Friday, September 9, 2011

Dreamcast 12th Anniversary!

Its that time of year again, where we look back on one of the most successful failures in video gaming history. A system, that even to this day, has games still being made for it. A pioneer console of the online network, MMORPG, DLC, and ease-of-creation with Windows CE. While everyone was waiting patiently for a PS2, there were some loyal DC owners and Sega fans that refused to give in and let their system die. When Sega finally folded, they still couldn't get the DCs off of the shelf. Sony was putting that much harm into them and since then Sega seems to have been unable to get almost anything right. (I'm looking at you, green-eyed Sonic...)
I'm short on words, time, and attention span and since I've already posted in the past about Remembering the DC, I also talked about the underground homebrew scene, gave some facts, etc. Last year I gave mini-reviews of my (then current) DC game collection. Lately and honestly I haven't felt drawn to write anything new in the way of blogs but I can think of a few things to say about the newest games that I've gathered as well as a few questions to ask.
Yes, its a repeat of last year unfortunately, but with this job I now have its hard to stay away from Amazon and the classic game sellers so the only DC action I've had lately is used games that take a week to get to me.
*I'd like to point out that as I started writing this, I ordered Jet Grind Radio and Phantasy Star Online v2 from Amazon. JGR arrived a couple days ago and I was able to throw a few sentences together about the overall game. PSO arrived today (9-9-11) and I'm going to do a full retro review of the game later on. Its in my DC right now. Offline, of course.*

Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future is best described as a "dolphin simulator" game. You need to suspend disbelief when trying to understand the storyline: Dolphins and humans live together in peace and have come to a greater understanding of the universe. But an alien race wants to disrupt that peace by causing... something. Who knows. You're Ecco once again and its mostly a repeat of the first game. When you get to that point of "How high in the sky can you jump?" things go incredibly wrong. A warp hole opens up and everything gets sucked into it. Now you're on a quest to fix everything cause YOU screwed it up!
The gameplay is incredibly smooth and there's full circular motion when moving around the open areas. The problems come by way of uninspired quests, confusing pathways, and enemies that are more annoying than troublesome.
The graphics are bright and you can expect to see a loooot of blue. They're very tight with light refractions and shadows abundant. Unless you look for things, like flat textures on background objects, you'll be impressed the whole way through.
The music is ambient and flows with the game; increasing at the right moments when the action ramps up. The sound effects are dulled in water while things like echolocation and responses are clear.
Its an adventure game worthy of a Dreamcast lovers collection but it might not keep someone glued to their seat due to the confusing pathways and unclear objectives at some points.

Evolution: The World of Sacred Device is a hard game for me to appreciate. The storyline isn't appealing: you're the son of an infamous treasure hunter who did something and now owes the treasure hunter guild a lot of money and blah blah blah. Maybe I'm just not a fan of child-RPGs but I can't seem to stay interested in any of it.
The combat consists of placing your three characters either front, middle, or back of the action. The healer preferably behind it all. You choose your action, you attack, you get attacked, you need to level up extremely high to beat a single boss. Aside from the character placement mechanic,  the rest of the action is pretty cookie cutter.
The graphics aren't all that impressive either with dull surfaces, cartoonish action, and bland character models. No real flash or flare to it. I know that's not what it takes to make a great game but you'd think they would at least have some polish.
Maybe I'm too harsh on it but I can say that after only about 45 minutes total playtime I won't be returning to it. With Dreamcast hoarders becoming more common these days I'll still keep it in my collection.

As of writing this I actually just received Jet Grind Radio in the mail yesterday (9-8-11) and have only played about an hour of it, but from that hour I can definitely say that this game has STYLE. The cell-shaded graphics were unique for the time and made the game look and play smoothly. You play as one of three members of the gang "the GG's" and tag your way across Tokyo fighting off other gangs and the relentless police. I played the "sequel," Jet Set Radio Future, before this one and I have to say that JSRF has smoother controls, faster gameplay and a different and larger city. But I digress, Jet Grind Radio is a must-have for anyone. It's a unique game in that it isn't a sports title at all; its about artistic expression and Sega has created and nailed it with that in mind. 
The main downfalls of the game are the controls and camera. Sometimes the controls just don't feel accurate enough and they take some getting used to. Meanwhile the camera is the biggest problem. Using L-trigger, it refocuses behind your character, when all along it should just be set that way.
The music is the main draw-in with a funky beat that plays all throughout and really sets the atmosphere. The inclusion of the soundtrack player in the garage menu is an awesome afterthought. You don't have to load up a level and wait to hear that one good song.
The graphics are also one of the main selling points. The cell-shading keeps the game running at a smooth pace and never causes clutter. Its always interesting to turn a corner and see what's there. Although despite being the middle of Japan, the streets are quite devoid of people, which can be good so you don't have to worry about running into people when attempting to flee from the police.
Its a classic Dreamcast game that deserves to be remade or have several sequels already. Its unique, atmospheric, and with a lot of hidden tags and pathways, its worth it to play again to hunt down everything.

