Throughout the late 80s and the early 90s, two Japanese companies were vying for console superiority: Nintendo and Sega. The former had revitalized the industry with a system that is widely regarded as the most influential in history, the NES. In every definition of the word, Nintendo was King. Sega however wanted to dethrone Nintendo with its own immensely popular console, the Sega Master System. The bitter rivalry only vastly increased with the next generation releases of the Super Nintendo and the Genesis. With campaigns like “Genesis does what Nintendon’t”, the battle lines were drawn. You were either Team Mario or Team Sonic.
Of course, we all know how this turned out. Nintendo still continues to thrive while Sega was defeated in the sixth-generation. Yet even before Sega’s console curtain call, the historical rivalry was essentially over. The Genesis did well, but its successor the Saturn did not. It lost wholeheartedly to the Nintendo 64 and Sony’s PlayStation. Despite the damage though, Sega had enough up their sleeve for one more system. Their product was the Dreamcast, a powerful little console that beat everyone else to market. The early start wasn’t lifesaving though, and Sega’s final system was also the first to cease production, permnanently ending the company’s console production. It’s been 15 years since this release, and while the Dreamcast didn’t last very long, many consider it the most underappreciated system ever.
The Dreamcast was basically doomed from the start. Nintendo had trumped Sega previously, and once Sony bested Nintendo, there was no possible chance for recovery. Yet Sega wanted to go out guns blazing anyway. If the Dreamcast wasn’t going to beat the competition, then it can at least be memorable. And memorable it was! The Dreamcast featured the best of its competitors with a little added flair. It was as cheap as the GameCube, had very impressive graphics and four controller ports, early online play, a ton of attachments for interactivity, and even a Video Memory Unit (VMU) that doubled as both a memory card and a little controller with its own screen. This meant that several years before Nintendo found dual-screen success with the DS, Sega was already experimenting with the concept. And before Xbox made online play popular, the Dreamcast was treading early water. The system was also immensely popular with the modding community. Obviously none of this new territory was completely fleshed out. It wouldn’t be until the next generation for this stuff to become common. But the Dreamcast dared to go there early.
Despite all of this, most people mainly remember this console for its awesome library of games. In terms of weirdness mixed with creativity, there was nothing like Samba de Amigo and it’s maraca controllers. Or how about Jet Grind Radio, a cel-shaded game that was all about rollerblading and spray painting. Though there are plenty of detractors, lots of Sonic fans have a soft spot for the Sonic Adventure games. The immensely popular Marvel vs Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes first came to the Dreamcast as well, along with Grandia II, SoulCalibur, Power Stone, and Crazy Taxi. It even gave the world Shenmue, a game many consider to be a straight up work of art, and Skies of Arcadia, a fan favorite RPG. With such a great library, gorgeous graphics, and pure innovation, the Dreamcast was almost exactly what Sega needed to rise back up.
But then the PlayStation 2 came in boasting a fully integrated DVD player. With one fell swoop, Sony became the defining example of gaming’s future. DVDs were freshly on the rise and everyone wanted a way to play them. Why not package one into the hottest console on the market? The public swooned and the PS2 became the best selling console in history. Dreamcast, however, plummeted. Sales dropped practically the moment Sony announced it’s new console, and they just never went back up. Sega’s losses became too great and the system was discontinued after less than three years in the market. In that moment, the former top competitor to Nintendo became a third-party developer. Its games were pushed to other consoles, and former rivals Mario and Sonic basically became best pals. The rivalry was entirely buried. The Dreamcast didn’t just mark the end of Sega’s console development. It marked the end of an era.
I loved the Dreamcast. It’s easily my favorite Sega console ever, and is up there as one of my favorite consoles overall. Its games blew me away and I simply couldn’t get enough. MVC2 was easily my favorite from the time, but I was especially partial to Jet Grind Radio, Sonic Adventure 2, and Skies of Arcadia. The Dreamcast also stands out in my mind because it was straight up stolen when my family moved. To bring it to our new house, we packed the system in the box it came with, and it never arrived with the rest of our things. We confronted the movers but they completely denied any wrongdoing. Clearly major game consoles don’t just vanish though, so they completely reimbursed us by buying us a new Dreamcast and replaced most of our games. I say most because, for better and for worse, we got Skies of Arcadia instead of Grandia II (which we owned pre-move). The pro to this was that I heard a ton of good things about Skies and absolutely loved it. The con is that I have yet to beat Grandia II.
It’s an absolute shame that the Saturn crippled Sega so badly that they couldn’t keep the Dreamcast going. With enough funding, this groundbreaking system really could have given Sega a huge boost. It had bonafide success written all over it. Yet it was cut down too short by forces beyond its control. Truth be told, it’s a testament to this little console that it’s still remembered with fondness after 15 years. A system that didn’t even last three years or go beyond 10 million in sales is usually lost to history. The Dreamcast lives on though (some people are still developing games for it) in the minds of many and the homes of few. Sega really couldn’t have asked for a better system to ride off into the sunset with.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.