Back in 2011, I wrote a Weekly Five about the five best “unknown” Dreamcast games. The goal was to highlight some of the Dreamcast’s best titles that no one really talks about. Among the handful of comments it received was a complaint that I didn’t go “obscure” enough, even though that wasn’t really the point (though I will admit my topic is and continues to be pretty vague). Since then, I’ve done some real digging into some of the deepest parts of the Dreamcast library and I feel ready to come up with an all new selection of titles.
I hope some of these titles are new to you! There’s no better way to celebrate 15 years of the SEGA Dreamcast than with a new game.
I figure I might as well get one of the more popular ones out of the way first. Border Down is an awesome side scrolling shooter from G.Rev, a Japanese company that made its bread and butter on shooters for the Naomi arcade board for years. Like any great Dreamcast shooter, it came with an interesting gimmick: the game has three versions of every single stage, one for beginners, intermediate, and expert players. When you die on Beginners, instead of simply getting a new ship you are sent down to the intermediate version of the stage. Dying again sends you down to expert mode. Die on expert mode, and it’s game over.
This is a really entertaining shooter, with intelligently designed boss battles and enemy sequences. The game is hard as hell but rarely enters bullet hell territory thanks to certain mechanics. Graphically it looks like something that would have looked at home right on the GameCube. I plan to write more about this game in a future Import Guide article, but I personally believe this to be one of the best shooters on the system, right up there with Ikaruga.
Why people don’t talk about it: Aside from the fact that it is a Japanese-only import that came out in 2003, years after the Dreamcast was relevant? It was also only released in limited quantities and now regularly goes for over $100 on eBay. This is easily the most expensive Dreamcast game I own right now.
The fact that even one SEGA title can be on here is startling, but it goes to show how wide the breadth of SEGA’s support for the system was. Dynamite Cop was known as Dynamite Deka 2 in Japan, and was actually the sequel to the Saturn’s Die Hard Arcade, which was the original Dynamite Deka in Japan. As the name might suggest, this game is an explosive and bombastic send up to the great action movies of the eights and early nineties. This game is filled with over the top scenarios and absolutely ridiculous enemies and bad guys.
It’s not a particularly deep, but that’s not the point: this is a game that takes a crazy action movie, puts it into a blender with Streets of Rage and hits puree. In many ways, this game is essentially the successor to Streets of Rage, from the brawling to the weapons to the overall feel. Albeit it lacks streets and replaces the rage with fun goofiness like a secret private island filled with pirates, but you get the idea. I wrote a whole review for this game a few Septembers ago, which you can check out there.
Why people don’t talk about: Critics savaged the game at the time, which certainly didn’t encourage people to try it. At the same time, straight up arcade ports were quickly going out of style as gamers directed their dollars towards deeper, console only experiences. Spending $30-$50 for a 40-minute arcade experience is simply a hard sell. That said, out of all the games on this list, this is the one that easily benefited the most from age. Retro games are back in style and Dynamite Cop can typically be had for less than ten dollars in great condition. Now is a good a time as any to pick it up!
This unknown gem was developed by an equally unknown (and unfortunately short lived) SEGA development team known as SEGA Rosso. This is what happens when you take racquetball, combine it with Break-out, and throw in Rez visuals and audio. Cosmic Smash is a great, gorgeous arcade that perfectly exemplifies the best qualities of Dreamcast era SEGA. The goal is to hit a ball into every single target in a court before the timer runs out. The game is also very easy on the eyes: the game looks really smooth on a modern HD television through VGA, which is saying something for a game from 2001.
It seems pretty simple on the surface, but the only way to do well is to master the game’s mechanics and figure out when to jump and do power slams. As the game progresses, moving and indestructible targets are added. The game even has branching paths and score counters to further necessitate replay value. Best of all, virtually the entire game is in English, making it extremely import friendly. This is a simple, creative concept executed very well.
Why people don’t talk about it: Out of all the games on this list, this is one I’m convinced people would be talking about had it only been released a year earlier internationally. Cosmic Smash was released in September of 2001, towards the end of the Dreamcast’s lifespan, leaving very little time for the game to be released internationally. It’s relatively simplistic concept likely didn’t help matters. These days though, Cosmic Smash is not only one of the most accessible imports out there, it’s also probably one of the best.
There were a lot of games I wanted to cover on this list. Unfortunately, many of them I simply haven’t played enough recently to really write about, and I also wanted to keep the number of Japanese games on this list down to two, hence why I’m leaving out Cool Cool Toon. Instead, I wanted to talk about a great, unreleased SEGA Dreamcast from AM2, which would have easily been a classic had it ever seen the light of day.
This game takes the art of dogfighting and digests it into a bombastic party title. You blast through a variety of stages blasting apart seven other craft. The controls are simple to grasp, though more advanced maneuvering is available for hardcore players who want to make quick turns or barrel rolls. The game has a variety of special weapons that range from simple homing missiles to hot potatoes and bombs that explode when your plane is destroyed, taking the guy who shot you down with you. It’s stuff like this that separates Propeller Arena from other flight games making it perfect for local multiplayer sessions.
Why people don’t talk about it: Aside from the fact that it was canceled? Never being playable online certainly doesn’t help. Still, this game earned its place on this list without that. Really, it’s the fact that the game was only leaked online in 2004 that ultimately doomed it to features like this, which is a shame.
Super Magnetic Neo
This was a game I ignored for years due to its awful cover art. It looked like some lame puzzle game, so I felt I had no reason to look further into it. Even when I did, the game’s mediocre review scores didn’t help. A few years ago as September approached, I decided to look this game up on a whim, since it was one I had so often seen sitting on the shelves long after most other Dreamcast games had disappeared from store shelves. Surprisingly it looked…good.
It is. It’s really good, actually. In fact, this is probably the best platformer on the Dreamcast, aside from maybe Rayman 2. The controls are polished and intuitive, the graphics are colorful and smooth, and the magnetic north/south platforming mechanics make for a creative and challenging platforming experience. The levels are, for the most part, very well designed and constantly challenge your reflexes, platforming skill and ability with game’s unique mechanics in different ways. Virtually every stage is a slog right from the get go, but every victory also feels far more rewarding then the most of the levels I’ve played in other 3D platformers.
Why people don’t talk about it: This game simply isn’t for everyone. This isn’t just hard, it’s unforgiving, and even the first stage is as difficult as the latter stages of most other platformers. Still, the game only has a handful of genuine moments of trial and error, and the vast majority of my deaths simply come from me simply misjudging a jump or being too reckless. This game requires practice and a steady hand to master. If you don’t have the patience for it, this game isn’t for you. If you do, though, you’re in for one of the best platformers on the Dreamcast.