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9/09/2019

Top 15 Dreamcast Games

In light of the 20-year anniversary of the system's debut, here's a top list for ya!

The Dreamcast was meant to be Sega's big comeback, and in a way, it was; unlike the Saturn, it initially met with strong sales (with preorders tripling those of the Playstation), it boasted innovative features like "Visual Memory Units" that had mini-display screens, allowing the user to play minigames and transfer save data without the aid of a console, as well as being the first home console (in the west, at least) to officially support online play.  That, plus quite a few high-quality ports of fan favorite franchises and strong support from Capcom, made it a hit among the Sega faithful.  However, it didn't last long; Sony announced the technologically-superior Playstation 2 a full year before it was ready to launch and the Dreamcast's sales quickly fell off, and after a long period of the company hemorrhaging money, Sega announced the end of the Dreamcast's life less than two years after its launch.  Still, the Dreamcast had quite a few high-quality games in that short time period, and it remains a fan favorite even today, continuing to get homebrew releases and unlicensed third party support for its online component.  So let's look at my ten favorites on the system!

15. Jet Set Radio (Smilebit, 2000)


Jet Set Radio is an odd beast, combining some elements of Tony Hawk into a game about evading the police and tagging marked spots with graffiti by inputting sequences of buttons.  However, it was the first game to utilize cel-shaded graphics, which lent it a very stylish charm, and its upbeat funk/rap soundtrack made it a game that perfectly immersed you in a dystopian Tokyo-to.  It does have a few odd control quirks (like not being able to fully control the camera) and some weird physics at times, but the sheer presentation and killer soundtrack make it a game worth undertaking.  The Dreamcast version is arguably the definitive one, too, as many later ports lost songs due to licensing issues.

14. The Typing of the Dead (WOW Entertainment/Smilebit, 2001)


One of the launch titles for the Dreamcast was an arcade port of House of the Dead 2, and while it was met with acclaim for losing very little in the transition, it also met with controversy; Sega disabled light gun support in the game in light of recent tragedies, forcing players to rely on a third-party solution.  A strange spinoff of the series came later, this time turning the whole game into a typing tutor where one "shoots" zombies by quickly typing in words, phrases, sentences and answers to trivia questions.  A weird concept for sure, but the execution was great, challenging the player's typing speed and improving their skills at the same time while providing plenty of laughs from both the bizarre phrases provided and the campy tone of the original game.  Plus, hell, if you spent any amount of time playing games online, you probably already had the Dreamcast's keyboard anyway, so why not.

13. Fighting Vipers 2 (Sega AM2, 2001)

Fighting Vipers was never one of Sega's more popular franchises - it dragged its feet in the arcades and only really got attention on the Saturn during the 1996 Christmas season - but I always enjoyed its more arcadey, fast-paced take on the Virtua Fighter format.  With an '80s punk flair, breakable armor on your characters, a heavy emphasis on juggle combos and "power hits" that send your opponent flying (even through a wall if you win a round with it), it was satisfyingly visceral.  Fighting Vipers 2 was also a game that was overlooked, but a big part of that is that it was never released in the US; only Europe and Japan, and only then at the tail end of the system's life, dooming it to obscurity.  Still, it carried on the same brand of fun as its predecessor despite being a very no-frills port of the arcade version.  Even twenty years later, I still say Fighting Vipers should get another shot at the limelight!

12. Bangai-o (Treasure, 2000)


Originally released for the Nintendo 64 (though only in Japan), Bangai-o is a wild action game loosely based on the Macross series, allowing the player to battle enemies by launching massive barrages of missiles at their foes (up to 400 at a time) with a well-timed counterattack.  Other levels operate more like puzzles, with the player having to make their way through obstacles without destroying things in a way that they'll get stuck and be unable to continue.  Either way, though, the action remains consistently fast-paced and smooth despite the huge number of missiles, enemies and explosions in play, and it's all capped off with an absurd storyline, ridiculous characters and intentionally-Engrishy dialog that wouldn't feel at home in any number of other cheesy 90s shoot-em-ups.  Fun times for all.

