The Mini Dreamcast – a miniature version of perfection and the dream line-up

Why is there so much love for the Sega Dreamcast? For a video game console that was discontinued after just two years and actually sold less units worldwide than the Sega Master System? Well, beyond the fact that it remains one of the most resolutely popular consoles amongst, quote-unquote, hardcore gamers, it also happens to be my favourite console of all time…..and by quite some distance I might add. It might have only been around (officially at least) for a couple of years, but this is a console that left an undeniably lasting impression on me, and above all else, represented everything that I (and so many others) had ever wanted from a video game console (up to that point anyway). Of course, the goal posts have been moved rather dramatically since then, but up to that point, the Dreamcast felt like the realisation of what many hoped a home console could become.

Despite previous claims during the preceding console generations, other than perhaps the exorbitantly expensive Neo Geo AES of the early 90s, the Dreamcast was the first home console to deliver genuinely perfect arcade visuals. It wasn’t without its faults of course, but as a brave combination of ambition, creativity, naivety and ultimate execution, I’m not sure if there is another console out there can match it. Yes, there have been consoles with bigger libraries, and in the grand scheme of things, there aren’t all that many Dreamcast games that would make it onto anyone’s list of ‘greatest games of all-time’, but again, as a complete package, as a marriage of hardware to software, and more often than not, software to bat-shit crazy peripheral, the Dreamcast was something special, something indisputably unique. Most importantly though, it was something fun.

And that’s why it would make the perfect mini console. The Sega Mega Drive Mini (or Genesis if you’re from over the pond), might not be out yet, but all signs point towards Sega finally taking their legacy seriously, and in doing so, appear to have created an exceptionally polished product. Now, imagine that level of polish, that level of care and attention applied to a mini Dreamcast. Man, that could be something special. Not only because of the eclectic nature of the console’s library, but because, thanks to the arcade-centric style of many of the games, from both a visual and gameplay perspective, many of the Dreamcast’s best games have aged beautifully. Not only that, but many, due to a lack of sequels and subsequent improvement via gradual iteration, still feel as fresh and unique today as they did at the turn of the century. Crazy Taxi, Virtua Tennis, Power Stone, Jet Set radio – nearly 20 years later and there is still nothing quite like them.

Whatever you think of Sega’s final shot at home console glory, whether it be fond memories or vague awareness, I can tell you this much for sure – there will never be another console like it……..Ever. This was a console of its time, a console built as much upon Sega’s failures as it was upon their previous successes; a unique console for a unique time. It was a brave last stand, a final roll of the dice. Financially it was a failure, it sent Sega crashing out of the hardware market and was arguably the last time that Sega truly felt like, well, Sega, but despite what might have happened since, despite where Sega are now, the Dreamcast will always have a special legacy and a unique place in the pantheon of home video game consoles. Some might argue that its legacy is viewed with rose tinted glasses and driven by the vocal minority who still sing its praises so fervently, but upon returning to the console, to its wild and eclectic library of both games and peripherals, I can say without any sense of misplaced idolisation that the Dreamcast remains something special – a console worth remembering and celebrating. Is it the best console of all time? No, it’s not. Its library of games is ultimately too slight to make such an outrageous claim, but for many, myself included, it is the most memorable. There is something almost intangible about the Sega Dreamcast, that special something that you can’t quite place that elevates it beyond its individual elements and components. That might sound like idealistic fan-boy hyperbole to many, but for anyone with a genuine love for Sega’s final home console, that elusive something is there, an undeniable part of a console whose mythology has become so much greater than its limited shelf life should have ever allowed. Simply put, you can’t judge the Dreamcast based solely upon the hardware and software, upon the base components that made up its architecture. Everything about it needs to be considered in context, to be considered in line with Sega’s history and the state of the market and the industry’s mind-set at the start of the 21stcentury. I don’t want to say that you had to be there, but you know what…..you kinda did. Still, even if you weren’t. has there ever been a stronger case for a mini console to exist? I think not.

It’s easy to forget when looking back, but upon its initial release, the Dreamcast really did feel like a console from the future. From the gentle roar of the processer upon start-up to the sublime aesthetic design of the console itself and the wacky Tamagochi-esque visual memory units, everything about the Dreamcast screamed next-gen from the moment you opened up the box. Released over a year before Sony’s PlayStation 2 hit the market and essentially at death’s door by the time Nintendo’s, GameCube and Microsoft’s Xbox decided to show up to the party, despite being considered by most to be a 6th generation console (thanks largely to its technical capabilities), the Dreamcast actually spent a large proportion of its lifespan on store shelves alongside the original PlayStation and Nintendo’s, N64. Next to what we were used to from those ageing consoles, early Dreamcast games looked absolutely phenomenal. The fog was gone, the terrible clipping wasn’t there – the Dreamcast specialised in crisp clean 3D gaming and is arguably the first predominantly 3D console that can be revisited without a sense of the disappointment that often permeates the return to the early days of polygon-based video games and subsequently without the need for an especially strong pair of rose tinted glasses (beyond the fact that Sony made an absolute mess of the PlayStation mini, many of those games are very hard to go back to). In fact, just try and go back to the console of the mid to late 90s, whether it be the PlayStation, Saturn or the N64 games of your youth, sure, gameplay ultimately wins the day and games such as Super Mario 64 remain as entertaining today as they were back in the mid-90s, but for the most part, 3D games on those consoles are just plain ugly by today’s standards. The Dreamcast has its fair share of stinkers of course and some of the games have inevitably aged better than others, but for the most part, those big, bold, arcade-inspired visuals that the Dreamcast was famous for have aged incredibly well.

