The prettiest lump of electrical thingies I ever did buy.
June 29, 2007

I love my Dreamcast. I'll be honest about that from the get-go. It is a machine that I will never part with; nor will I part with any of my games for it. Whilst my fondness for other consoles sometimes wanes, my Dreamcast remains permanently plugged into the back of my TV and I play it more often than my newer consoles, even though I have owned it for seven years now. It never bores me, it never lets me down, and it is always a joy to use. I have never regretted buying it even for a moment. Sega's last console is much maligned and really under-appreciated. Arguably, it didn't actually fail - sales were mediocre, but the console had a solid support base; solid enough that until as late as 2004, new games were still being released for the console in Japan.

I am writing this review now because I am becoming increasingly disenchanted with the games industry as a whole. There is not a great deal of originality anymore, with the market being flooded by generic mainstream releases while small developers are disappearing left right and centre. The Dreamcast for me is really the antithesis for the current situation - the console itself was powerful and had great graphical capabilities, and games were produced for it by lots of small firms. This gave rise to a great library of highly original games. Titles such as Chu Chu Rocket (which was one of the games which often came bundled with the machine), Fur Fighters and Shenmue offered something which was scarcely available on other consoles then and remains elusive now - new experiences. Games were produced which were so different from everything else available that it would be difficult to categorise them into a genre at all. What happened to this situation? Why are games like this not still released? What was so different about the

I did some research, and the best answer I could come up with was that the Dreamcast was comparatively cheap and easy to program for. I do not know if this is true, but it is what I heard from several different sources so it would appear so. The low costs of programming (for whatever reason that was the case) meant that developers could make niche or experimental games with little real risk to their finances (compared to the level of risk involved for more costly productions) and this gave rise to the Dreamcast's spectacular array of new, original titles. Whether this is the real reason or not, even the best console is only as good as the games which are made for it, so clearly this is of consequence. The fact is that the Dreamcast's complementary library was of a phenomenally high standard and so this certainly helped to make the console as great as, in my view, it was.

The graphical and audio capabilities were quite simply the best available on the market at the time the Dreamcast was released. The Dreamcast is a 128 bit console - far more powerful than its contemporary competition, the Nintendo64 (64 bit) and the PlayStation One (32 bit). However, although the graphics were the best on the market, they could sometimes be rather blocky, and this was more evident in some games than others. This is mostly a gripe by today's standards though - I don't really remember noticing this at the time I first bought the console, and it would be unfair to judge what is, after all, an old machine by technological standards, by what we expect today.

Of course, the machine isn't without its flaws though. The controller is particularly irksome - even though the main console is streamlined in appearance, the controller is clunky and large with a cumbersome button layout. Using it doesn't feel natural in the slightest and it can be difficult to use initially for this reason. The layout never really compromises gameplay mechanics though - it's just illogical and completely different from any other consoles' controllers you may already be used to. The main problem is that the controller is so big, and the analogue stick is placed quite high up, meaning you have to reach your thumb up too high, so holding the controller is uncomfortable unless you hold the sides rather than the underneath (as you may be used to doing). The same problem is evident on the other side of the controller too, where the main buttons used for gameplay are situated.

There is one innovation relating to the controller which is certainly welcome, and this is in the form of the Visual Memory Units which the Dreamcast uses. These are memory cards holding game saves which slot into the top of the controller. They look like tiny portable games systems, and this is arguably what they are - many Dreamcast releases had mini-games involved, and these used the VMUs as their medium. This meant that you could import some element of the main game onto your VMU and take it away with you while you were out to play, then slot it back into your controller to rejoin the main game. This was a very clever trick and great fun to do, and was perhaps the inspiration behind Nintendo's link-up system for GameBoy Advance and the GameCube.

The problem with this is that the batteries in the VMUs tend only to give a few short hours of gameplay, and these are difficult and fiddly to replace. So while you have this exciting, addictive element of gameplay, you have to be prepared to bear the cost and hassle of replacing the batteries frequently if you are really going to progress with it. The VMUs do have other uses though - the screens are handy for tracking game progress (some games use the screens - which are visible through the controller when the VMU is plugged in - to show gameplay data while you play) and when the VMUs are slotted into the controller, they don't require any battery usage. So they're like interactive memory cards, basically. The memory capacity does have a tendency to be filled alarmingly quickly, but if you're willing to spend the time sorting out your save files every so often, the capacity is adequate for playing a handful of games at once.

The final aspect of the Dreamcast which I am going to discuss is the online side of things. The Dreamcast was the first mass-market console to take gameplay online, although the majority of people didn't participate in this. Broadband was really in its infancy when this was happening, so those who did take their consoles online often had to deal with high dial-up charges, and this is perhaps why it wasn't as popular as Sega had anticipated, and as popular as it deserved to be. Online games had small communities but they were fun to participate in. Most games had some online element, even if it was simply a set of additional features or information that could be accessed online. A series of peripherals were designed to help facilitate this - the mouse and keyboard being the most widely used. Browsing the internet using your Dreamcast, however, was a painful experience. Painfully slow, that is. Mercifully, most people never experienced this. If you want to know what it was like, then imagine communicating using the science teachers' favorite method of two empty yogurt cartons attached by a piece of string, and you might start to get an idea of the kind of paces involved with trying to load a page.

