Games That Defined The Dreamcast

The Best Dreamcast Games That Defined Its History
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.

 Soul Calibur
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

 Crazy Taxi
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.

Hyped as the sequel to the Saturn favorite Radiant Silvergun, Ikaruga did not disappoint with its mind-bending gameplay. Many other great shooters followed, such as Psyvariar II and Under Defeat.

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.

 Dreamcast Imports
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.

Other Great Dreamcast Exclusives:
Ooga Booga
Virtual On:OT
House of the Dead 2
Typing of the Dead
Propeller Arena
Toy Commander

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Woosh15 says:

I hope MatisseGroening catches a disease, and deteriorates from the crotch outward. Where the hell does this uppity schmuck get off??

Racketboy, thank you for this article. I’ve always said that one day, I’m just going to pile up on Dreamcast material again, re-collect the games I used to have, play the odd gems I missed, and call it good (I’m still upset that I never owned Skies of Arcadia, or Metropolis Street Racer). I know some of the titles are going to be a pain to find ($$$…), but for my favorite console of any generation, it’s completely worth it…

Drakonas says:

I wish you luck on your quest. I only started collecting DC games about a month ago. Now I have Shenmue LE, Rez, Sonic Adventure 2, Skies of Arcadia, and Marvel vs. Capcom.

You can actually find most DC games for anywhere from $10 to $50 on Amazon or eBay. You just got to know who’s legit. Look at the comments on their feedback. If there’s nothing specific to what was sold, and it’s just “great seller A++++”, I wouldn’t go for it.

Also, if you want the better titles like Rez, Shenmue, and Shenmue 2, they sell for upwards $70, so keep an eye out. Also, I recommend a site called GameTZ, if you don’t have much money, but you have.some games you’re willing to trade.

Also, look for local independent game sellers I. Your area. Gamestop rips you off nothing flat if you try to sell something.

manymasters says:

hey Drakonas, good luck with the DC hunt.
at this point, i’ve got about 50 retail games for it, and another 80 or so burned games.

i find it addicting and fun to stop at random indie game stores when i travel and scoop up cool stuff for Dreamcast. the system itself has dropped down to about $25 when i look.

soon i’ll buy my third system and get back into it again.

Fripp says:

Needs Soul Calibur 2.

It was groundbreaking at the time, and the DC had the best and most talked about version.

racketboy says:

Soul Calibur (the original) was on the Dreamcast. Soul Calibur 2 didn’t come out until the PS2/GC/XB

Jake says:

Racketboy, I don’t know from personal experience (I’ve never played the PS2 version), but the overwhelming consensus of fans that I’ve talked to is that the Dreamcast version of Rayman 2 was the best. I checked Wikipedia, which is not always a reliable source, and it states that only the N64 and DC releases were actually developed by Ancel’s team at Ubisoft Montpellier. That alone raises suspicion that the various ports and special editions may be inferior. Furthermore, Ubisoft publicly emphasized that they were using the DC version as the basis for Rayman 3D, presumably because fans liked it the most.

Many of the fans I spoke with claimed that the DC version had a noticeably smoother framerate than the PS2, and Wikipedia says the same thing. According to Wikipedia: “The frame rate is lower than the 60 frames per second rate of the Dreamcast version. Also, whenever the player revisits levels, the music in most parts of them is replaced with ambiance, nor are players allowed to revisit The Woods of Light and The Cave of Bad Dreams.” If true, those flaws might outweigh the “benefits” of changes to the original level design by a different team and English voices instead of Raymanian. asserts: “The Dreamcast version is considered the best version of the game with higher resolution graphics, fast framerate, and extra features including online downloadable content such as mini games and a 4 player multiplayer mode. Levels are given additional geometry and effects to take advantage of the hardware. This version added 6 Globox Crystals hidden in a few levels that could be taken to the Globox Village to unlock bonuses.” I think we can all agree that the N64 and PC versions were inferior, as are the iOS/Game Boy Color/DS releases. The 3DS version is another question, but GiantBomb criticizes it: “The game was poorly adapted to the hardware to make it in time for the system’s launch and has numerous faults. The framerate is wildly inconsistent and sluggish at more intense areas, sound effects are missing or cut out during normal gameplay while music sounds overdriven, certain skybox textures alias incorrectly, certain scenery and objects are incorrectly scaled, and texture work sometimes appears stretched or missing. Reports indicated prior to launch that the 4 player mini game would return for local wireless multiplayer, however it does not exist in the final version as the Dreamcast DLC, Globox Village and collectables associated with it have been removed from this version.”

Therefore, the PS2 version seems to be the only real competitor with the DC release, and it’s not clear that one is definitively superior. GiantBomb, like Wikipedia, notes that the PS2 version suffered from slowdown and sound glitches; Wikipedia also claims that two of the levels were misnamed. GiantBomb acknowledges that the graphics in the PS2 release were “given a substantial upgrade” over the DC version, but I don’t know that you can completely dismiss the DC version’s claim to the throne. It may very well be up to personal opinion, unless everyone is just blinded by their love for the DC.

Brian K says:

Reading this article has induced a fit of nostalgia ,the likes of which I have no felt for some time. It has also compelled me to list my favorite DC games, in the hopes the simple act of naming them will stave off this need I now have buy them all on Amazon =p

1. Sonic Adventure
2. Jet Grind Radio
3. Grandia II
4. SF III Third Strike
5. SF Rush 2049
6. Bust-A-Move 4
7. Gauntlet Legends
8. Gundam Side Story

Thanks for keeping Retro alive, Racketboy.

NPC says:

Dynamite Cop definitely needs to be on here. Great list by they way. I have been using this site to build up my collection. A truly invaluable resource.

Patrick BBE says:

I overpaid in order in to have both Power Stone games. Hey I gotta put those four controller ports to good use!

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