The Sega Dreamcast obviously was not a strong commerical success. However, that was not because of a lack of quality games. Sega excelled at having games that were unique, addictive, and just plain fun. (Watch G4’s Coverage of Dreamcast history)
The Dreamcast also had some strong support from a number of big publishers such as Capcom, Namco, and SNK with rounded out a game library that is still very popular among hardcore gamers. This feature will not cover absolutely every one of the best Dreamcast games, but instead focuses most on the games that gave the Dreamcast its identity — most of which were exclusives to the console.
This list should serve as an excellent starting point for anybody looking to build a quality Dreamcast collection that will hold up to modern games.
Even though it was not a Sega-developed title, Soul Calibur is one of the games that forever will be remembered with the Dreamcast. Soul Calibur is absolutely gorgeous, but when you consider the game was a launch title for the Dreamcast, its image quality is all the more impressive. (And wait to you see it with a VGA adapter)
Each of the game’s warriors is armed with a different deadly weapon–sword, ax, stave, nunchaku, you name it–and an assortment of special moves all tailored to that specific weapon. At first, the huge number of possible moves and combinations available for use can be a bit daunting, but it keeps you wanting to learn more. There are also a number of different play modes to keep you involved for quite a while.
The gameplay and depth of this landmark 3D fighter still holds up to this day, as both Soul Calibur 2 and 3 still don’t seem to live up to the original.
Full Review of Soul Calibur
Shenmue was one of the most beautiful and revolutionary titles for the Dreamcast. It combined elements from Adventure, RPG, Simulator, and Fighting games into an epic journey that brought a fictional community to life and compelled you to find the killer of Ryo’s father.
It’s no wonder that Yu Suzuki’s pet project would be an amazing game after years of development and a hefty $20 million budget. Shenmue brings games one step closer to reality — there’s a time scale, all non-playing characters actually have their own lives to lead, and enemy encounters are presented realistically. You can interact with nearly every object and learn and master several different martial arts.
The atmosphere in the city of Shenmue is simply amazing — each building, sidewalk, table, chair, crate, and every other environmental nuance has been rendered and calculated with an insane amount of detail and elements such as the color and intensity of the lighting is carefully reproduced for each environment.
I must give a fair warning, however, Shenmue is not for everyone. It’s not especially appealing for people like me who have a relatively short attention span. Shenmue requires patience (the first disc or two spends most of its time setting up the story as opposed to letting Ryo bash some skulls. ) and a good amount of puzzle-solving in order to get into the game. Individual gamers will either love or hate Shenmue — and will love it or hate it for the same reasons.
Full Review of Shenmue
Full Review of Shenmue II
Jet Grind Radio
If there was one word to describe Sega’s best work in the second half of the 90’s, it was “unique”. Sega employed a number of development houses that did their best to create creative games that broke the barriers of traditional game genres. Jet Grind Radio is a perfect example of a Dreamcast games game that provided a unique and unforgettable graphical, audible, and gameplay experience.
In JGR, you gradually accumulate gang members to mark your territory with graffiti. Of course, the cops don’t like this and will do everything in their power to stop you, even if it means calling in the military to take you out for good. While Jet Grind Radio does start off slow and is a bit awkward at first, soon you’ll be grinding and painting like a pro, all the while dodging gun fire, gas bombs, and tanks.
The combination of slick cell-shading graphics, energetic music, adrenaline-pumping action, and a very unique premise made Jet Grind Radio a title that no serious gamer should go without. While Jet Grind Radio lacked in sales numbers, it lives on as a cult classic (and one of my all-time favorites).
Full Review of Jet Grind Radio
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.
Space Channel 5 has a handful of simple game elements that make it unique and the game does a good job of starting out easy and gradually getting more difficult. While SC5 isn’t especially deep or long, the music will keep you coming back From start to finish, Space Channel 5 rocks the house. Even when the moves become so complicated you get angry and want to hurl your controller across the room, the quality of the music helps bring you back. A little techno here, a little rock there — the music has a great style that’ll have you tapping your feet.
Full Review of Space Channel 5
This arcade port was one of the main reasons I initially jumped on the Dreamcast. While it has been cloned a few times since its release, Crazy Taxi was a thrill that could not be found anywhere else. The music from The Offspring got a little tiresome after a while, but actually got you in the Crazy mood.
Crazy Taxi gives you control of a cabby racing around two San Francisco-esque cities, picking up customers and dropping them at their required destinations by any means necessary. It’s a race against the clock, resulting in no-holds-barred racing around the two cities, flying off hills and screeching around bends. Although some may argue that the game lacks some depth, they forget that this is a pure arcade game that compels you to beat your best scores.
The Dreamcast version also featured the “Crazy Box”, a set of minigames that features challenges such as stopping by hitting a pole, bowling using the cab as a ball, and popping giant balloons in a field.
