It may have been the last nail in Sega’s hardware-producing coffin, but the Dreamcast was an impressive console. Not only was it a relative powerhouse for its time, it also brought some of today’s staple console features to the masses, long before other companies followed suit.
The Dreamcast was the first major console to include a modem as standard for online play, it introduced the intriguing, but never-really-properly-used VM memory units, microphone attachments for voice-controlled games and even high definition visuals via a special VGA box.
True, Sega had already treated its fan base badly with the likes of the poorly-received and supported Mega CD (Sega CD in the US) and debacle that was the 32X, but if not for past mistakes, the Dreamcast may well have been in its second, or even third incarnation about now, even with the PlayStation’s competition. With full customer loyalty behind it, who knows where the Dreamcast’s story would have taken us?
Sadly, Sega didn’t have full fan support, and sluggish sales, along with the arrival of Sony’s PlayStation sounded the death knell for the unit, and Sega’s hardware division went with it, leaving what was formally a gaming powerhouse as a mere software publisher.
Despite all of this, the Dreamcast managed to provide us with some truly excellent games during its relatively short tenure, some even considered by many to be definitive versions. Some of these titles were Dreamcast exclusives, whilst others were superb ports of games also found on other platforms.
Here, we’re going to take a look at our top picks from the console, from 25 down to one. We’re going to focus on commercial titles here, and so won’t be including any of the homebrew titles available (that’s a whole other article in itself). So, lets get started.
Silver was an underrated gem of an RPG, first released on PC, then on Dreamcast, and it was a unique real-time combat role player. Visually similar in style to Final Fantasy VII, the game’s characters were 3D polygonal models that wandered around pre-rendered environments.
Combat wasn’t at all turn-based, instead you had full control of David, the protagonist, as well his party of followers met during his quest against the evil wizard, Silver. The game was fully voice acted, a rarity for the genre at the time, and although the RPG elements were fairly basic, it was an absorbing adventure.
A very hit and miss title, Seaman (queue endless schoolboy jokes) was undoubtedly the most intriguing game on this list. Seaman was, essentially, a high tech Tamagochi, and tasked you with brining up the distinctly odd titular human-fish hybrid. Guided by none other than Leonard Nimoy, you had to rear the charismatic Seaman through his various life cycles, with the goal of him evolving into a land animal and leaving his tank.
As you interacted with Seaman, using the controller and microphone attachment, you attempted to form a bond with the creature, affecting his development and his social skills. If you looked after him correctly, he could become your friend and talk to you, or he could grow to dislike you and ignore you. Much of the game was left for the player to discover, and if you failed at your parental duties, Seaman could even die.
It was a very ambitious game, and with a lot of perseverance, it could be surprisingly enjoyable. Sadly, a lot of people had trouble getting Seaman to respond correctly, and the game could often fail to recognise phrases.
Still, it’s place on this list is deserved, as it was a fine example of Sega’s willingness to take risks and push the envelope, something that’s becoming less and less prevalent these days. And come on, it’s got Leonard Nimoy in it!
This is an odd one. Illbleed was probably missed by a lot of DC owners, but it was a game well worth seeking out. Brilliant in both unique design and freakishness, the game saw players navigate a horror theme park, using only their senses to avoid all sorts of traps and threats.
Often these dangers were totally invisible and unexpected, and only by learning how to effectively use the game sense-based detection system and goggles were you able to get anywhere. As well as this detection system, you also had to keep your character’s mental health in check, otherwise you could actually die from fright. It was challenging, and for some far too obscure, but with perseverance was also a very a rewarding title.
The actual game was, undeniably, a little rough around the edges, with some dodgy voice work and iffy visuals, but the strange, and often quite creepy theme park setting, which incorporated various themes and parodies of the horror genre, and the unique sense system made it a very intriguing affair. Just be sure to turn down the music, as some of it, especially the central hub section’s theme, was just plain abominable. So bad it’s good? Oh yes.
