Now we live in a world where the only consoles that matter are Microsoft’s Xbox, Sony’s PlayStation and Nintendo’s Switch, but things were much different in the ancient days at the turn of the millennium. Back then Sega was a major player on the console market, and one of its crowning achievements was Dreamcast, launched a few years ahead of PS2, original Xbox, and GameCube.
Dreamcast’s sales were not the best, but despite middling performance, not only was it the first console to feature a built-in modem for online play, but also housed a ton of excellent games. Many of them were ported over from arcades, and some have even grown into successful franchises.
Dreamcast has been dead for over twenty years, but dreams never die, and some are even still playable. To end this malformed metaphor, let’s talk about a few great games which made Sega’s console worth having.
Depending on how competitive taxi services are where you live Crazy Taxi could be seen as an accurate simulator rather than an arcade racing game.
CT originated on arcades in 1999 but came to Dreamcast a year later and quickly became a hit, eventually rising to legendary status and starting a somewhat successful franchise. So much for the business pitch, what’s the game like?
You’re a taxi driver, and your job is to pick people up and ferry them to a different place in the city. So far, so good. Where the fun begins is the fact that speed and pulling off sick tricks are more important than vague notions of “road safety” and “not driving like a maniac”. Time and tricks convert into money, and if you don’t make it on time, you get zilch. Simple rules, great game.
Jet Set Radio
Jet Set Radio, despite the name involves no jets. Instead, it has you zooming around Tokyo (or a 2000 video game rendition of it) on inline skate, spraying graffiti.
Inevitably, there’s also running away from the police because for some reason the cops don’t care a rival gang’s been taking your territory. It’s a simple and evocative premise, and it’s pulled together by a fast and engaging gameplay.
There are several types of challenges, most of them involving a timed race to various objectives or direct competition against rivals. Of course, you also get to perform all kinds of cool tricks for fun and extra points. It’s all kept in a neat, heavily stylized aesthetic with a bunch of playable characters, resulting in a fun mix which has remained highly entertaining for the 23 years of its existence.
The House of the Dead 2
Another successful hop from Sega’s arcades to Sega’s home entertainment system. The House of the Dead 2 is a zombie-infested rail shooter which remains impressive even today.
Killing shots would leave gaping wounds or just dismember or decapitate the target. Some zombies would also use thrown weapons you could shoot mid-flight to protect yourself, too.
Unsurprisingly, the game was played with a light gun, for full immersion and responsiveness, but once the light gun era ended it got adapted to the good ol’ mouse. The HotD series didn’t end on the second installment, there have been sequels and spin-offs which replaced shooting with typing, so if you’re hungry for on-rails zombie shooting, the options are plentiful.
Sonic’s been a hit-or-miss series for much of its existence, however, where it works, it works. Take Sonic Adventures, for example.
Released for Dreamcast in 1998, it has the distinction of being the first proper Sonic game to enter the third dimension. And wouldn’t you know, it worked really well, building on solid foundations instead of reinventing the wheel.
To make things better, you’re not bound to Sonic for the entire duration of the game. There’s a total of six characters you gain access to over the course of the story. Each hero has their own special “thing”, like Amy’s destructive hammer or Tails’ flight. There were also quite a few minigames, including virtual pets called Chao, rail shooters, and more. It was quite a game.
Icaruga is yet another arcade game which later found its forever home on Dreamcast and, later on, other home entertainment systems.
The gameplay mechanics are fairly simple but handling them isn’t quite simple. It all revolves around the polarity system: your ship can flip between black and white polarity in response to enemy craft, conveniently coming in white and black varieties.
You can tank only the attacks of the same polarity, but ships of opposite color get double damage from you. Absorbing the attacks charges your special attack meter, which makes it more worthwhile than just trying to dodge. It’s an elegant system, and mastering the timing and precision is quite satisfying. Oh, and you can play it in co-op, if you want to make things even more hectic!
Phantasy Star Online
Phantasy Star Online was a very important game when it launched. PC had its share of Diablo and Ultima to connect fans of online multiplayer RPGs, but no such luck for console users.
At least until PSO launched, introducing a new host of people to the joys of online role-playing games. The game was revolutionary, and it was a major influence on games such as the Monster Hunter series.
PSO had co-op for up to four players, teaming up to explore a planet called Ragol and fight its dangerous fauna. There are a few playable races and classes to build a character out of, with classes being the driving factor for the available weapon types. PSO eventually got a sequel in 2012, which has been going strong with new updates ever since.
Resident Evil — Code: Veronica
A Dreamcast original, from the horror masterminds behind Capcom’s Resident Evil series. It’s a sequel to RE2 and RE3, taking place about three months after their plots concluded.
The plot features the two Redfields, Chris and Claire, trying to survive yet another zombie outbreak. This time instead of Raccoon City they explore a prison island and then a research base on Antarctica.
Code: Veronica was the first Resident Evil game to feature a real-time 3D environment instead of pre-rendered locations like the RE1 and 2, ditching the fixed-point camera in favor of something more dynamic. Originally released in 2000, it eventually got an expanded 2001 re-release called Code: Veronica X, which in turn got an HD remaster for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in 2011.
Shenmue was a big investment for Sega. In fact, at the time it was the most expensive game ever made.
Although the investment wasn’t returned, Shenmue not only received two sequels, but also a dedicated fanbase and even an anime adaptation of its Quick Time Event-heavy revenge story. So what’s the game about, then? Let us introduce you to one Ryo Hazuki, a young martial artist.
Ryu’s father was murdered over a mystical Artifact by a man called Lan Di. Now Ryu travels across China to develop his martial arts skills, track down the man, and exact vengeance. It’s a long journey, filled with time management, working odd jobs, and controller-hugging to nail the game’s many, many QTEs. It’s a pretty unique game, all things considered, but worth checking out.
Although SoulCalibur originated on arcades (a recurring theme on the list), it was also a launch title for Dreamcast, featuring better graphics and some extra content for good measure.
The game was a follow-up to Soul Edge, and like its predecessor focused on melee duels between rather over-the-top cast of characters drawn from all over the world.
It was a smash hit, selling over a million copies within a year of release. Years later, the SoulCalibur series is up to 6 main installments and sits comfortably among some of the best fighting games of all time. The games have even featured cameos from famous characters at various points, like Darth Vader or Geralt of Rivia. Not bad for a series with humble Dreamcast beginnings!
Skies of Arcadia
We’ll cap the list with a game which suffered the worst fate: a great reception, and poor sales. Which is a shame, because indeed, Skies of Arcadia was an excellent jRPG.
It was a role-playing game set in the skies of the fictional world of Arcadia. Which not only explains the title, but also presents a great backdrop for the characters exploring floating continents in search of plot-relevant trouble.
The main character is Vyse, a young air pirate, joined on his journeys by a growing crew who not only help him in battle, but also fill important roles on Vyse’s airship, Delphinus. Exploration is a major part of the gameplay, both on the overworld map, and on foot. True to the genre, there’s no shortage of turn-based combat, gearing up, and talking to NPCs. At least it lives in fond memories!
The dreams have been cast
Just like the glory days of Dreamcast ended, so ends our short lists of games for Sega’s console worth knowing. Of course, it’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but you aren’t ready to hear about Seaman.
Many of these games are quite playable on more modern platforms, ported perhaps not directly, but faithfully, so we cordially invite you to give them a try, if you’d like to experience gaming as it was in the late 1990s and extremely early 2000s.