A strange, wonderful time in gaming history
It seems strange to think of a world where the gaming headlines were not dominated by Nintendo, Xbox, or PlayStation, but there was once a fourth contender: Sega. The Sega Dreamcast was launched in 1999 as the first of the sixth generation of consoles, the same era that held the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube.
It had a lifespan of only three years, however. A change in leadership at Sega and cooling sentiments toward console gaming by the higher-ups led to the discontinuation of the Sega Dreamcast in March 2001.
Sega would continue as a third-party games developer, but their time in the console market had come to an end. The Dreamcast was a console with a huge amount of potential and a library of games that have become cult classics, even though many have seen remakes on other platforms.
If you are lucky enough to get your hands on a functioning Dreamcast and want to check out its library of strange, bizarre, but insanely fun games, the following are 7 of the best Dreamcast games to try.
Phantasy Star Online
One of the first console-based MMOs to come to the western market, Phantasy Star Online continued the Phantasy Star series in a brand new way. Rather than a turn-based RPG, Phantasy Star Online ventured into action MMO territory.
A total of four players could team up to fight their way through four stages on the planet of Ragol, in four different difficulty levels. The goal of the game was to work your way up through each difficult level until you reached the hardest area, at which point Phantasy Star Online became a looter.
The simple mechanic of running levels and grinding for better and better gear was deceptively addictive and kept many players hooked for hundreds of hours.
Sonic Adventure marked the departure of Sonic the Hedgehog from the 2D space into the 3D realm, at least in a mainstream game (Sonic 3D Blast toyed with it on the Sega Genesis.) Players take control of one of six characters, including a few lesser-known names. The game keeps the rings-as-health mechanic, power ups, and much more.
However, the most popular aspect of the game for many players was the Chao Garden, an environment where the player could raise Chao. These were small creatures that improved their skills by competing in races and could be used in the minigame called “Chao Adventure” through the Dreamcast’s virtual memory unit.
Jet Set Radio
The Dreamcast was a haven for games with odd concepts, and Jet Set Radio is no exception. The game captures many of the prevalent themes of the late 90s and early 2000s: rebelling against “the man,” artistic freedom, and self-expression.
You play as a member of the street gang called The GGs and work to claim more turf than the rival gangs you face. There are three game modes, all of which consist of traversing the city on in-line skates and tagging every graffiti point with your own symbol.
Jet Set Radio brought a killer soundtrack and innovative gameplay to the Dreamcast, and was even re-released a few years later on the Xbox.
Space Channel 5
Space Channel 5 is weird. It’s an odd mixture of rhythm game and puzzle game with gameplay mechanics that resemble Simon Says. You control Ulala, a reporter that works for the news station Space Channel 5. There are four stages, each of which has Ulala imitating the movements of her opponents. Levels are split between dancing and shooting stages. Health is represented with a Zelda-esque heart meter, where hearts are lost if you make mistakes in mimicking your opponent’s movements.
Once the game is completed, a New Game+ mode opens up that provides alternative routes through the game with new enemy movement patterns. Space Channel 5 is an odd footnote in gaming history, especially when you consider that Michael Jackson himself makes an appearance in the second title.
Few games scream “cult classic” like Shenmue does. The title has been re-released several times on other platforms, allowing new generations to take control of Ryo Hazuki and relive the adventure all over again. In fact, Shenmue 3 was recently crowdfunded to completion, much to the celebration of fans everywhere.
Shenmue made a name for itself for the insane level of detail in the game. It boasted a day-night cycle, variable weather effects, and much more—all details never before seen in an open-world video game. Although Shenmue shows its age today, it is still worth trying out if you want to properly experience a part of gaming history.
Skies of Arcadia
Skies of Arcadia scratched the JRPG itch many Dreamcast gamers experienced, introducing an expansive story and memorable characters that turned the RPG into a cult classic that is still played today. The overworld map is rather unique in that it starts out blank. The player has to explore the world to chart out the map. Characters the player encounters can be recruited to their crew, often lending benefits to exploration and battles even if they are not directly involved.
Originally released for the Dreamcast, Skies of Arcadia saw a re-release on the GameCube in the form of Skies of Arcadia: Legends. Interestingly, the re-release received lower reviews overall than the original game itself.
Seaman is on this list of best Dreamcast games not because it’s a good game, per se, but because it’s just bizarre. It’s a game that makes players pause and reconsider their life choices. You control a freshwater fish with a human face—oh, and he’s voiced by Leonard Nimoy.
You communicate with Seaman through the microphone attachment. The game is a bit like a virtual pet where Seaman progresses through five stages of life, ultimately culminating in his release into the wild when he is fully grown.
The Dreamcast may have been a commercial failure, but its library represents a strange, wonderful time in gaming history. If you can find a working Dreamcast (or you want to find a working emulator), these seven titles are well worth your time, if only for the absurdity of some of them.