Although once completed it’s not great for long sessions, it has that addictive “one more go” quality of nearly all Sega’s arcade titles. Crazy Taxi is definitely worth checking out if you don’t take your racers too seriously, or just want some hardcore arcade-style fun.
Full Review of Crazy Taxi
Full Review of Crazy Taxi 2
Virtua Tennis & Tennis 2K2
I don’t intend to downplay the significance of the 2K series (NFL 2K2, NBA 2K2, etc) in the Dreamcast’s library, but if there is one Dreamcast sports title that last the test of time, Virtua Tennis would prevail.
Having the essential quality of being easy to play and difficulty to master, Virtua Tennis was one of the sleeper hit of short-lived Sega Dreamcast. It is often overlooked as a killer party game — I have had many parties with both guys and girls of all gaming levels having a blast on a 4-player doubles tournament.
While other enjoyable tennis titles have come long since (Top Spin and Mario Power Tennis), Virtua Tennis still holds up as being possibly the best tennis game ever. The “sequel”, Tennis 2K2 is pretty much the same as Virtua Tennis except that the graphics are a bit more polished and it adds to the player lineup with a female roster (including the Williams sisters).
Full Review of Virtua Tennis
Full Review of Tennis 2K2
Skies of Arcadia
Something about Air Pirates gives the RPG genre a breath of fresh air. With an upbeat quest and some innovative and fun ideas, Skies of Arcadia lets you venture off to distant islands to uncover a number of secrets.
Unlike other RPGs which wait until the mid-point to give you an airship, Skies of Arcadia does it right from the bat by bequeathing Vyse and crew with a ship of their own to sail the turn-based combat infested skies. The world is comprised of floating islands, and you use your air ship to travel among them while playing Robin Hood with other pirates.
The story may be similar to traditional motifs such as those in Lunar: The Silver Star, but it still feels new in this age of anti-heroes and mopey, whiny main characters. The ship warfare provides for a great alternative to standard RPG character combat, and the characters are a joy to watch with their many facial expressions and animation.
Full Review of Skies of Arcadia
Power Stone & Power Stone 2
Throughout the late 1990’s Capcom tried over and over again to successfully transition their fighter expertise to the 3D realm. While some of them (Rival Schools, for example) were somewhat entertaining, most of them were on the dreadful side — and nothing that rivaled their quality 2D titles.
When the Dreamcast came along, Capcom finally got things right. With PowerStone, they broke away from the traditional fighting setup and brought an entirely new cast of characters to a fully 3D environment. With Power Stone, players could not only use traditional attacks on their opponents, but also use items in the play field (furniture, poles, etc) to do extra damage.
There is also a nice stratigic element found within the game’s Power Stone gimmick. If a certain player gets 3 Power Stones they are temporarily overtaken by a unique super-human power. So players will not only want to beat the crap out of their opponents, but also try to keep them from getting Power Stones.
Power Stone 2’s designers greatly expanded upon the battle arenas of the original Power Stone and added support for up to 4 players. It’s almost too much chaos to handle.
Full Review of PowerStone
Full Review of PowerStone 2
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).
The original Sonic Adventure added some RPG-ish exploration/dialogue elements to break up the action levels (which I didn’t much care for), but Sonic Adventure 2 was full-blown action levels and added the option of playing as the “Dark” side. Being able to play as Dr. Robitnik and the new Shadow character were quite enjoyable.
While I didn’t think that the Sonic Adventure games quite captured the feel of the old-school 2D Sonic games, they are still very enjoyable and are a must-try for fans of 3D platformers.
Full Review of Sonic Adventure
Full Review of Sonic Adventure 2
Samba De Amigo
If you enjoy rhythm games, monkeys, and need something different from Dance Dance Revolution, you really need to take a look at Samba De Amigo. Samba is another one of the ultimate party games and deserves another chance. It involves waving/shaking maracas in certain directions to match the upbeat music.
In theory, the game sounds simple, maybe even boring, but Samba de Amigo is nothing but. As long as you don’t fear making a complete fool out of yourself, there are few game experiences as enjoyable as Samba de Amigo.
Many people find it much easier for beginners to play as opposed to DDR, but it still is a challenge in higher levels and it can be a riot to watch your friends shake their maracas like there’s no tomorrow.
Originally hampered by the high price of Sega’s first party maracas, Samba didn’t sell very well. Now, cheaper third-party maraccas can be found online, but I find the game to be highly enjoyable even with traditional controllers.
Full Review of Samba De Amigo
Virtua Fighter 3TB
Even though it was probably the least celebrated title in a fighting series with a cult following, Virtua Fighter 3TB is a deep and polished 3D fighter. Virtua Fighter 3 was original planned to be released on the Sega Saturn (along with an upgrade cart), however with Sega quickly moving onto the Dreamcast, the game was made more arcade-accurate and added the Team Battle (TB) mode. Virtua Fighter 3tb isn’t as eye-catching as Soul Calibur or Dead or Alive 2, gameplay and strategy is where VF3tb excels.
