Sega recently announced a new HD port of cult classic Jet Set Radio, and while the first wave of Dreamcast HD ports was severely underwhelming, it’s hard not to get excited at the thought of being able to replay some of gaming history’s best and most beloved titles in HD. Sure, there’s a good (probable even) chance that Sega will half-ass future Dreamcast ports as well, but Sega’s final system still holds a special place in most gamers’ hearts, and I’m sure most hardcore gamers would still gladly spend a few dollars to relive those halcyon days, shoddy port or not.
Like I said, the first wave of Dreamcast re-releases on XBLA and PSN were pretty terrible; despite being advertised as an HD upgrade, the port of Sonic Adventure barely looked any better than the old standard def Gamecube port, and didn’t even have real widescreen support. Crazy Taxi was missing its iconic soundtrack, and well… Did anyone really want a port of Sega Bass Fishing?
While recent, quality ports like Sonic CD give me hope that Sega has finally learned how to do proper HD ports, it’s hard not to be a little pessimistic about these things, especially given Sega’s recent track record. I’m not saying I want the HD revision of Jet Set Radio to be bad, but I’m just mentally preparing myself for that special kind of disappointment that Sega has a knack for delivering. Again, I’m crossing my fingers and hoping against hope that Sega will do JSR and any further HD Dreamcast ports justice, but I’m also preparing for the worst.
But I’m not here to talk about how mediocre Sega is nowadays. I’m here to talk about Sega during their prime. I’m here to talk about those short two and a half years when the company put out the most imaginative, innovative games they’ve ever made, and when it seemed like Sega was about to turn their fortunes around. While modern day Sega has a less than stellar reputation, the Sega of the Dreamcast era created classic after classic, and at the time, I genuinely considered Sega’s various development teams to be the best group of game developers in the world, ahead of Nintendo, Sony, or anyone else.
While the Dreamcast didn’t pull in enough of a profit to pull Sega out of the hole they spent the latter half of the 90′s digging, the system will always be remembered as having some of the best games of the last generation, as well as being a vision of things to come: with its focus on online play and community building, Sega’s final system has arguably influenced modern systems and the gaming industry as whole more than the PS2 or original Xbox have.
Sadly, those days are over. Despite solid hardware and a killer line-up of games, Sega’s loud white box couldn’t compete with Sony’s hype machine, Nintendo’s fanatical legions of fans, or Microsoft’s billions. After the Dreamcast’s untimely death, most of the directors and designers who had made Sega’s best games left the company for greener pastures, and while Sega has managed to release some gems since, the company is still far from what it was during the Dreamcast’s golden age.
It’s a depressing story for sure, but it’s not all bad: while the Dreamcast may be gone and Sega’s reputation has been tarnished in the decade since, we still have all those wonderful games that were created during that short, wonderful period. All of the games I’m about to list still hold up, and are still plenty of fun, even when judged by modern standards. As the years go on though, it’s getting harder and harder to find a Dreamcast in good condition or spare parts for the system, so if the memory of these great games is to be preserved, Sega (or the third parties that created some of these games,) needs to provide gamers with a way of re-experiencing these classics on modern systems.
Anyway, that’s enough background info. Here’s my choices for the top 10 Dreamcast games that need to be re-released:
Of all the games on this list, Shenmue is sadly probably the least likely to actually get a port (yes, even less likely than Typing of the Dead.) Yu Suzuki’s big budget epic was supposed to save the Dreamcast, but its slow pace and focus on minute (but ultimately pointless) details ultimately turned general audiences away. With that said, I absolutely love this game. It’s sort of hard to explain why I think Shenmue is so great; the game is no longer the graphical marvel it once was, and admittedly, the story (which has one of the worst dubs of all time,) takes a very, very long time to get interesting. But despite all that, there’s just something about Shenmue that I can’t help but love. The characters have a certain charm to them (despite the voice “acting,”) and it’s simply fun to explore Shenmue’s ultra detailed locales.
Like I said, Shenmue is definitely not for everyone. Its molasses like pacing probably bored most people to sleep, but for a certain, tiny percentage of the audience, Ryo Hazuki’s long quest to avenge his father’s death and unravel the mystery of his past was one of the most unique and riveting games they’d every experienced. I still find it hard to quantify why I love Shenmue, even with all of its mistakes and flaws, but I do. Give it a chance, and maybe you’ll love it too.