22. Typing Of The Dead
Educational games aren’t usually found in game lists, but Sega’s Typing Of The Dead isn’t just an ordinary educational title. Making full use of the Dreamcast’s keyboard peripheral, Typing Of The Dead was a great typing tutor that saw you correctly type words at speed in order to shoot zombies and other nasties.
The game is basically House Of The Dead 2, repackaged as a typing tutor, but this was fine, as the game really could develop your typing skills. Mavis Beacon eat your heart out (if the zombies don’t beat you to it). Odd? Yes. Effective? Most definitely.
21. Virtua Tennis 2
Tennis is a very difficult thing to get right in the world of video games, but this is something that didn’t bother Sega, and its Virtua Tennis series is one of the best.
The second outing was a corker on the Dreamcast, and along with an excellent game engine, which provided a fast and fluid game of tennis, there was a sprawling world tour career mode and a large selection of mini games, not to mention a in-game currency system that let you buy items for your player, as well as front entry fees for tennis tournaments.
Tennis games have come a long way since VT2, and it has been surpassed technically, but many DC owners will always prefer the long rallies and court-busting smashes that Virtua Tennis 2 delivered.
20. Mars Matrix: Hyper Solid Shooting
Look up ‘pulse pounding’ in the dictionary and you’ll probably see a screenshot of Mars Matrix. This loud and proud shooter was bright, bold and hard as nails. Fast paced action was the order of the day, and the game threw enemies and bullets at you like there was no tomorrow.
In fact, this was a classic example of a ‘bullet hell’ shooter, as there were often so many projectiles on screen at once, you could barely see the backgrounds. And, if you wanted to unlock items from the game’s store, you’d have to put in the work, as things cost a fortune.
19. Chu Chu Rocket
All European DC owners had Chu Chu Rocket, as it came with the console, and although it wasn’t technically impressive, the fast-paced puzzling more than made up for it.
Your goal was simple: place arrows on the game grid to guide mice into the rockets whilst avoiding the Picasso-like cats. Once the rockets were full, the mice would launch to safety. It was simple, but deviously challenging puzzling, and the single player was an entertaining distraction.
The multiplayer is what really made the game, and the goal was to save as many mice as possible, whilst sending cats over to your opponent, thus causing them all sorts of grief. The most mice saved would ensure the win.
Unlike a lot of puzzlers at the time, which were often clones of existing games, Chu Chu Rocket was an original creation, and it was well worth a shot, especially if you had some mates ’round.
18. Metropolis Street Racer
The forerunner of Project Gotham Racing, Metropolis Street Racer was a very ambitious title and recreated London, Tokyo and San Francisco to the smallest detail. It featured a brilliantly robust driving engine, and this was complemented by the ‘kudos’ system that rewarded players for stylish driving.
Point earned via the kudos system were used to buy new cars, as well as new tracks, and so successful were the game’s mechanics that they’ve been reproduced time and time again, including in Bizarre Creation’s own aforementioned Project Gotham Racing series, and Blur, as well as other developer’s creations.
17. Dead Or Alive 2
Amazingly enough, the Dead Or Alive series had a lot more going for it than its mammoth mammaries, and underneath the juggling jugs was a great fighting game packed with game modes.
Dead Or Alive 2 was a consistently smooth scrapper that featured a complex fighting system, large arenas and varied combatants, including Ninja Gaiden‘s Ryu Hayabusa. It may not have been quite as interesting as the likes of Soul Calibur, or quite as technical as Virtua Fighter, but it was a very popular series, and DOA2 on the Dreamcast was one of the best fighters at the time.
16. Grandia II
A real fan-favourite, Grandia II was a Final Fantasy-inspired RPG that featured a very well implemented combat system and some great storytelling.
The combat system followed the Final Fantasy formula pretty much down the line, but mixed in some limited character movement, which made things feel a little more dynamic. The system also used a timer that dictated when both allies and enemies could attack. Careful timing could lead to move cancels, you could perform combination moves, and counters were also possible. It wasn’t revolutionary, but was different and slick enough to make the game stand out, and the anime effects were impressive.