Many gamers have very fond memories of Sonic’s first truly 3D adventure in the aptly named, Sonic Adventure, but for the vast majority of early adopters, it was the arrival of Namco’s, SoulCalibur that truly cemented the Dreamcast’s place as a genuinely next generation piece of hardware. There have been plenty of games that have pushed the industry forward on a technical level, from Mario’s move to 3D and Halo’s undeniable proof that first person shooters could work on home consoles, but few have had as dramatic an impact as Namco’s exceptional, and at the time, outrageously gorgeous 3D fighter. It might not have pushed the genre forward and did nothing genuinely new in terms of its core mechanics, but man, wasn’t that a pretty game. It’s no great shakes by today’s standards, but back in 1999, SoulCalibur was a tour de force in terms of both its technical and artistic ambitions. More importantly on a personal level, and perhaps something that goes a long way towards explaining the Dreamcast’s ongoing popularity, SoulCalibur felt like the first arcade port that was totally uncompromised. There had already been plenty of decent ports released before then (some on the Dreamcast itself), bet never before had a console version not only matched its arcade equivalent on every level, but in many respects, actually trumped it.

I’ve thought long and hard about what made the Dreamcast so special, the reason why I and so many others continue to love in quite so much. I don’t think there is any easy, single answer to that question, but I do think the fact that the Dreamcast felt like the zenith of what video games appeared to be striving towards in many gamers’ youths does play a major role. While the motivations of the industry have since moved on, become more complex and arguably much more ambitious, it could be argued that back in the 8-bit and 16-bit days, gaming had different, more humble goals. Games released in the subsequent years between the SNES/Mega Drive era and the release of the Dreamcast inevitably moved the goalposts, but ask 10 year old me what I would have wanted from a video game console in the future and I might have described something akin to what Sega put on store shelves back in 1999. Needless to say, for many, the Dreamcast was the holy grail of gaming consoles – an arcade machine in your home that delivered more than any single coin-op machine could ever hope to achieve.

The thing is, back in the 80s and 90s, the very peak of gaming was to be found in the arcades; that was the ultimate goal, to recreate at home what we were previously asked to pay 50p/£1 a go for. They might not be all that relevant today (they certainly aren’t in the West), but for decades, arcades represented the very pinnacle of video game technology. They were something to marvel at, something to aspire to, and whatever your view might be on Sega’s, Dreamcast, if nothing else, it was the first console to achieve that goal on a grand scale – which, given its architecture, really should have come as no surprise. Especially compatible with the then market leading, NAOMI arcade system board, the Dreamcast NAOMI essentially shared the same off the shelf hardware components as its arcade equivalent, thus making ports of their most famous arcade games of the late 90s and early 00’s a relatively straight forward affair. Sure, the Mega drive had some decent arcade ports in the form of OutRun, Golden Axe and Altered Beast, and yes, the Virtua Fighter 2 port for the Sega Saturn was incredibly impressive for the time, but none came close to matching the arcade originals. The Dreamcast on the other hand – arcade ports were its bread and butter. From Sega Rally 2 ,Virtua Fighter 3 and Virtua Tennis through to the array of fantastic Capcom ports (Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike and Marvel vs. Capcom 2 stand out as two of the more obvious examples), the Dreamcast really was (and still is) and arcade gamers dream.

And honestly, that’s what would make a Dreamcast Mini quite so special – sure, the hardware would need to be decent (the inclusion of the largely useless but utterly unique VMUs is a must), and of course, the emulation would need to be spot on (please Sega, get M2 on the case), but if they did do it right, the Dreamcast’s library of games, it’s arcade-style aesthetic, the pick up and play nature of many of its games and the simple fact that so few people got to experience it first time around, all combine to make Sega’s Dreamcast the ideal candidate for a ‘mini’ revival.

As for the games, well, that’s going to be tricky – I’m going to be realistic and pick a collection of 20 games, and at this point, none which require one of Sega’s long list of excellent peripherals (sorry Samba de Amigo). I know, it’s a controversial choice, but honestly, if a mini Dreamcast were to ever get made, I can’t see it coming with a full sized pair of maracas (as much as I’d love that to happen). So, what do you think of the list below? A solid list of stone cold classics with a decent collection of curios? Have I missed anything obvious (beyond Metropolis Street Racer which I have criminally omitted…oh, and Marvel vs Capcom 2….and a translated version of Segagaga….sh*t, perhaps I should have made this a list of 30 games)? What would you like to see if Sega were to ever make a Dreamcast mini?

