Written on: 13/11/2005 by TOMLEECEE (121 reviews written)
Customisation potential - it can even be overclocked!
No decent football games
The party was over way to soon
After well and truly having its reputation dragged backwards through the mud with nearly a decade of poor console add-ons (Mega CD, 32X) and underperforming systems (Saturn, Game Gear), 1999 was a year for reflection for Sega. The result of this time of convalescence? A total company rebrand and the birth of a legend: The Dreamcast.
The death knell was sounded for the Sega Saturn in early 1998 as the company finally succumbed to the reality that was the success of the PlayStation and the fledgling N64. The new releases dried up and sales were at an all time low. The plug was pulled on the black slab of fun and Sega withdrew from the games arena for a short period of (r)evolution. Rumours abounded of the new console from Sega as far back as 1997 (I even recall Sega Power magazine running a feature on supposed 'leaked' pictures of the new console) and many fanciful tales of the Sega 'Dural', 'Katana' and 'Black Belt' filled forums and games mags. The rumours soon became fact when it was revealed that the new machine would be called Dreamcast - a super powerful machine capable of producing near photo-realistic real time images at unfeasibly high resolutions.
The Dreamcast was released in the UK on 14 October 1999 and featured a whole host of killer ap launch titles that simply blew everything else on the market out of the water in terms of graphics. Sega Rally 2 was the follow up to the legendary Saturn and Arcade racer Sega Rally; Sonic Adventure saw Sega's blue mascot dragged bang up to date with awesome 3D worlds to explore at breakneck speeds; Ready 2 Rumble was a comedy boxing game with unrivalled next generation looks. A whole host of other titles grabbed the attention with their graphics and playability: speed boat racer Hydro Thunder, football game UEFA Striker, scrapper Virtua Fighter 3tb, and scrolling beat 'em up Dynamite Cop.
Because the Dreamcast utilised a cut down variant of the Microsoft Windows CE operating system, and was produced by a company renowned for its arcade coin ops, many believed that the new machine would be the perfect platform for both arcade style games and PC style simulations. To a point, this came to fruition and because of the Dreamcast's PC-ish insides, many PC conversions followed the release (titles such as Incoming).
In the following months after launch, the Dreamcast went from strength to strength. Every part of the console was new and pushed back the boundaries of design and gaming style. The pad, while not as revolutionary as the N64's, was comfortable to hold and very ergonomic - and also featured one of the most over looked features yet to grace any console - the Visual Memory Unit (VMU). Coming in the small but perfectly formed package of a sort of mini game-boy type device, the VMU was essentially a memory card. However, it featured a small dot matrix screen that could be viewed through a hole in the pad and displayed info during games, such as maps and ammo etc. When removed from the pad, it could be used as a portable games device via the mini d-pad and buttons. Truly a remarkable, visionary and brilliantly designed piece of games hardware.
Further to the VMU (sold separately), every Dreamcast came with an internal (but detachable) Modem and an internet disk - devices that when used in conjunction with a phone line allowed users to connect to the internet to browse web pages. Not an entirely new feature (the Saturn offered web options in 1996), but a feature that simply wasn't available for the PSX or N64 at the time (interestingly, it was this internet service feature of the Dreamcast that put back the release of the system from early September 1999 to October - apparently Sega were having problems getting the service up and running).
For a time, everything was rosy in the garden of Dreamcast. Chris Eubank turned up to events in a Dreamcast sponsored big rig, Sega emblazoned Arsenal's shirts with its logos, and Dreamcast pods popped up all over the country. The big hitting titles arrived - gems such as Soul Caliber, Crazy Taxi, Virtua Tennis and Dead or Alive 2 really showed what the console was capable of when it flexed its graphical muscles, and online gaming finally arrived with Quake 3: Arena, Chu Chu Rocket and Unreal Tournament.
Further peripherals were added to the already impressive line up - a fishing rod (for use with Sega Bass Fishing and strangely, Soul Caliber) and a mouse and keyboard set up for use with first person shooters (and oddly, Typing of the Dead - a bizarre variation of House of the Dead where typing speed killed zombies) - and the internet.
However, in what is probably one of the biggest turn arounds in games history, the Dreamcast went off the rails and turned into another turkey.
This is commonly put down to Sega's lacklustre TV advertising campaigns, and sometimes down to the lack of support from the world's largest software developer, Electronic Arts. Maybe if there had been a FIFA title on the Dreamcast, it could have been so different - but EA didn't deem the console user base to be big enough and shunned the system. However, it is more probable that the true reason for the Dreamcast's demise was a huge PS2 shaped shadow on the horizon.
Sony's new machine promised everything that Sega's did, only bigger and better - and also the ability to play DVDs. While the Dreamcast continued to host Triple A titles such as Shenmue 1 & 2, Virtua Tennis 2, Crazy Taxi 2, Sonic Adventure 2, Soldier of Fortune and Headhunter, the locomotive of hype surrounding the PS2 gathered momentum; while Sega simply ran out of steam. Upon launch of the PS2, Dreamcast sales took a nose dive and Sega knew that without the massive installed user base of the PS1, the Dreamcast would always be fighting a losing battle against the legions of Sony fanboys.
The last OFFICIAL Dreamcast game to be released was SNK's King of Fighters 2001 (in December 2002, I believe), but a dedicated home brew development scene still lives on, online.
The Dreamcast was and still is an awesome console. It showed design way ahead of it's time, and its games featured graphics that would still stand up in the face of today's games. Sure, some of the graphics effects used in today's most advanced Xbox and PS2 games may not be possible on the hardware (such as blurring and the sun/tarmac effect found in most racing games) but the sharpness and detail of the graphics is still pretty impressive. Add this to the ridiculously cheap price of used hardware and software and the sheer number of brilliant 4 player titles available, and you've got a winner of a machine. Maybe not in a literal, commercial way, but in a bang for buck way.
So there it is, the Dreamcast is a console that was killed before it's time and offered a whole host of new ideas to the gamer. It featured some of the best games ever: MSR, Jet Set Radio, Soul Caliber, Shenmue, Skies of Arcadia et al; and had some awesome peripherals. If you see one in Cash Generator for a tenner - do yourself a favour and snap it up.
There are some other add-ons that were never released. These are: Dream Eye (a camera), Zip Drive (it's a zip drive!), MP3 player VMU (a VMU that also played MP3s).
The Dreamcast is actually capable of playing DivX movies and the software is quite easy to download from the net and burn onto a CD-R.
There are lots of emulators available for the system including SNES and Mega Drive.
There is a massive online community dedicated to developing home-brew software for the Dreamcast. The modding scene is also extremely busy.
There is also a common fault with the Dreamcast. If you find that your controllers do not work suddenly, you have blown a resistor on the controller port PCB. Rather than send it off for repair, open the Dreamcast by taking out the screws on the bottom. On the controller port section you will see several resistors and a ribbon wire. The green resistor with F1 written next to it is the one that has blown. Simply tie a piece of speaker wire around the legs of the resistor in order to bypass it and hey presto! You've repaired it! (Note: this resistor is just a fuse that prevents the system being damaged in the event that a controller shorts out, but let's be honest - that never happens).
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