The game was released on other formats later, but these are considered by most to be inferior to the original Dreamcast release.
15. House Of The Dead 2
The light gun game was once an impressive feat of technical wizardry, wowing your mates as they used a plastic gun to shoot onscreen enemies, but it’s since become far less impressive with the arrival of wireless controllers.
However, back in the Dreamcast’s day, the genre was still strong, and House Of The Dead 2 was one of the best around. Long before zombies were cool, Sega was slaying the undead with style, and the quality arcade blasting and impressive boss fights were complemented by a ridiculously cheesy plot and terrible voice acting. Classic.
Clearly Sega’s effort to reproduce Metal Gear Solid on its own platform, Headhunter was a fine game in its own right. As Jack Wade, a bounty hunter suffering from amnesia after waking up in a strange lab, you had to complete a series of missions, capturing the most deadly criminals in the city, whilst uncovering a seedy conspiracy.
The game mixed third person stealth and combat with puzzles and motorbike sections, and was a great alternative to Solid Snake’s titles. Okay, so the bike sections were pretty superfluous (and were dropped for the sequel), and the controls and camera needed work, but the great story and quirky, organ-donating futuristic world paired up with solid gameplay to make for a great game.
13. Power Stone 2
Capcom was always the master of 2D combat, but with Power Stone, it branched out into a very different kind of 3D fighter. The original was one of the launch titles for the DC, but the second managed to hit all of the notes, as well as adding four player battles to the mix.
The game played very much like a 3D Smash Bros, and players had to fight to be the last one standing to win. During the bouts, the game’s titular power stones could be collected, which could turn players into a powered up form, giving them a big advantage.
The game was pretty simple, but like so many things, this simplicity made it all the better, and it was one of the best party games on the platform.
12. Samba De Amigo
Without a doubt one of the best rhythm/dance games ever released, and certainly the most colourful, Samba De Amigo was like an acid-powered fitness trip. Packing in a selection of Latin beats, the game didn’t simply rely on a dance mat to register the correct inputs, but instead utilised some bright red maracas. It was a dance game with a difference, and one that became an instant party classic.
Now selling for pretty high prices, the original Dreamcast version, or Ver.2000, is the best release of the title. This is mostly down to the included maracas, which worked excellently on the DC. The more recent Wii release of the game wasn’t a patch on the DC title, and the control scheme was terrible. It also lacked maracas, and used Wii remotes instead. If you can find the game on eBay, or second hand for a decent price, the DC original is well worth picking up.
11. Jet Set Radio/Jet Grind Radio
The game that launched a thousand cel-shaders. Jet Set Radio may be remembered by most for its stunning, and then revolutionary, cel-shaded visuals and funky soundtrack, but it should also be remembered for its excellent gamelay too.
As a spraycan-wielding in-line skater, your task was to skate around the futuristic city of Tokyo-to, throwing up graffiti tags and murals in order to rebel against the police and rival gangs. Your gang, the GGs, began with main character, Beat, and eventually grew to include more playable skaters as the game progressed.
The skating gameplay was very similar in many ways to titles like the Tony Hawk series, and players could jump and grind their way through the detailed environments, and tricks could be pulled off to increase skating speed. Small, gesture-based QTEs were used to spray graffiti, and players could even designed their own graffiti, which could then be used in-game.
The mixture of traditional skating gameplay and graffiti tagging worked well, and produced a game that not only looked impressive, but was a great, and challenging title to boot.
Ikaruga often finds itself in top games lists, and for good reason; it’s one of the best shooters ever made. Simple.
Created by the legendary Treasure, Ikaruga was, on the face of it anyway, a pretty standard shooter. However, the simple, but highly effective twist of using a black and white colour system for enemy projectiles elevated it above most of its compatriots.
In the game, you were able to switch your ship’s polarity from white to black and back again at will, with each colour absorbing enemy projectiles of the same hue. And, with the screen rapidly filling up with bullets of both colours this was a skill you needed to master quickly. Deviously tricky, whilst being as simple a mechanic as you can get, it worked brilliantly, and thrust the game to the top of many people’s favourite shooter lists.
