The Sega Dreamcast was, in many ways, ahead of its time. It was the first console to have a built in modem for online gaming, for instance, and it had a wide library of innovative games. Had the console been released ten years later, it might have done much better.
Not many gamers owned a Dreamcast and the console was ultimately commercially considered to be a failure. But with how forward-thinking the hardware was, the ongoing development of “indie” games for it, and its cult classic status, it’s still a must-know for the true gaming fan! So here is everything you need to know about the last Sega console, the Sega Dreamcast.
Dreamcast Release and Decline
The Dreamcast was a little bit of a Hail Mary for Sega after the poor performance of their previous console, the Sega Saturn, which had been completely undermined by the Sony PlayStation and flattened by the Nintendo 64. It was preceded by several changes in leadership and a year of net losses for Sega, and five years of declining profits before that.
One of the big issues with the Saturn had been its high cost of production, so when developing the Dreamcast, Sega went in a different direction, choosing components that could be bought “over the counter;” many of them could also be found in contemporary commercial computers.
Microsoft also developed a custom Dreamcast version of Windows CE, making it easier to port PC games.
Sega had reason to feel good about their new console. Pre-orders for the system were solid, and Sega was able to announce that Sonic Adventure, their next game starring company mascot Sonic the Hedgehog, would be ready in time for the Dreamcast’s launch. It seemed like they might even be able to have another console hit like the Mega Drive on their hands.
However, an issue with their chips slowed down how quickly they were able to manufacture the device, and they had to end pre-order sales early in order to keep up with the orders already placed.
Additionally, EA – the largest third-party game developer – announced that they would not be developing games for the Dreamcast. EA claims that this is because Sega “wasn’t acting like a competent hardware company” and they just didn’t want to work on the platform, but Sega said it was because EA wanted exclusive rights to all sports-centric games for the console.
When the system finally launched in November 1998, of the four games available for it, only one sold well. Sonic Adventure had been delayed, and it released within the following weeks, but sales post-launch did not pick up.
Sega executives had hoped to sell one million units by February the next year, but fewer than 900,000 actually sold. Even worse, there were stories of Japanese consumers returning their Dreamcasts and using the refund to get software for the PlayStation instead.
The Dreamcast did have a major hit in Japan, Seaman, and that was only the prelude to another good turn Sega would have: the Dreamcast had a massive North American release. Within two weeks of launch, the Dreamcast had sold over 500,000 units, and Sega held 31% of the North American video game market share.
The Sega Dreamcast was the first in the sixth generation of gaming consoles, but the others were soon to follow. Sony’s PlayStation 2 (or PS2) got a ton of hype, Nintendo was marketing the GameCube, and Microsoft started developing their own Xbox. All of those started eating into the Dreamcast’s profitability.
In order to compete, Sega went to their most popular market, North America, and utilized one of the things that made the Dreamcast unique for its time: its ability to connect to the internet. Sega of America launched Sega.com, its own internet service provider, and later that year released SegaNet, which was the Dreamcast’s Internet gaming service.
Sega also had the foresight to release a broadband adapter in July 2000. The era of the dial-up modem was waning, and they wanted users to be able to continue to use Sega via the Dreamcast for all of their internet needs.
By the end of 2000, Sega needed to have sold upwards of five million units in order to remain a commercially viable platform. But all of their proactive measures, by the time the deadline rolled around, they had only sold three million.
Between frustrating sales and net losses from how low they had slashed the price in order to move the product, at the end of January 2001, Sega announced that they would be discontinuing the Dreamcast and restructuring the company into becoming a “platform-agnostic” third-party software development company.
The Dreamcast was the first console of the sixth-generation to end its lifespan, well before the beginning of the seventh generation with the Xbox 360. But, on the bright side, Sega as a corporation still continued to exist, and we continue to get great games from them today!
How Many Games Were Released For The Sega Dreamcast?
There were officially six hundred and twenty games released for the Dreamcast, although it became such a cult console after it was discontinued that, to this day, new “homebrew” games are created by independent developers.