Capcom vs. SNK 2
Capcom will take an excuse to re-release one of their old games, and they’ve done a good job of porting or remaking their most famous fighters over to XBLA or PSN. While Third Strike and Marvel vs. Capcom 2 get all the love (and honestly, they deserve it,) I’ll always personally have a soft spot for Capcom vs. SNK 2.
Sure, it’s woefully unbalanced and some of the sprites used in the game were already ancient when CvS2 was originally released, but if you were a longtime fighting game fan like me, CvS2 really was like a dream come true. In addition to the expected Street Fighter and King of Fighters favorites, CvS2′s massive roster was filled with some of my favorite characters from more obscure games like The Last Blade, Rival Schools, Darkstalkers, and Garou: Mark of the Wolves. The ability to chose different grooves, while ultimately allowing some rather cheap exploits, was a fun addition that let you customize your fighting style to match older fighting games — you could choose between getting access to SF3 style parries, or SF Alpha custom combos, KoF-style evasive rolls, and more. Capcom vs SNK 2 may not be the most tournament ready fighting game out there, but if you’re a long-time fighting game fan and simply want a game that celebrates Capcom and SNK’s storied arcade history, then CvS2 is a must have. There’s probably a lot of messy licensing agreements between Capcom and SNK barring its re-release, but with the recent resurgence of fighting games in the wake of SF4 and KoF13, I bet there’s a new generation of fighting game fantatics who would love another chance to pit these characters against each other.
Skies of Arcadia
Back when it was originally released in 2000, Skies of Arcadia was like a breath of fresh air compared to other J-RPG’s from the time: while the rest of the industry was going through its angst-filled post FF7 emo phase, Skies of Arcadia was unapologetically bright and cheery. It’s story and cast of characters were a call back to the 16-bit golden age of J-RPG’s, and it’s light tone and cast of fun, charming characters made SoA the most refreshingly upbeat RPG since Chrono Trigger.
Like Sonic Adventure, Skies of Arcadia was re-released on the Gamecube in 2002 with extra bonus features. Despite featuring a setting that’s ripe with opportunities for new adventures, Sega hasn’t returned to Skies of Arcadia since; the closest we’ve gotten to seeing the further adventures of Vyse and crew was their cameo appearance as bonus characters in Valkyria Chronicles. With the J-RPG genre struggling to find an audience on modern consoles, I doubt Sega’s in any hurry to give Skies a second chance, but they really should — Skies of Arcadia is a game that epitomizes everything that’s good about the genre.
The Last Blade 2
Samurai Showdown may be SNK’s premiere samurai fighting game, but surprisingly few people know that they have a second weapons based fighting franchise — The Last Blade — and it’s every bit as good as its more popular cousin. While not quite as flashy as Samurai Showdown, The Last Blade features a fighting system with just as much (if not more) depth and a cast of characters who, while initially seeming far more plain and grounded than their more colorful SamSho counterparts, have plenty of personality and charm.
That personality is successfully conveyed through The Last Blade’s amazing pixel art. Despite being made for the ancient (by videogame standards) Neo Geo hardware, The Last Blade manages a level of detail and fluid animation that a lot of modern 2D games could never even aspire to; this game is a demonstration of SNK’s 2D artists at their best. The Last Blade doesn’t just get by on its looks either; the game features one of the deepest combo-focused fighting systems I’ve ever seen.
SNK’s fighters have never enjoyed the mainstream popularity that Capcom’s games have, and even when compared to the small but dedicated cult followings that KoF or Samurai Showdown have, The Last Blade is downright obscure. Still, it deserves another shot at the limelight, and while SNK has re-released Mark of the Wolves and KoF 2002 (both of which were also available on Dreamcast) on XBLA, there’s been no sign of a Last Blade revival.
Chu Chu Rocket
Chu Chu Rocket was a tough sell back in 2000: most gamers simply didn’t want to spend $30 on a game that looked like a browser game, and despite rave reviews and positive word of mouth, Chu Chu Rocket never caught on.