Accompanied by a thumping soundtrack and some eye-scorching visuals, Ikaruga has been re-released several times, such is the demand for this shmup classic.
Rez is a game that’s become something of a luvvy in the games industry. The ultra-stylish visuals accompany a superb, dynamic soundtrack, and both react to your progress and skill.
As you do well, and kill foes, the world morphs from wire frame to fully shaded, and the music, which is near quiet to begin with, gains more and more layers, eventually transforming into a thumping beat-fest. Your avatar also evolves over time.
There may be a myriad of arty titles around these days, with the likes of Journey and The Unfinished Swan proving that there’s a space for excessive style without compromising gameplay, but Rez was certainly one of the first and still one of the best.
8. Crazy Taxi (1 & 2)
The odds were, if you liked checkpoint racing, drifting and The Offspring, you had Crazy Taxi. Sega’s take on the good ol’ cabbie certainly wasn’t intended to be a realistic affair, and was ridiculous, over the top action.
As one of several cab drivers your goal was to race around the city, picking up fares and dropping them off as quickly as possible before your time ran out. Various mini games were also included in the Crazy Box mode, such as a taxi ski jump and bowling, The second game added more complex maps, a jump ability and group fare pick ups, but remained pretty much identical to the original, which many still consider superior.
Crazy Taxi was the epitome of classic time, and score attack gaming. It was one of those games you kept coming back to just to see if you could do better, and the unlockables and mini games only served to add even more to the addictive gameplay.
7. Resident Evil: Code Veronica
The Dreamcast may have only received lazy straight ports of the main Resident Evil series, but Capcom made up for this with the original release of Resident Evil: Code Veronica.
A first for the series, Code Veronica introduced 3D environments that, whilst they still featured fixed cameras, managed to push the series into the next generation, and it even featured an unlockable first person shooter mini game.
Sticking with the traditional Resident Evil gameplay, Code Veronica was a long, two-part story that saw players control both Claire and Chris Redfield as they once again struggled against the sinister Umbrella Corporation. This time the primary antagonists were the Ashfords, a downright freaky family that was pivotal in Umbrella’s creation and operations. Fan-favourite, Albert Wekser, also returned, and the game introduced some great new enemies, and saw the return of familiar foes, such as the highly-feared Hunters.
Although the core gamplay of the game played it pretty safe, this didn’t stop the game becoming one of the best classic Resident Evil outings.
6. Marvel Vs Capcom 2: New Age Of Heroes
Even though the series has now been updated on modern consoles, most die hard fans still consider Marvel Vs Capcom 2 to be the best of the series, and it’s almost universally considered to be one of the best 2D beat ’em ups ever created.
Throwing together the best of Capcom and Marvel’s stables, this was a true gamer and comic aficionado’s dream. Gorgeous visuals accompanied one of the best fighting systems ever created, and the sheer scale of some of the special moves in the game, not to mention the combo potential made for a truly spectacular scrapper, and one that’s still used in tournaments today.
Three-on-three combat was featured, and despite a mass of characters, most were very well balanced, and it took aeons for players to unlock everything in the game’s store, which included new characters, arenas, costumes and artwork.
Now released on many more platforms, including XBLA and PSN, this is considered by many to be the best traditional 2D fighter on the Dreamcast.
5. Phantasy Star Online
Even today, with consoles as powerful as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, there have been very, very few MMORPGs outside of the PC world. However, the Dreamcast made one of the first attempts, and it was a real corker of a title.
Phantasy Star Online (PSO) took Sega’s long-running RPG series and turned it into an online multiplayer action role player, making the most of the console’s built-in modem. It wasn’t a full, open-world affair like WoW, instead being a four player instance based affair, but this didn’t hold the title back, and it quickly gathered a large, loyal fanbase.