The control in VF3tb takes awhile to get used to unless you are familiar with the previous Virtua Fighter games. Instead of the total 3D movement of Soul Calibur, Virtua Fighter is on a 2D axis, but includes a sidestep button to give 3D movement. This system works fairly well once you get used to it, but it is more restrictive than true 3D joystick movement.
There is no instant gratification of mastering Virtua Fighter 3tb. If you want to get good, you’re going to have to log in the hours to get good. Button mashing will never take you all the way in a good fighting game, but in VF3tb it will take you almost nowhere. Time and patience are required to get the most out of the game.
Full Review of Virtua Fighter 3TB
Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future
Ecco the Dolphin for the Dreamcast is one of those rare instances of a company taking a 2-D game (the Genesis and Sega CD originals) and making it work in 3D. Defender of the Future is an amazing looking game — the rich textures and animation really bring the sea life to life. The game is also among the most challenging around again, but you’ll enjoy it thanks to tight control, a brilliant atmosphere, and well done story.
The environments in this game are so beautiful, 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.
There are 34 levels in total and there’s no denying that Ecco is a massive game which will take a long time complete. Since the game involves a lot of exploring and puzzle solving, I didn’t find it as engaging as some people. It is beautiful, but I personally get frustrated by the Ecco games.
Full Review of Ecco the Dolphin
Chu Chu Rocket!
ChuChu Rocket! was actually the first popular console to make it into the online world and was a featured title in my Games That Nobody Played – But You Should. It’s a unique puzzle game that should not be overlooked for either its single-player or multi-player features.
The concept of the game is simple: point mice into your rocket, keep cats away from your rocket. Put four players on the same board and the trash-talking quickly escalates. The blazing competition and deep strategy easily make up for Chu Chu Rocket’s simple (but pleasant) graphics. The only downside is that the brain-numbing multiplayer mode can be hard to describe to newbie friends.
The single player mode is also a great deal of fun that will keep your brain in tip-top shape. Much like more modern games like Super Monkey Ball, it makes you think creatively to reach your goal. A true classic.
Full Review of Chu Chu Rocket
Phantasy Star Online
Sega was one of the main pioneers in online console gaming. While they had modest online offering with both the Genesis and Saturn, the Dreamcast was the first of their consoles to have online capabilities built into the stock machine. The Dreamcast came standard with a 56k modem and also had a (expensive) LAN/Broadband adapter availible as an upgrade. Phantasy Star Online paved the way for Sega’s groundbreaking online network and for later networks like XBox Live.
Phantasy Star Online’s gameplay is in the same vein of Blizzard’s hugely popular Diablo – fight hordes of monsters, get all sorts of great items and equipment, and raise your characters stats. Combat in the game is fast paced and less tactical than most traditional console RPGs, and the story, when present, never gets in the way of the action and treasure hunting.
Phantasy Star Online not only brought some addictive online gameplay to the Dreamcast, but it also was not a letdown to the diehard fans of the classic series.
Full Review of Phantasy Star Online
Street Fighter 3:Third Strike and other Fighters
Sure the Dreamcast had a number of great 3D fighters such as Soul Calibur, VF3tb, and Dead or Alive 2, but its real strength was in the 2D fighter arena.
Teamed with the “official” Agetec arcade stick, the Dreamcast is a 2D fighters dream console. (Combine it with a Saturn and you may pass out from excitement) Capcom and SNK both supported the Dreamcast to the fullest extent.
Personally, I enjoyed Street Fighter 3: Third Strike the most as it had an amazing balance of strategy, unique characters, and blissful 2D animation. There are many other fantastic fighters on the Dreamcast that cover the entire spectrum of brawling types, so I recommend that you take a look at my overview of the Dreamcast’s fighter library.
Ikaruga and other Shmups
While the Dreamcast might not be able to match the sheer quantity of the Sega Saturn’s shooters, it makes up for it in quality.
The first batch of shooters came at the beginning of the Dreamcast’s life and included such hits as Mars Matrix and GigaWing. However, the bulk of the shmups actually showed up as Japan-only imports after the Dreamcast was already taken off US store shelves.
Again, if you have both a Dreamcast and a Saturn, you will never run out of shmups to keep you busy. Check out my full coverage of the Dreamcast shooter libary to learn more.
Much like the Saturn before it, there are a great deal of excellent games from the Dreamcast that never made it to the US. In additional the shooter and fighter library, the highlights include Rez, Shenmue II, and Headhunter.
You can read more about the rest of the best Dreamcast Imports in my Essential Imports feature.