The Sega Dreamcast is one of the most under-appreciated consoles of all time, and despite its short lifespan it produced a plethora of high quality and unique games. Retro-gaming collectors value this console and its library, and its games are not always easy to find depending on your location.
The Dreamcast was introduced in North America on September 9th, 1999, at a price of $199. The 9/9/99 date abbreviation was certainly memorable, and served to herald in the introduction of the first of of the box online ready console, as well as what was to become the mighty Sega corporation’s last console hardware. The Dreamcast came pouncing on the heels of the earlier Sega Saturn, a 32bit system that arrived during the Playstation and Nintendo 64 era with poor long term support from Sega and a controversial surprise introduction to stores earlier than software publishers were prepared for. Introduced the previous fall in Japan, Sega’s new console quickly garnered North American anticipation. $100 million in advertising din’t hurt either.
On the day of it’s introduction, the Dreamcast shattered records for not only a video game debut, but also, according the Sega, it brought in more money than the opening day of any movie, album, or home video in history up to that point. Eighteen games were available at launch, including standouts Sonic Adventure, Hydro Thunder, NFL 2K, and Soul Calibur. By November 4th of that year Sega had announced it sold over one million units.
Unfortunately, the interest in this console would eventually fade, as stiff competition from Sony’s upcoming juggernaut system, the Playstation 2, would eclipse what was once Sega’s shining moment. Sega’s Dreamcast console also was not supported by two important game publishers, Electronic Arts and Squaresoft, who were the most popular 3rd party publishers at the time. Sales began to decline in early 2000, starting in Japan, and losses throughout 2000 prompted an attempt to increase sales to keep the platform viable. Sega eventually lower the price to $150 (compared with the Playstation 2’s launch price of $299 later that year), and launched it’s online service. Finally, on January 31st, 2001, Sega announced the Dreamcast would be discontinued after March 31st. The price was eventually lowered to $99, then $79, and finally to $49.95 to clear out the remaining product in stores. The final unit manufactured was autographed by the heads of various internal and third-party software development studios, and given away with several dozen games in a competition run by GamePro magazine. With that, Sega ceased to manufacture home game consoles, a product line that began with the Master System (a contemporary to the Nintendo Entertainment System), and continued through the widely popular Sega Genesis and it’s offshoots the Sega CD and Sega 32X, up to the aforementioned Sega Saturn. Sega continued to produce games for all platforms, and is still a major software developer to this date.
Dreamcast games were still sold through 2002, and interestingly enough some people continue to independently produce games for the now defunct system.
Despite its short lifespan, the Sega Dreamcast had several distinctions that set it apart from other contemporary systems. In the fall of 2000, Sega launched it’s SegaNet service, which was a subscription internet gaming service available for $21.95 per month. Several games were eventually supported for online multiplayer play, including the venerable Phantasy Star Online, Quake III Arena, and NFL 2K1, as well as the quirky puzzler ChuChu Rocket. Chat, email, and web browsing services were also included. This service was to serve as the precursor to modern day online play services like Xbox Live, and the Dreamcast was the only system at the time to have the functionality to access an online component without requiring a separate adapter. Sega also brought home versions of games found in the arcades that matched, if not exceeded, their arcade counterparts. Most home arcade ports up to that point were inferior to what was found running on arcade cabinets. Sega changed this by bringing these games to a home console that shared hardware with the arcade units its games were produced on. Standout titles include Crazy Taxi, Hydro Thunder, and Soul Caliber.
The Dreamcast featured a unique controller that houses an even more unique memory card. The memory card, called the VMU (visual memory unit), plugs into the top of the controller, and has a basic function of storing game saves. The VMU also featured an LCD screen that displays game specific text and images, as well as directional pad and buttons that allows the VMU to function as a mini game system running a number of simple games. A second slot on the top of the controller holds a Jump Pack, which allowed vibration feedback to the user, a feature now built into all game controllers.
Several unique controllers were also released with the Dreamcast, including a fishing reel controller that paired with several fishing games released by Sega, as well as controllers shaped like maracas that were used with the unique Samba de Amigo game. Other peripherals included a mouse and keyboard, an arcade stick, racing wheel, and light gun.
As the Dreamcast could output in 480p, a VGA adapter was produced which allows many Dreamcast games to look spectacular on modern HDTVs (and at the time computer monitors, as HDTV was in its infancy). Unfortunately, the VGA adapters are hard to come by, very expensive, and since most HDTVs now don’t include VGA ports a HDMI converter needs to be used.
The Dreamcast is known for an excellent library of games across numerous generals. Below are a few highlights of this wonderful collection:
Sonic Adventure 2
Skies of Arcadia
Jet Grind Radio
Marvel vs Capcom 2
Phantasy Star Online
Metropolis Street Racer
My personal collection started when I was in my residency, working long hours at the hospital for little pay. I had maximized my interest in my Playstation console, and was unable to afford a shiny new Playstation 2. I found the Dreamcast clearance priced at about $50, and treated myself to one of the best consoles I have ever owned. I still actively collect these games, although my earlier game collection is marred by the fact I mistakenly got rid of the original game cases and back sleeve art in a misguided effort to save room. At the time, I was not as serious of a collector, and would even still sell games back to Gamestop periodically. I likewise reduced my Playstation CD collection to just the CD and manual. As I become more involved in this hobby, the thought of not having the disk, case, and art complete for the 32 bit generation and above is less desirable, and I am slowly trying to rebuy the games in complete form when cost is reasonable. Unlike complete boxed games for earlier generations, CD and DVD based games are still easily found in complete form and for a reasonable price, depending on the rarity of the actual game itself. Yes, its collector’s snobbery at it’s finest, but there a million worse ways to spend one’s play money!
Let me know what you think of the Sega Dreamcast in the comments section, and I would love to hear any of your stories regarding your experiences with Sega’s final console.