Nowadays, quirky action/puzzlers like Chu Chu Rocket are big business on the iPhone app store, and while the game went woefully overlooked during the Dreamcast era, I think more people would be willing to give Chu Chu Rocket a chance as a 5 or 10 dollar download via PSN or XBLA. This is the game that launched the Dreamcast’s SegaNet online service, and it’s chaotic, addictive 4-player multiplayer mode could really “take off” (sorry,) on Xbox Live or PSN. Chu Chu Rocket might’ve been too weird to draw in the audiences back in 2000, but the only strange thing about it nowadays is how Sega has somehow managed to not re-release this game on modern consoles.
Another fighting game that doesn’t get the love it deserves, Project Justice was one of Capcom’s rare pre-SF4 3D fighters that was actually decent. A sequel to the equally obscure (and awesomely named) Rival Schools: United by Fate, Project Justice isn’t the most technical or strategic fighter ever made, but it is one of the most fun. Set in a Japanese high school where the students and teachers apparently have nothing better to do than fight each other, Project Justice features one of the wackiest and most bizarre cast of characters to have ever appeared in a fighting game since Waku Waku 7.
All of the fighters are themed around some club or school activity, ranging all the way from the brash baseball pitcher Shoma (who’s capable of launching opponents like a homerun with a swing from his bat,) to the ridiculous dragon-punching homeroom teacher Hideo. Unlike other Capcom properties, Rival Schools/Project Justice never got an anime adaptation, which is a damn shame, because the characters and setting of Project Justice is just asking to expanded and fleshed out.
Capcom’s never had much faith in the commercial viability of the Rival Schools franchise, and Project Justice was actually released as a $20 budget game in the US. Despite its bargain price when it was released, complete copies of the game now sell for around $80 on the used market, which should tell Capcom that there’s a demand for more games like this. With its high price on eBay, it’d be nice if Capcom would release an affordable downloadable version so more people can experience Project Justice’s hilarious universe.
Typing of the Dead
Typing of the Dead is probably the best piece of educational software ever created.
Sure, it’s simply a modified version of House of the Dead designed to use a keyboard instead of a light gun, but strangely enough, Sega’s retrofit works: instead of aiming for a headshot, players have to type out a word or sentence as fast as they can in order to eliminate each enemy. The concept never stops being weird (the characters in game carry around keyboards with Dreamcasts strapped to their backs instead of the guns they wielded in the original game,) but it’s a lot of fun. I owe my current 80 words-per-minute typing speed to Typing of the Dead, and unlike the boring typing class I was forced to take during junior high, Typing of the Dead actually made learning my home rows fun.
Power Stone and Power Stone 2
This one is such a no-brainer that I have to wonder why Capcom hasn’t done it yet (then again, most of Capcom’s decisions lately [*cough*Mega Man Legends*cough*] haven’t made much sense): Power Stone and it’s sequel remain two of the Dreamcast’s most fondly remembered multiplayer experiences, and if Capcom announced that they were going to be re-released with online play I think the entire internet would collectively cream our jeans.
It’s a matter of debate as to which Power Stone is better — some prefer the more focused 1 on 1 fighting of the original, while others like the more chaotic, party-like 4 player free-for-alls of the sequel — but regardless of your preference, it’s undeniable that both games are simply a lot of fun.
Phantasy Star Online
If you’ve read this blog before, you’re likely tired of hearing me articulate my love for PSO, but honestly, I can’t help it. No matter how many loving words I write about Sonic Team’s innovative online hack-and-slash, it’ll never be enough to properly convey how great PSO was.
While its combat system may seem simplistic by today’s standards, PSO’s is still just as addictive today as it was on the Dreamcast. I still fire up the Gamecube version on occasion for nostalgia’s sake and somehow I end up playing the game until 3 in the morning; PSO infamously addictive hunt for rare loot and that insatiable desire to finish “just one more level” still hasn’t grown old to me, even a decade after the game’s release.
Phantasy Star Online came out at a time when online gaming on consoles hadn’t reached the level of popularity it enjoys now, and while it’s online community was pretty populated and vibrant during it’s heyday, a modern day PSO re-release could really become a huge hit. While newer online RPGs are undoubtedly prettier and deeper, PSO’s simple but addictive and impeccably balanced formula still maintains its appeal to this very day, and I can’t think of a better way for Sega to get people hyped on the upcoming Phantasy Star Online 2 by re-releasing the original via XBLA or PSN.