11. Garou: Mark of the Wolves (SNK, 2001)


The ninth entry in the Fatal Fury franchise, Garou was also SNK's answer to Capcom's Street Fighter III, featuring gorgeous and fluid animation, an almost entirely new cast (only Terry returns from previous entries), and even a similar mechanic to SF3's Parry, the Just Defend system - blocking an attack at the very last moment will restore a small amount of health and give the player a brief chance to immediately counterattack.  The TOP system is another new innovation, letting the player pick a third of their health bar and, once their health enters that section, they will gain a significant power boost, health regeneration and the ability to use a super attack.  The AI is downright hellish as per SNK standards, but it's a blast in one-on-one matches with friends.

10. Street Fighter III: Third Strike (Capcom, 2000)


It took almost a decade, but Capcom finally counted to three with Street Fighter, and while the first two iterations were a bit rough, Third Strike is considered the best game in the series by a lot of die-hard fans.  With an almost entirely new cast (only four characters from previous games returning), a new Parry system that allowed the player to time a directional press to negate damage and immediately turn the tables on their opponent, and gameplay built to de-emphasize projectile wars and put more focus on counters and combos, Third Strike is a challenging game to master, but a very rewarding one.  Oh, and the animation was beautiful, with each character now having hundreds of frames apiece.

9. Chu Chu Rocket (Sonic Team, 1999)


Notable for being the first Dreamcast game to feature online competition, Chu Chu Rocket was a simple but addictive concept - lay down arrows to guide mice into your own rocket while keeping cats out, with each one that got in dropping your score by a large number of points.  Better yet, you could steer cats into other players' rockets and mess up their score.  That, plus a variety of random effects (like shuffling the positions of players rockets, flooding the screen with mice or cats, or speeding/slowing the action in general) kept things consistently chaotic and fun.  Unfortunately, interest in the game pretty much died out once Phantasy Star Online and Quake 3 rolled onto the scene, but the game is still a lot of fun in local play if you can find a few friends.  Hey Sega, how about a re-release on current-gen systems, eh?

8. Ikaruga (Treasure, 2001 in Japan)


The followup to Treasure's hit shmup-with-puzzle-elements Radiant Silvergun, Ikaruga was built on much the same model - destroy enemies of like color in groups of three to maximize your score, swap between black and white "polarities" to absorb one type of bullets while avoiding the other and dealing extra damage to enemies of the opposite polarity.  Easy enough to say on paper, but a challenge to master for sure - like any good shmup, your positioning, timing and reflexes all had to be absolutely spot-on to get far, let alone do well enough to rack up a high score.  This is also arguably Treasure's most successful game ever, having seen re-releases on just about every modern platform in existence, but we mustn't forget that it all began on the humble Dreamcast.

7. Crazy Taxi (Hitmaker, 2000)


Crazy Taxi, as its name implies, puts you in the role of a taxi driver and has you ferry people to their destinations.  The "Crazy" part comes in just how you go about that - driving at high speed, earning extra points for stunts like narrowly missing cars, pulling off sharp turns and jumping ramps, and of course, getting bonus time and money the faster you get there while you shoot for a high score.  That, plus a creative training mode titled the "Crazy Box" and an "original mode" with a new city modeled on San Francisco, made it a very engaging and replayable game.  Like Ikaruga, it's also been ported to many different systems, but the Dreamcast remains among the best owing to its consistently smooth 60 FPS animation and gameplay (and not losing any songs from the soundtrack).

6. Marvel VS Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes (Capcom, 1999)


Marvel VS Capcom was a stellar concept that made a big splash in the arcades, and one I played a ton of whenever I got the chance to.  So naturally, when a home port was announced, I was all too eager to grab it up.  The Dreamcast certainly proved it was more than up to the task with the port, too, providing the same smooth gameplay, two-on-two character action and even a few new features like four-player competition (two teams of two players) all battling it out at the same time.  Plus, hey, it featured a handful of cool and obscure Capcom characters like Jin and Captain Commando alongside greats like Mega Man, Ryu and Strider; how could I say no as a huge fan of the company?