Overall, the Dreamcast is a great machine. They can be bought so cheaply these days, with the games available easily and in large quantities on internet auction sites. So many wonderfully original games exist for it that it is an essential system for any gamer to own. If you are prepared to deal with the button layout, and you keep it offline, it really has very few faults at all. I love my Dreamcast, and I always will.

Most recent blog posts from Lisa Harrison...

honestgamer honestgamer - June 29, 2007 (01:43 PM)
That was a nice ode to the Dreamcast, but two points were not correct:

The first was when you said it was the first mainstream console to go online. That wasn't true because of the XBand accessory that was available on the Super Nintendo and later the Sega Genesis. Both of those consoles went online through the aid of third-party support, which at least on the Super Nintendo was supported by Nintendo in the pages of Nintendo Power. Your contention is therefore slightly incorrect, though you would be correct to say it was the first mainstream console that came packaged with the equipment to go online right from its first day of release.

Another point you made that seems wrong is here:

The graphical and audio capabilities were quite simply the best available on the market at the time the Dreamcast was released. The Dreamcast is a 128 bit console - far more powerful than its contemporary competition, the Nintendo64 (64 bit) and the PlayStation One (32 bit).

The Dreamcast could no more be considered the contemporary of the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation One than the PlayStation 3 would be considered the contemporary of the original Xbox and the GameCube.

Though the Dreamcast came out a year ahead of the Xbox and the PlayStation 2, they were its true contemporaries, just as the Xbox 360 is correctly considered the contemporary of the PlayStation 3 and Wii. If you want to point to a Sega system that was the contemporary of the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation, that would be the Saturn.

Otherwise, I thought this was a nice write-up and pretty fair overall to the system. I didn't mind holding the Dreamcast controller by the side rather than from underneath--it felt comfortable enough to me--and the online browser sucked but wasn't required. Plus, I had many hours of fun playing Phantasy Star Online without issue, on dial-up (and here in the US, even then, the dial-up structure was often such that you paid one monthly fee and had unlimited use).
Felix_Arabia Felix_Arabia - June 29, 2007 (02:06 PM)
And there's one other little false remark. Trigger Heart Exelica, Last Hope, and Karous all came out on the system earlier this year. In fact, there is still a slight chance that either Raiden IV or Exzeal, the sequal to Trizeal, may come out for the console, too. Let's not forget, either, that Under Defeat and Radirgy came out in '06.
lisanne lisanne - June 29, 2007 (05:05 PM)
All fair points. I wrote that review back in 2004, and hadn't realised games were still being released for it later than that, so I figured I'd try to leave it open. I'll adjust the wording to reflect that though. Over here, it was the first console to go online - I don't BELIEVE the third party programmes for the Mega Drive or the Snes were available here. Also, I take the point on the timing thing. That could be because of the EU release being later or something, but I genuinely hadn't realised that.
EmP EmP - June 30, 2007 (06:26 AM)
The Mega Drive/Snes things didn't make it here.

Plus: If you want to point to a Sega system that was the contemporary of the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation, that would be the Saturn.

You're a hopeless Snerd, Venter. The N64 had (or advertised) twice the power of the superior Sarturn and PSX putting it on a shelf of its own; stop trying to make it look good by trying to compare it with better preforming but 'less powerful' systems!

I also disagree with your stance on Lisanne's comment. I read it her article as 'when was relased it was the most powerful console on the market' which is cold, hard FACT.

So there.
bluberry bluberry - July 01, 2007 (12:35 PM)
Chu Chu Rocket on the GBA is even better than the original, maybe not for multiplayer but instead of around 100 puzzles you get around 2500 of them. check it out if you dug the Dreamcast one's puzzle mode.

and let's not be too forgiving to the DC, Fur Fighters was a corn-adorned pile.
Calvin Calvin - July 03, 2007 (01:37 AM)
bluberry's right, the DC sucked due to Fur Fighters, which saw an even less playable sequel on the PS2. So the PS2 sucks, too. Fur Fighters decides a console's fate. I actually thought the game was pretty fun, a little too "cute", but a fun multi-player game, nonetheless. I have to disagree on the part about games getting worse and worse. The general quality of games seems to be on the rise. Movie-based games have been interesting lately. Shooting games may be in an over-abundance now, but they're for the most part, finely-tuned. I just hope that ideals for creative gameplay models aren't depleted from would-be innovators in trade for a competent graphical engine. Another reason why the DC was awesome, really. The graphics never seemed distracting. Always clear, never overly intricate with a few messy bits in the games. Do you have any idea how horrible it is when you're playing a game with an s-load of detail and you find shrubbery that seems to float mid-air (damn you, GTA: SA!) But then you continue a block further into a title like San Andreas, and see RockStar taking a shot at Activision with a in-game billboard which reads "Streets of LA: Street Cleaners", in refrence to the Streets of LA series, and all is good again. I forgive developers for killing their own market for fans, but thank them for making intricate video games which are becoming maybe a little bit too elaborate...

Edit: Forgot to mention that the DreamCast is my favourite gaming console, and that this is pretty well-written for an older review. :) It's nice to see so many of my own opinions on things I have been so excited by for years voiced by someone I can respect. Again, good job.
bluberry bluberry - July 03, 2007 (01:15 PM)
fastkilr, if I told a black joke would you call me racist?

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