Have you ever played the first Project Gotham Racing on the original Xbox? Then you've played this. Metropolis Street Racer is the predecessor to PGR and in reality, PGR is just the graphical upgrade of MSR. Same tracks from all the same locations. Does that make it a bad game? No way. Never.
The graphics are tight and really shows off what the Dreamcast is capable of with each locale resembling the real world area in great detail. Car models are rendered perfectly and are the best I've seen in a DC game.
But its not about the graphics, its all about style and how you drive. Wanna be reckless? Prepare to lose Kudos, style points that are used to unlock new cars and tracks. Proper braking and acceleration, drifting cleanly around corners, overtaking cars without colliding, and passing between checkpoints without hitting walls is what its all about.
The sound effects have a depth that other racers, and games, just didn't have at the time: clear engine sounds, tires screeching, cars crunching. The soundtrack features unlicensed music but its not bad at all.
Its an arcade racer with a heavy emphasis on sim driving. One other game that comes to mind that attempted to pull the same thing off is Enthusia on the PS2. Where Enthusia was too focused on an odds system, PGR almost does the same with its Kudos. In spite of that fact, its another must-have in a collector's.... collection.

It takes balls to take on one of sim racing's most prolific racing series, Gran Turismo, and Sega went all out to try and take it on. Sega GT works well, for the most part. While it doesn't really do anything ground-breaking or exciting, it is a solid racer and one that goes in-depth enough for a gearhead to enjoy. All others might not care to try out the overly precise controls and generally bland presentation. There are license classes that must be done in order to get to the higher levels (just like in GT) and while some of them can be easily done for those who are used to sim racers, some are just ridiculously hard and will leave you with only tenths of a second to complete.
The graphics are tight for the most part and the car models are excellently detailed. The tracks are unique but there aren't a lot of them, and you'll be racing the same small-time races several times over in order to get enough money for either a tournament race or upgrades. 
I can't really recall the sound right now but I do know that its not worth talking about.
As far as sim racers go, Sega GT is a weak link but still a must-have for DC owners, sim racing fans, and collectors alike. But if you really want to try out Sega GT, there is a better sequel on the original Xbox that was a pack-in title, a double disc that includes, go figure, Jet Set Radio Future.

Take all of the classic Sega games you know and love, port them to the Dreamcast, give them sloppy controls and HORRIBLE midi sounds, and you've got a poor excuse for a Dreamcast game. If you play it on mute and re-learn your controls by using either the overly-sensitive control stick or the bad d-pad, it could be good. But if you don't care to do that, stick with the original Genesis games or one of the newer collections and give this one a definite pass.

Have you ever played SSX? Well this isn't it. Its a boring and uninspired racing game that features hoverboards, generic characters, overly futuristic but bland locales, and a trick system that doesn't want you to succeed. As misleading as the name is, the game isn't about tricks, its about getting through the 2-minute twisting tracks the fastest while getting a small score from tricks and not crashing. If you're looking to hunt down a full collection of Dreamcast games, then by all means go for it. But if you want only good games to show off, definitely never give this a second glance.

Its freakin' Unreal Tournament, on the Dreamcast, and its compatible with the DC mouse and keyboard. What more could you ask for? Its a perfect replacement to the PC version since its directly ported over.
While there aren't as many maps (there are a couple of DC exclusive ones) as the PC version it doesn't pull punches in the amount of action that takes place. Mods, tournament ladders, and characters are all here. The same insane action that an FPS-arena fan craves. It's a must-have for any Dreamcast owner.  I also own the PS2 version and I can definitely say that, without a doubt, the PS2 version is the weakest while the DC hits all the right body parts. Now you can yell "HEADSHOT" when playing on your Dreamcast.

Believe it or not, Rockstar was experimenting with open world games even on the DC. Wild Metal is a perfect example of how NOT to do it. You choose from a small assortment of tanks that differ in firepower, speed, and armor and take it to the battlefield... a very barren battlefield. Why are you fighting an overly accurate enemy AI AND poor controls at the same time? Who knows. Rockstar definitely missed the mark with this one and while the terrain is open its just very bland. There's not much to see besides powerups, enemies, and more desert. Wild Metal is in the same lines as Trickstyle: you can do without it if you're going to play these games for real, but its okay to have in a collection.

So here's a couple of questions for you all...
What is your favorite game, THE killer app that everyone must own, for the Dreamcast?
If you've never owned a DC, why?
If the DC had succeeded how do you think the gaming scene would be different today?

Keep Playing Your Dreamcast.

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