As a ‘hunter’ your job was to leave the safe confines of your orbital colony ship and venture to the surface of planet Ragol, which was to be your new home. However, the planet was also home to a host of nasties, including the powerful Dark Falz. Spread across a handful of areas, the game was relatively short for an RPG, but this didn’t matter as replayability came in the form of questing with groups of friends, tackling harder and harder levels, and trading loot.
The real-time combat, addictive loot collecting and text chat system that automatically translated set phrases to other languages all helped create a unique online RPG that’s still going today in updated forms.
PSO V2.0 added new areas, items and character classes to the mix, as well as improvements to the game’s lobby systems, and even though more recent incarnations have added all sorts of technical enhancements, it’s the Dreamcast’s version that most fans fondly remember.
4. Soul Calibur
Although the Soul Calibur series had the most irritating announcer of any fighter, the weapon-based combat more than made up for it. Soul Calibur on the DC was not only one of the best fighters on the system (some would say the best), but is often cited as the best 3D scrapper ever created.
The combat system was wonderfully implemented, and catered for total newcomers and seasoned veterans alike. It was easy to pick up, and very hard to put down, and it also packed in a collection of game modes, including an expansive quest mode, and a ton of special content.
It wouldn’t be a total exaggeration to call Soul Calibur a perfect fighting game, and even the later entries in the series have never really recaptured the overall quality and appeal of this incarnation.
3. Sonic Adventure 2
It’s a widely held belief that Sega pretty much killed off its mascot when it made the jump to 3D, and it has to be said that many of the 3D Sonic games are pretty terrible. However, Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast was an exception to that rule.
The first Sonic Adventure may have been a little rough around the edges, but the second game managed to refine the formula greatly. It featured multiple characters, various game styles and some impressive presentation. It was a slick, 3D affair that was one of the few such Sonic games to recapture the feel of the originals whilst injecting something new.
The pseudo-adventure elements of the first game were stripped out, leaving, for the better, a much more traditional action-oriented game. It also made much better use of the DC’s VM units thanks to the improved Chao garden.
It wasn’t a perfect game, but it’s one of the last, great Sonic games released, and to some, the only 3D outing worth playing.
2. Skies Of Arcadia
Some call this the best Final Fantasy clone ever made, and others would argue it’s even better than Square’s RPG series. Regardless of your view, what can’t be argued is that Skies Of Arcadia is one of the best examples of a turn-based RPG, period.
The story of Blue Rogue air pirate, Vyse and his friends is a sublime RPG masterpiece that contains a huge world, loveable characters and plenty of secrets to discover. Add on to that the ship-to-ship battles and innovative VM minigame and you had an epic adventure that simply wouldn’t let you go.
Sure, when compared to such titles as Final Fantasy, Skies Of Arcadia is nowhere near as challenging, with some vastly overpowered specials (Aika’s Delta Shield and Vyse’s Skull Shield practically made your party invulnerable in most battles), but it was nonetheless a vastly enjoyable game that didn’t settle for simply cloning other RPGs, but brought its own tricks to the party.
1. Shenmue (1 & 2)
No Dreamcast owner worth his or her salt should need introducing to Shenmue. Yu Suzuki’s open-world masterpiece may still be unfinished, but the first two games are something any self-respecting gamer should seek out, preferably on its native Dreamcast.
The story of Ryo Hazuki’s quest for revenge was an epic tale that took place in a stunningly realised recreation of late 80s Japan and China. Via a third-person view, gamers explored a detailed world, conversed with NPCs, investigated leads and even took part in Virtua Fighter-powered fights (the game was originally going to be a Virtua Fighter RPG).
Few games of the time could even come close to the impressive technical achievements made by the game, and despite some missteps, such as the infamously dodgy English dub, and a story that often left you waiting around for events to happen, it was a rock solid adventure/RPG, and one that still stands as a perfect example of what Sega’s internal studios were capable of.
To be this good…
That completes our list which, as always, will no doubt be missing some of your own personal favourites. So, feel free to chat about your own Dreamcast favourites below – there are plenty of classic DC games left to pick from. Which is your personal number one? Do you disagree with ours? Have your say below…