VMU <beeeeeeeep!> – your friendly reminder to replace the batteries in the damned thing just so you could name your Sonic Adventure Chao and turn on your console without waking up everyone in a five mile radius. VMUs can be safely filed under “Nice idea, terrible execution”, with the added humiliation of being soundly beaten in all respects by Sony’s PocketStation.
The important thing to remember is that the Dreamcast itself wasn’t a failure – in fact, it sold so well that Nintendo’s Wii U has only recently managed to overtake it (took Nintendo about twice as long to get there too) – it was just the console shouldered with the impossible task of turning around the Saturn’s (and Mega CD’s, and 32X’s) EU/US failure and magically healing all the internal conflicts the company had been tearing itself apart with since the 16-bit era. A lot of the system’s best games may now available elsewhere but when you return to the system – and you really should if you haven’t do so recently – the library as a whole still shines and feels unmistakeably “Dreamcast”, from the clean low-poly look of a lot of the 3D games to the nutty selection of arcade ports that will have you happily fishing, dancing and typing until the sun comes up. Happy seventeenth birthday Dreamcast – your GD-ROM unit may be the noisiest drive in the house, and your controller wire in a really stupid place, but I love you anyway.