The Dreamcast library became particularly well known for creative, innovative, and daring games. Titles like Rez, which attempted to emulate the experience of synesthesia, or Seaman, which involved a fish with a man’s face as a main character, are exemplary of how singular each game was willing to be.
Best Dreamcast Games
Obviously, any personal list of the best Dreamcast games varies from person to person. But, when doing research for this article, the “best of” lists from Kotaku, Games Radar, C-Net, and Retro Gamer had almost all of the same games, often even in the same positions. So, consolidated here, is a list of five of the best Dreamcast games of all time.
- Soulcalibur – Initially styled as one word, although now the franchise is better known as Soul Calibur, it’s a series that is still running today.
- Shenmue – Although the first one came out for the Dreamcast roughly twenty years ago, Shenmue III was released just last year after one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns in gaming history.
- Skies of Arcadia – A single-player RPG where pirates in flying ships do battle. The franchise lies dormant for now, unfortunately, but that doesn’t stop it from having been a beautifully playing game on the Dreamcast.
- Seaman – The Dreamcast’s first major hit in Japan, Seaman has a rather unusual storyline. But it is exemplary of the wild and innovative library the Dreamcast could boast.
- Ikaruga – This title only ever came out in Japan (although a GameCube version was released worldwide) Ikaruga was a beautiful and daring entry into the shooter genre.
Even though they didn’t make the top five, some other games that deserve mentioning are Jet Set Radio, Rez, Crazy Taxi, Phantasy Star Online, Power Stone, Space Channel 5, and The Typing of the Dead (a remake of The House of the Dead 2 as a touch typing trainer).
The Dreamcast Controller
The Dreamcast controller looked like no other on the market.
On the downside, it’s shape required the player’s hands to be in, as IGN called it, “an uncomfortable parallel position.” Game Informer also described the controller as being “lame.”
But, on the inventive side, the controller also used a storage device called the “Visual Memory Unit” or VMU. The VMU was another aspect of the Dreamcast that was ahead of its time. Its LED screen could be used to display game information, it had some small buttons to be used as a very minimal handheld gaming device, and could even connect to some Sega arcade machines.
Developers found so many uses for the VMU that eventually engineers added a second VMU slot to the controller, and it was used for vibration packs that would provide tangible feedback from the game.
Seaman on Dreamcast
Seaman was the Dreamcast’s first real hit in Japan, and was a game unlike any that would be developed today.
One could almost consider Seaman to be a successor to the popular Tamagotchi toy. There is a limited number of things to do – the player’s only mission is to feed and care for their Seaman, which is effectively a carp with a human face and an incredible repository of trivia.
Some more fun facts about Seaman: it is one of the only games to utilize the Dreamcast’s microphone, it was listed by Game Informer in 2008 as being one of the “top ten weirdest of all time,” and in the English version, the Seaman is voiced by Leonard Nimoy!
Sonic Adventure on Dreamcast
Sonic Adventure was supposed to have been the “centerpiece” of the Dreamcast launch. Even though its release was delayed, it still became the Dreamcast’s most popular game, selling 2.5 million copies.
Particularly notable for being the first Sonic to be a fully 3D platforming game, Sonic Adventure did receive some criticism for erratic camera angles and other technical glitches.
But it became popular because of its “luscious” visuals and iconic settings, like when Sonic runs down the side of a skyscraper. It was also well known for its multiple storylines and varying forms in which to play.
The demise of the Sega Dreamcast is still cause for woe in the gaming community. Short lived as a console and with an innovative library of games, it has achieved true cult status among those who know it.
But, even though it wasn’t appreciated enough in its time, it at least goes acknowledged now. Eurogamer mentioned that “nothing builds a cult like a tragic demise.” And true to form, the Dreamcast on many “best of” lists. IGN called it the eighth greatest video game console of all time in 2009, and in 2013, Edge said it was the tenth best console of the last twenty years.
So truly, despite the sad story of the Dreamcast’s initial life, it will live on forever in the gaming world’s heart.