If you ask most gamers to list off the current-generation consoles (soon to be last-gen), the will probably recite “PS2, XBox, and Gamecube”, but conveniently neglect the Sega Dreamcast. As many of you know, the Dreamcast was way ahead of its time ” (literally fifteen months before the PlayStation 2 and three years
before GameCube or Xbox) and, in some cases, had the graphical capabilities to hold its own in a console war if you forget about the marketing disadvantage.
For quite a while, the Dreamcast had some of the best console graphics to be found. It wasn’t until later in the PS2’s lifecycle that it was even able to touch the best of the Dreamcast’s graphics qualities. Unlike most consoles, it did not take very long for the Dreamcast developers to virtually max out its capabilities. Some of the best graphical games for the Dreamcast were actually available at launch and many others weren’t far behind.
There are a lot of visually impressive titles for the Dreamcast, but for now I’m only going to talk about some of my personal favorites. The list is a mix of those that are technically superior, while others are chosen for more stylistic reasons.
Jet Grind Radio
JGR (also known as Jet Set Radio outside of the US) was the primary pioneer of the cell-shading graphical technique. Cell shading takes normal 3D models and puts an additional graphical layer on top to make it look like anime or a cartoon — which makes a huge difference in the atmosphere. While a small handful of games have made use of this technique later on, Jet Grind Radio was perhaps the best at combining the technique with smooth animation and a unique style that actually draws you into the cartoon-like environment.
Jet Grind Radio Screenshots
Namco’s 3D weapons-based fighter was incredibly detailed and gorgeous, but when you consider the game was availible for the Dreamcast at launch, its image quality is all the more impressive. The 3D backgrounds are stunningly rendered with realistic lighting that affects the characters and their shadows. The models are superbly animated using realistic motion-captured fighting moves. Back in 1999, you had to wonder if screenshots were pre-rendered video of if it was actually running off the game engine. Soul Calibur remains as one of the best reasons to own a Dreamcast, and in some respects has yet to be bested by its sequels.
Soul Calibur Screenshots
Shenmue & Shenmue II
Shenmue was one of the most hyped games for the Dreamcast. As the pet project of legendary developer, Yu Suzuki, Shenmue started as a Sega Saturn project, but was pushed out onto the Dreamcast in order to fullfil Suzuki’s dreams of a detailed and interactive environments. Shenmue’s game engine was incredible — Each building, sidewalk, table, chair, crate, and every other environmental nuance in the city has been rendered and calculated with an insane amount of detail. Elements such as the color and intensity of the lighting is also carefully reproduced for each environment. It is easy to either love or hate the game itself, but there is no denying that Shenume is a beautiful piece of work.
Shenmue II Screenshots
Space Channel 5
While some other rhythm games like PaRappa The Rapper attracted more attention, Space Channel 5 topped the charts with Dreamcast owners. Both the graphics and the music had a phenomenal retro-futurist (reminds me of a hip Jetson’s atmosphere) feel to them and kept Space Channel 5 from becoming just “another” simon-says-type game. The polygons won’t blow you away, but the colors and animation are engaging and Ulala will quickly have you under her spell.
Space Channel 5 Screenshots
Space Channel 5 Part 2 Screenshots
Resident Evil Code: Veronica
Code Veronica has the most impressive graphics in any Resident Evil game prior to the fresh Gamecube installments. In order to push the Dreamcast to its limit, Capcom switched from pre-rendered environments to a three-dimensional nightmare. Code Veronica uses the Dreamcast’s power to move seamlessly throughout the game without sacrificing any of the series’ marquee backgrounds. The character models are nearly as detailed as Soul Calibur’s as they almost look pre-rendered.
Resident Evil Code: Veronica Screenshots
Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future
Because of the breath-taking environments, I think of Ecco as an “ocean simulator” more than I think of it as a game. The geometry and texturing of Ecco’s aquatic world are near perfection, creating a stunning and believable environment — from the lush scenery to an exotic assortment of underwater creatures. It’s a shame that I find the gameplay a bit frustrating (I’m not much for puzzle-solving) as I would love to explore the underwater world in more detail.
