Nostalgia has truly taken its place in gaming culture. From creating Kickstarter accounts to revive retro game characters (looking at you, Mega Man) to Game Freak constantly remaking classic Pokemon titles with updated graphics, nothing makes some gamers smile more than an updated look into the past.
That being said, there are few gaming systems that have a more peculiar place in nostalgia than the Sega Dreamcast—a console that, despite its ultimate failure, has held an affectionate place in the hearts of many hardcore gamers.
The Dreamcast was Sega’s final system—a console that failed due to its inability to compete with the other Sixth Generation consoles: the Sony Playstation 2, Microsoft’s Xbox, and the Nintendo Gamecube.
In 2001, the Dreamcast was officially considered to be—prematurely speaking—“dead”. With its inability to compete with the more powerful Playstation 2, the Dreamcast had insignificant sales figures in comparison to the formerly stated Sony console.
Largely, the Playstation 2 can be credited for Dreamcast’s death. In fact, CNET stated that—at the turn of the century—Sega’s Dreamcast was “trounced” by Sony’s original Playstation. And, in retrospect, a “sales climb” just before the release of the Playstation 2 was not enough to save the Dodo-fated system.
Despite all of the aforementioned, the following question must be addressed: was the Sega Dreamcast better than its sales figures indicate? And how much to current consoles owe to the system?
Largely, the failures of the Dreamcast can be traced back to their lackluster marketing campaign. And, one of the men behind the ad campaigns was Peter Moore—a man who was, according to Greg Tito of the Escapist, “one of six” people who made the official call to cut the Dreamcast off of life support.
Currently an EA executive, Moore had very little gaming industry experience upon his hiring with Sega. While Moore is clearly a well- credentialed businessman, his prior experience had been with Reebok—making the prior experience largely inapplicable to that of the console gaming business.
In addition, the Dreamcast’s release date needs to be assessed. Largely mistaken as a part of the fifth generation of consoles—the generation that included the original Playstation and the Nintendo 64— the Dreamcast was a part of the sixth generation of consoles.
With its North American release on September 9th, 1999, the Dreamcast predated the Playstation 2′s North American by about six months. Furthermore, the Dreamcast was released over two years before the Xbox—the latter being released in November of 2001.
Given this wide difference in release dates, the Dreamcast is often thought of as a console that is caught between the gaming generations—a console that is technically ahead of the fifth generation, but behind the sixth generation.
But, the Dreamcast still had specs that weren’t fully explored until later in the sixth generation of consoles. Being the first of the 128 bit systems, the Sega Dreamcast experimented with a dual screen mechanic—one screen being on the controller and the other being, well, the television.
Something that Nintendo put in effect during the launch of its portable console, the DS, and later implemented in the Wii U; the screen controller allowed manufacturers more leeway in making games for the Dreamcast. In addition to acting as a memory card, the screen on the controller had such a degree of compatibility that it allowed gamers to utilize the device for certain mini-games on certain Dreamcast titles.
Online gaming has become a staple of console gaming. With games like Call of Duty selling millions of copies almost solely due to the wide popularity of the online multi-player gameplay, the feature truly took off with the Playstation Network and Xbox Live. With the Playstation Network officially launching in 2006, games with online capability began to surface in North America for the Playstation 2 and Xbox in 2002—three years after the North American release of the Dreamcast. In addition, every Dreamcast included a 56k modem.
Obviously the experiment wasn’t a successful one, and perhaps the 56k modem was undermined by the Playstation 2 coming with a DVD player. However, it was a necessary initial failure in order to later perfect it on the thriving consoles.
Lastly, and most importantly, the games must be addressed. The Dreamcast’s launch titles have several gems, including: Sonic Adventure—the last great “Sonic” game, NFL 2K—the game that finally challenged the Madden meta franchise for football simulation supremacy, and Soulcalibur—one of only seven games to receive a score of “10” of Gamespot. In addition, Soulcalibur is regarded as one of the best fighting games in recent memory, sparking a franchise of equally praiseworthy games.
Other than the notable launch releases, other games included: Shenmue—the open world- kung fu game that predated the now-legendary Grand Theft Auto III, Grandia II—the colorful Japanese RPG that got great reviews during the golden age of the aforementioned genre, and Marvel vs. Capcom 2—an over the top fighting game that pit Capcom characters versus the most famous Marvel cast.
There are countless more games that could be addressed. But, the sampling provided above can easily demonstrate a trend of brilliance among many Dreamcast titles.
Was the Dreamcast better than its contemporaries? Well, probably not. But its place in gaming history is often overlooked due to a trend in the gaming industry that stems from innovation induced-myopia.
While Sega’s final console caused a major downsizing in the company. Its place in console gaming history must be observed, and respected.
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