Engadget started up in 2004, so we missed the rise (and fall) of the Sega Dreamcast by a few years. We've still covered the company's ups and downs over the past decade and a half (and can't wait for the Sega Genesis Mini later this month). Today's the 20th anniversary of the Dreamcast's release in North America, so we asked readers to write a review to tell us what they miss most about the console. Here's what they had to say about the games they loved, the features that impressed them and the system's unrealized potential.
Users were fond of the Dreamcast hardware -- specifically the plethora of peripherals, along with the onboard LAN and CD playback. Jarcoz said that "the keyboard, mouse and VGA box -- and the easy online access -- made this console a huge step ahead and bridged the gap between PC and console gamers." Mooney felt the "fusion of advanced graphics, network connectivity and revolutionary controllers" put the system "ahead of its time."
Mooney also pointed out that "one of the best features of the Dreamcast was how easy it was to use homebrew content," though "this may also be partially responsible for its demise since it made it easy for users to pirate games over P2P networks." Pashpaw saw it as a positive, saying that "the console's firmware supports CD playback too and later Dreamcasts can load in homebrew games for Windows NT with ease."
Visual Memory Unit (VMU)
One of the Dreamcast features fans mentioned the most was the Visual Memory Unit (VMU) which, as Tatsumaki explains, "gave Dreamcast owners the ability to view game data on their controllers as well as carry mini-games along with them that tied into the console parent game." Nathan said the VMU's "ability to be played once removed from the controller was very interesting, though very few games actually took full advantage of this feature." A different user named Nathan pointed out that they "made a huge [difference] for a game like NFL2K as the memory cards allowed you the ability to view and pick your play on them." Jeremy said the "cool features like the VMU save carts, complete with built-in screen minigames" was one of the things that distinguished the Dreamcast as a gaming system. Brett was more skeptical, saying he found the memory card system "a little bit odd and the cards were kind of chunky."
When it comes to those distinct, spaceship-shaped controllers the majority of readers were surprisingly in favor of them. Pashpaw said the gamepads "were innovative for the time with the two slots in the controller for expansion," Kasper called them epic and Kenshin11 said they were "something else." Joe thought the "controllers were dope, especially certain games that utilized the touchscreen type thing you could attach to the controller," and Nathan found them "unique and surprisingly nice in the hand." Kenvan19 called themselves "one of the insane people who absolutely loved the Dreamcast controller enough that when the Xbox Duke came out, it was my favorite due to its similarity."
There was one dissenter: fourfour44. They felt it "continues Sega's tradition of horrendous design and the Dreamcast controller is the worst of the worst, the parallel grips on the back immediately strain your wrists and the face buttons have their letters etched into them, making them rough and awkward to press."
When it came to the game play, many users had positive things to say about the graphics -- Nathan called the system "next level for its time," and said that even today the visuals hold up. Brett found "the action to be always smooth, and the physics seemed better on this console than in games on the PS2." And CLIFFosakaJAPAN was "awed with the graphics and performance of the Dreamcast upon playing my first batch of games." He adds that he "thinks it was the first time that I felt I would never have to plunk down quarters (or 100 yen coins) at the game arcade ever again."
Everyone, and I mean, everyone wanted to rave about their most cherished Dreamcast titles -- users agreed here was where console really excelled in gaining life-long fans. Bradley said he "really enjoyed the variety of games on the console despite its short life span," PashPaw said that the system "came out with a bevy of first-party games that I still appreciate to this day," and Jeremy called the Dreamcast lineup "incredibly creative and ambitious."
Games that users fondly remembered included Chu Chu Rocket, which Bradley said was one of his favorites and Idlemind said is "surprisingly very fun to play as a group." Shenmue was mentioned by no fewer than five users (edex67 called the game "utterly brilliant"), and Power Stone was one of Kenshin11's favorites, with Nathan also praising it as a "really unique take on the genre." Other titles frequently mentioned were Crazy Taxi, Jet Set Radio, Marvel vs Capcom, Sonic Adventure, Ready 2 Rumble Boxing, Quake and Toy Commander amongst many, many others.
The user consensus is that the games hold up as well as the system has; Andrew said they're still fun today, given the number of exclusive games and new games still being released for the console. Kasper was hoping for re-releases of Power Stone 2 and Jet Set Radio while Lodmot pointed out that the Dreamcast library continues to grow "thanks to the homebrew scene and the dedicated fanbase that it has." Joe, who still owns his Dreamcast, will still break it out to play when friends come over.
Many users also had thoughts on why the console didn't, or couldn't, succeed in the end. Bradley, who felt the Dreamcast never reached its full potential, thought that "Sega could have advertised more, worked out a new controller design and supported the varying peripherals available." Kenvan19 said the only thing they could ding the system for was that it "was already dying at the time I got it so the games library was nowhere near what Playstation or Nintendo had at the time."
This was echoed by Mooney who said "failure to deliver exclusive releases on any must-have games quickly doomed it to obscurity," and Lunarcloud who said their only issues with the Dreamcast were the lack of a second analog stick and "the short lifespan of the system limiting the game library. Some really interesting games stopped development because the system was cancelled."
Regardless, many users felt fondness and nostalgia for their Dreamcast: Kasper called it the "last legendary console," Dorian said it was "the last video game console I really loved," and Michael scored it an 11 out of 10, as he'd "let this console define my childhood again, no matter how sad that sounds." Joe called it "one of the more underrated systems ever made," and Pashpaw said that not only is it their favorite Sega console it "deserves all the love and nostalgia that I give it."
Idlemind said that not only do they still enjoy their Dreamcast console, but when his friends' kids come over "they usually ask to play it over the Xbox." Jarcoz said it was "leaps and bounds ahead of everything else," a sentiment that was shared by edex67 who declared it a "must own console for anyone, regardless of current console loyalties." And Lunarcloud summed it up nicely by calling the Dreamcast "the last great home console from Sega, and the fans just won't let it die because it's aged extremely well."