5. Capcom VS SNK 2: Millionaire Fighting 2001 (Capcom, 2001 in Japan)


Another outstanding crossover fighter, this time featuring the two biggest names in fighting games duking it out for supremacy.  With a huge cast of characters spanning nearly all of both companies' most iconic franchises (48 in total, plus two hidden characters), the ability to pick one of six "Grooves" to complement one's play style, and a freely-adjustable "Ratio" system that let the player have one really powerful character or up to three weaker ones, CVS2 had a ton to offer both casual and die-hard fighting game fans.  That, plus plenty of fan service with special intros, unique stage designs and plenty of unlockable content, ensured that CVS2 remains a highly-regarded game in the genre.

4. Phantasy Star Online Version 2 (Sonic Team, 2001)


Notable for being the first MMORPG to be released on a console, Phantasy Star Online was definitely geared toward that experience, letting up to four players join together and make their way through the game's dungeons, defeating waves of enemies, collecting loot and battling boss monsters across three difficulties, and even including some clever features like pre-fabricated messages that would automatically translate into each user's individual language.  However, as those who played the original release know, it was also plagued with less scrupulous players who would, through the use of Gamesharks and similar devices, overwrite player data, enable "player killing" with bugged healing spells, and, on at least one occasion, crash every available server so that nobody could actually play the game.  Version 2 was Sega's attempt to address that; it carried a monthly subscription fee but also fixed some bugs, added new content, had downloadable quests and an online arena mode.  More definitive versions would later be released on the Gamecube (which featured four-player couch co-op) and PC ("Blue Burst" which had a full extra episode), but I have a lot of good memories playing the originals on the Dreamcast.

3. Tech Romancer (Capcom, 2000)


The Dreamcast had a lot of fighting games, from Capcom especially, and while there is endless debate over which one is the best, one I don't think gets a lot of recognition is Tech Romancer;  a game which was only okay in the arcades but polished up for its home release into something truly distinct and memorable.  The game is a relatively accessible one with simple controls and some unique mechanics like breakable armor and being able to smash open obstacles on the field to get powerups that do things like restore health or give a temporary power boost.  Each character also has a variety of unique weapons to use which, when timed properly, can let them rack up the damage or get out of a sticky situation.  But the most impressive thing of all is the game's presentation - it's basically Capcom's giant homage to giant robots and kaiju anime, with characters that are direct homages (and parodies) of everything from Mazinger Z to Gundam to Getter Robo to Ultraman, working in plot scenes, episode breaks and unique storylines (with multiple endings) for each character to round out the package.  If you're a fan of such anime or just obscure fighting games on the whole, Tech Romancer is definitely one you should endeavor to check out.

2. Grandia II (Game Arts, 2000)

You knew there was going to be at least one JRPG on any list by me, and for my money, the best the Dreamcast had to offer was Grandia II.  Not a direct sequel to the Playstation/Saturn classic, but very much carrying on its gameplay, Grandia II's combat system (which allowed for cancelling.delaying enemy turns) was as innovative as it was strategic and fun.  Some things have been reworked, with magic now coming from the more Final Fantasy 7-styled "Mana Eggs" and the overall gameplay re-engineered to be significantly less grindy.  The production values are much higher too, with numerous FMVs being worked into both the story and the gameplay itself (as bigger spells) and high-quality voiceover featuring names like Cam Clarke, Paul Eiding and Jennifer Hale.  A fantastic and fun RPG experience that still ranks among the all-time greats today.

1. Marvel VS Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes (Capcom, 2000)


For those who thought the Marvel VS Capcom series was fun but just a bit too subdued in its execution came Marvel VS Capcom 2, and it blew every single gamer who saw it away.  Featuring just about every character from the previous games and a bunch of new ones on top (totaling the playable cast at 56), it also further upped the ante by having battles be three-on-three excursions and making character assists a big element of the gameplay.  Characters could now heal a bit of damage on their teammates, come in for a single attack to keep an opponent pinned down, or pull off ridiculous chains of super combos to rack up the damage and combo counter to truly absurd degrees.  Basically, everything any fan of OTT fighting game action could possibly want.  Well, other than the bizarre CGI backgrounds and inappropriate light jazz soundtrack, I suppose, but regardless, the gameplay is what matters, and MVC2 had it in spades.  It's little wonder it's still a big fan favorite to this day.