The Ryan Lambie Column: 10 reasons why the Dreamcast was the best console ever

It's been a decade since the Sega Dreamcast first arrived in our lives. But has there ever been anything to beat it?

Sega's brilliant-but-doomed Dreamcast

If there’s one good thing about alcohol, it’s that it allows people to make the most ridiculous public pronouncements and apparently get away with it. From drunken rugby players professing their undying love to one another after their 108th pint (imbibed from their own shoe, obviously), to bar room Einsteins who announce their genius to the world at 10:55pm, booze is a magic potion for loosening the tongue.

I had a similar experience only last week, when after a few evening refreshments I declared that Sega’s Dreamcast was the greatest console ever – an outburst that won a handshake from one person and blank looks from seemingly everyone else.

Unusually, I haven’t changed my mind since – even in the cold and sober light of day, I still hold the opinion that Sega’s final console was the best one ever, knocking the Megadrive, Super Nintendo and PS2 into second, third and fourth place respectively.

And in case you were wondering, here are my reasons why…

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1. BangaioTreasure’s stunning blaster – easily the best game they ever created – may not have been a Dreamcast exclusive exactly (it appeared on the N64 first), but the rarity of its original incarnation makes the Sega version of Bangaio a more realistic proposition to all but the richest game collectors. And while I won’t dwell on this particular title too long here (I’ve already dedicated DoG pages to it in the past), I would argue that Bangaio alone makes the Dreamcast an essential console for all shoot-em-up fans.

2. HomebrewThe Dreamcast attracted a loyal homebrew following within months of its release, and before long all kinds of applications, MP3 players and emulators were available all over the net.

3. Cannon SpikePlaying like a shoot-em-up cousin of Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros, Psikyo’s criminally underrated Cannon Spike was pure fan service from start to finish; featuring cameos from such disparate Capcom game stars as Cammy from Street Fighter, Arthur from Ghosts ‘n Goblins and Megaman, this was a frenetic multi-directional shooter along the lines of Smash TV or Robotron.

The fact that this seemingly forgotten game only appeared on the Dreamcast is a real pity – get on eBay and rediscover it for yourself.

4. Samba de AmigoA list of the Dreamcast’s finest assets wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the cult classic Samba de Amigo; one of the earliest and best musical instrument-based games, Samba‘s maraca shaking gameplay still makes for the perfect party game even today. Forget the dodgy port to the Wii released last year, and get hold of the original DC version with its orange plastic shakers instead.

5. Power Stone 1 & 2Like Cannon Spike, it’s a complete mystery why these excellent beat-em-ups didn’t survive the Dreamcast’s untimely demise – a straight port to the PSP aside, the Power Stone series died back in 1999, apparently unloved and neglected by its parents, Capcom. This is a crying shame, as the games were every bit the equal of Namco’s Soul Calibur, a franchise that carried on long after the Dreamcast bit the dust.

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The cartoon-like, anarchic battles full of ad-hoc weaponry and special attacks. For a brilliantly chaotic group melee, get hold of a copy of Power Stone 2, which adds a four-player mode.

6. InnovationOkay, the Dreamcast wasn’t the best looking console of all time (though it was a veritable thing of beauty when placed next to the frankly hideous Xbox mark one), but it had some genuinely neat ideas; the little Virtual Memory Units which plugged into the controller were a neat and desperately underused concept – only Sonic Adventure and its sequels, with their Tamagotchi-style Chao eggs which could be reared and trained on the VMU’s little LCD screen, used the device as anything more than a memory card.

And while the Dreamcast’s lack of DVD support put many technophiles off, it’s hard to imagine the Wii’s current reign of terror without Sega’s trailblazing plethora of peripherals and weird controllers: fishing rods, maracas, digital cameras, microphones, lightguns and keyboards (with which you could play the excellent Typing Of The Dead).

7. IkarugaAs you may have guessed by now, the Dreamcast was a trad shoot-em-up fan’s dream. And while I’d argue that Ikaruga isn’t the best one available for the console (for me, that accolade goes to Bangaio), it’s still one of Treasure’s masterpieces, with a simple yet original play mechanic and hard-as-concrete gameplay.

8. Shikigami no Shiro 2Yet another excellent blaster, this one lacking the originality of Treasure’s DC releases, but a classic nonetheless, with smooth, detailed graphics and gloriously over-the-top explosions.

9. ShenmueAmbitious to the point of insanity, Yu Suzuki’s magnum opus cost an eye-watering $20 million to produce. Part murder-mystery adventure, part arcade fighter, Shenmue contained some pioneering elements that gamers now take for granted – a sprawling open world, varying weather effects and a then-unparalleled level of interactivity: lead character Ryo could play on old arcade machines, get into bar-room brawls and take a job driving a forklift, almost three years before Grand Theft Auto III.

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10. It’s still popularYes, despite its officially defunct status, the Dreamcast’s loyal fanbase refuses to let it fade away altogether, and there are still small independent studios producing games for Sega’s swansong even ten years later. This month should see the release of Hucast.net’s Dux, one of many traditional 2D shooters released in the seven years since the Dreamcast’s demise outside Japan.

Ryan writes his gaming column every week at Den Of Geek. Last week’s is here.

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