Sega Dreamcast Mini – initial game line-up:

1)      Sonic Adventure – it might not be the best Sonic game out there and has probably aged more than most on this list, but it’s utterly synonymous with the console and its best-selling game.

2)      SoulCalibur – one of the best reviewed games of all time and a perfect showcase of the Dreamcast’s often underrated power.

3)      Power Stone – many would argue that the sequel is the better game, but I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the original. Come on Capcom – where is part 3!?

4)      Sega Rally 2 – Not the best Sega Rally game out there, but it remains quintessential Sega, and with so few arcade racers on the market, would prove a welcome addition.

5)      Virtua Tennis – still the best tennis video game of all time as far as I’m concerned. Looks great too.

6)      Rez – Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s musical masterpiece has shown up elsewhere since its original release back in 2001, but at its heart, it will always be a Dreamcast game.

7)      Cosmic Smash – this arcade port that combines tennis with Rez might well feel somewhat superfluous (given the inclusion of both Virtua Tennis and Rez), but this Japan only release (one of the few games released for Dreamcast in a DVD case rather than the traditional jewel case) remains an exceptional port and a brilliantly addictive game in its own right.

8)      Phantasy Star Online – for many console gamers, this will have been their first introduction to online gaming and, despite being relatively simplistic by today’s standards, remains surprisingly playable and aesthetically striking.

9)      Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike – It might not be as famous as its immediate predecessor or successor, but for many (myself included), there is a strong argument for Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike being the pinnacle of this famous fighting series. Its cast of fighters remains somewhat divisive, but in terms of mechanics, sprite work and animations, it’s probably as good as it gets.

10)    Ikaruga – another game that has shown up on multiple consoles since its original release on Dreamcast, Ikaruga earns its place as the best shooter on a console with plenty of great shooters. An argument could be made for the lesser known likes of Under Defeat, Psyvariar II or Border Down, but come on, Ikaruga has to be there.

11)   Crazy Taxi – but only if it comes with the Offspring soundtrack! Has there ever been a collection of songs more synonymous with a  video game? Also, it might sound weird, but they’ll need to get KFC and Tower Records back too.

12)   Shenmue I&II – I know they are two games, but when I think of Shenmue, I think of both games simultaneously. They are the quintessential Dreamcast titles, and to this day, two of my favourite games of all time.

13)   Jet Set Radio – arguably bested by its technically superior sequel on the original Xbox, the first game is still the one that everyone remembers most fondly – a game that perfectly encapsulates the console, the time and everything that was so stylish and cool about Japan at the turn of the century.

14)   Skies of Arcade – it was never as popular or as famous as the Final Fantasy games of the time, but in terms of quality, Overworks’ exceptional JRPG isn’t out of place in the company of such classics of the genre.

15)   ChuChu Rocket – Sonic Team’s fantastically high-paced puzzler is as deserving of a renaissance as anything on this list and is as playable today as it was back in 1999. The Dreamcast’s first online game, it was also given away for free to online subscribers and remains hugely popular with fans of the console.

16)   Project Justice – another Capcom classic, this quintessentially Japanese 3D fighter might not be as famous as Namco’s SoulCalibur, this lesser known sequel to Rival Schools is one of the most stylish games on the console and a technically brilliant fighter too.

17)   Canon Spike – man, Capcom released some great games for the Dreamcast. This is far from the best of the bunch, but this multi-directional shooter hasn’t been re-released since the Dreamcast version and remains a highly competent curio – one made all the more interesting by its unique cast of playable characters that range from Street Fighter’s, Charlie to Ghosts ‘n Goblins’, Arthur.

18)   NFL 2K – I’m not sure if this is in anyway realistic, what with naming rights and all that, but despite garnering little interest in Europe, NFL 2K was a huge hit in the States, and the last true competitor to Madden’s crown. EA’s money ultimately won out, but for many, the 2K series remains the pinnacle of virtual gridiron.

19)   Dynamite Cop – I’m not convinced that it’s actually all that good, but this unofficial follow up to the Sega Saturn’s Die Hard Arcade (Dynamite Deka) is a brilliant throwback to the kind of game that is rarely made anymore. Sure, the lack of the Die Hard license is a loss, but it’s still tons of silly co-op fun. An argument could be made for the equally ludicrous Zombie Revenge, but Dynamite Cop just about gets the nod.

20)   Cyber Troopers Virtual-On Oratorio Tangram – like so much else on the list, this vividly colourful, gorgeously designed, but mechanically simplistic mech brawler (one that hides a wealth of tactical depth) is pure Sega and a great visual and mechanical representation of where the company was from a creative standpoint at the time.

Secret Bonus Game – 21) Daytona USA 2001 – ok, so I’m cheating by adding a 21st game, but come on, how could I not include Daytona USA 2001!? This little-played arcade racer that was released towards the tail end of the Dreamcast’s existence is a perfect example of how the Dreamcast delivered arcade-style quality with the kind of bells and whistles that console gamers have now become accustomed to. Sure, the controls are a bit fiddly and it lacks the finesse of the arcade originals, but this is still a great arcade racer that deserves its place on the list…albeit in 21st place.

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