Ecco The Dolphin Screenshots
If you love lots of colorful shapes floating around in a psychedelic environment, then you must play Rez. Rez takes the gameplay from traditional on-rails shooters and adds an audio and visual experience that is rarely found on consoles. The overall graphic design in the game is extremely abstract, but it is a welcome distraction from the constant “Oh, look at me and my photo realism” that just about every other developer is obsessed with.
While the the Dreamcast sports series might not be as graphically impressive as those found on the XBox 360, Sega’s sporting titles blew away any of its previous competition. For the first time on a console, a game of football actually could be mistaken for a real-life game at a quick glance. If you don’t care about the outdated player rosters (or, for instance, you like having Barry Sanders back on the Lions) you may want to pick up one of the 2K games for a couple dollars.
NFL 2K2 Screenshots
NBA 2K2 Screenshots
World Series Baseball 2K2 Screenshots
NHL 2K2 Screenshots
Tennis 2K2 Screenshots
The first thing you’ll notice is that Rayman 2 is an absolutely beautiful game. It’s not that the polygon counts are insanely high or that the animation is breath-taking. What makes Rayman 2 so wonderful to look at are the textures, the glass-smooth frame rate, and the distinctive level design. Colors are rich and full, and range all over the spectrum. The experience as a whole would make you think that Ubisoft hired Tim Burton as a consultant.
Rayman 2 Screenshots
Guilty Gear X
While there are a number of beautiful 2D fighters on the Dreamcast, Guilty Gear X walks away with the prize of the best choice if you are playing with a VGA connection. Instead of using pixilated sprites that are remenicent of the mid 1990’s, Sammy created high-resolution sprites that even when played on a HDTV or VGA display looks like a hand-drawn anime. Guilty Gear also employs the zoom effect made famous by SNK games like Samurai Shodown. The incredibly unique character designs complete the already impressive package that leaves you with a fighting game that must be experienced.
Guilty Gear X Screenshots
Sonic Adventure & Sonic Adventure 2
The original Sonic Adventure is one of the only games that has wowed me graphically. In the days when the N64 was the best there was, Sonic Adventure on the pre-release demo Dreamcasts looked like something gamers only dreamed about. While the original Sonic Adventure was eventually bested by later Dreamcast releases, Sonic Adventure 2 increased the eye candy (and focused more on action gameplay). Sonic Team also pulled off some incredible accomplishments with Sonic Adventure 2 as it featured gorgeous lighting effects, featured ultra-high resolution textures, and ran at a constant 60 frames per second.
Sonic Adventure Screenshots
Sonic Adventure 2 Screenshots
Hyped as the sequel to the Saturn favorite Radiant Silvergun, Ikaruga did not disappoint with its mind-bending gameplay nor could the slick visuals be ignored. While Ikaruga may not have all the technical 3D accomplishments that other games on this list may boast, the 2D shooter utilized the strengths of the Dreamcast and NAOMI (arcade version) hardware to combine 2D and 3D elements to create a very polished graphical experience. It keeps the old-school feel of the shooter genre while keeping newer gamers drooling over the eye-candy.
The Dreamcast’s Video Capabilities
The Dreamcast is also able to output true 640×480 VGA (480p60 EDTV) (according to Wikipedia), which was way ahead of its time. The system, when combined with the VGA adapter cable, switched to the mode for the high-res, non-interlaced picture. However, the feature was underused by the public despite the potential for improved video quality with the use of a PC monitor or HDTV set. This was likely due to lack of knowledge on the subject.
I have obviously used my Dreamcast with a standard VGA monitor a bit, but I’m thinking about getting a VGA-to-Component Cable (see our discussion here) to make it easier to use on my new HDTV (which doesn’t have native VGA input). Even with all that it will be cheaper than picking up a rare Component cable for my Gamecube 🙂
It would be great if there was some easy way of capturing crystal clear screenshots of Dreamcast games. The only thing I could think of is using a Dreamcast emulator, but I don’t think that would return perfect shots. Anyway, if you have any ideas or experience with something like this, please let me know!