Fourteen years ago, SEGA launched their fifth and final console, the SEGA Dreamcast. Gaming was becoming huge in the late nineties, things were changing and SEGA had a reputation to uphold.
SEGA was just coming off the failure of the Saturn (and Genesis add-ons SEGA CD and 32x before that) and had a lot to prove to gamers. During the SEGA Saturn, US gamers really got shafted by SEGA America due to their policies on bringing Japanese games over. While Sony proudly helped bring Final Fantasy VII over to the States, starting a huge increase in JRPG fans, SEGA only released their JRPG Panzer Dragoon Saga in limited quantities. Most say this was one of the biggest reasons the Saturn was disbanded.
SEGA had a lot to prove, especially to Western gamers. Bernie Stolar (SEGA America President and COO at the time) said during E3 1997, ‘”the Saturn is not our future”. Bernie was already teasing the next big SEGA console, even though the SEGA Saturn was only out for two years…
Introducing: The SEGA Dreamcast
Its crazy to think how much different the Dreamcast really is compared to the Saturn. I know there are a ton of companies out there that say they learned their lessons from their past failures, but SEGA seems to be one of the first major console manufactures that really did show gamers they learned.
Just looking at the console you can tell they tried to get people to know that this isn’t the next SEGA Saturn. First of all, the console came out in iconic white and was really small compared to the Saturn which was bigger and black. The console looked really slick.
While the SEGA Saturn was a nightmare to develop for, the SEGA Dreamcast turned out relevantly easy to make games for. Something that all developers praised about the system. This is one of the reason why after years of being discontinued there are still a ton of games being developed by indie developers like Senile Team, Duranik and NG:DEV.TEAM.
SEGA America priced their console at $199.99 because Stoler wanted to gain as much market share as possible, while SEGA Japan wanted to price the console at $249.99 to make revenue as quick as possible. The launch of the Dreamcast was considered a huge success at the time generating over$97 million the first day. SEGA even said that they generated more money in one day with the Dreamcast than Star Wars: The Phantom Menace did its first day out. That number would reach 300 million in a week.
“Don’t forget your compact disc cleaner”
I don’t think I’m overreacting when I say that the Dreamcast had the best game US launch line-ups ever. Sadly, the Japanese got screwed over with Pen Pen Trilcelon, Godzilla Generations, July, and a bad port of Virtua Fighter 3tb. But we here in the US, well we got lucky, SEGA announced they would be launching with 19 games that you would be able to pick up day one!
Sonic Adventure was probably the console’s biggest launch game, bringing back SEGA’s iconic mascot in full force. Sadly Sonic took a back seat when it came to the SEGA Saturn, but now Sonic was ready for the Dreamcast’s launch and his new game looked great. Sure, right now we might pick it apart but back in the day this game was pretty darn great. All things considered, the Adventure series really changed the hedgehog formula.
The game allowed you not only to play as Sonic, but also Tails, Knuckles, Amy, newcomers Big the Cat, and E-102. Each of the characters had a unique gameplay element and not just ‘Sonic with new powers’. The game had an open world that the player could explore, players would have to find items to continue playing the game usually.
The game also featured full voice overs, which sadly I skipped most of the time. It was the lip syncing, they should have fixed it for the US release. Did I mention the Chao garden? Raising pets that used the Dreamcast’s VMU to feed and play with them on the go? How many of you got your minds blown by that concept?
Soulcalibur really defines what most gamers wanted from the Dreamcast. They wanted to get the closest experience to an arcade, at home. Namco really proved that the Dreamcast could achieve this with their port of Soulcalibur and it was a launch title! Even AM2 couldn’t deliver with their port of Virtua Fighter 3tb, so most people where weary about the power of the Dreamcast. All mouths got shut when they played Soulcalibur though.
I’ll be honest, when I was younger I didn’t really think much of this franchise or Namco in general. I was a die hard SEGA arcade fan, but when I saw one of my favorite magazines, EGM, give the game a perfect 10, no one could argue that this was one of the best launch games on the system.
Power Stone is probably one of the launch titles that means the most to me personally. You see, when I got the Dreamcast most of the big name games where sold out. I had a choice between other ‘not so great’ games and Power Stone. Even though I never really heard much about Power Stone prior to the day it was out, I picked it up trusting the Capcom brand and because I liked the anime looking characters.
Power Stone turned out to be one of my favorite games and featured a unique fighting 3D concept. It wasn’t like other 3D fighters that mostly copied the Virtua Fighter formula. This game actually let you run around in 3D picking up any items your character could get his hands on to smash the other player to death. Tons of fun and people are still asking for a 3rd game till this day. A great Dreamcast exclusive from Capcom.
The House of the Dead 2 proved that SEGA could do a great job converting an arcade game to Dreamcast. The game ran super smooth and looked awesome, keeping the fun of shooting zombies intact. Sadly the only thing missing on launch day to fully enjoy the game was a SEGA branded light gun, but the game was pretty playable with a controller.
The game brought its cheesy voice acting, awesome shooting, and even though it’s short, try to run through it with a friend without using unlimited lives! It’s always frustrating and rewarding at the same time. We love The House of the Dead so much here that we host our friend and fellow writer Kori-Maru’s The Website of the Dead.
NFL2k launched with the SEGA Sports brand name. It was an exciting time to be a SEGA fan. Since EA said they weren’t going to support the Dreamcast, SEGA acquired Visual Concepts to help create their own line of sport video games. Thus the 2K brand of sport video games was born!
It isn’t easy building a sports brand and having to release it on the same day as the console’s launch but Visual Concepts hit it out of the park scoring super high scores with critics. NFL2k got a 9.6 at the time from IGN while Madden 2000 fell short at a 8.6. The franchise only seemed to get better and better, especially when NFL 2K1 came out with online play, beating Madden by years into the online sports arena. Even though Madden ended up winning the American Football war by buying up exclusive rights to NFL name and players, the 2K brand still lives with publisher TakeTwo with 2K games (and NBA 2K franchise is one of the highest rated Basketball games in the industry).
Even though there are more launch games we can talk about, it just goes to show you how awesome the Dreamcast launch really is. Now this fall we will start another generation of consoles, but regardless of all the fancy tech put into the box they will never give us gamers the experience that SEGA did back in 1999. You know, releasing a ton of quality software day one!