If asked my favorite console, Saturn or PlayStation 2 would make a run for it, but there's a special place in my heart for Sega's final system. This space won't be used to speculate on the reasons for its demise, but rather to celebrate the awesome library of games released over the Dreamcast's short life. Shenmue, Seaman, Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram, NFL2K, Jet Grind Radio, Rez, Sonic Adventure, Soul Calibur, Power Stone, and Skies of Arcadia and plenty of other titles were a blast over those two great years. Sega started releasing a few Dreamcast titles last fall as downloadables, but Dreamcast Collection, the first batch of released and soon-to-be released titles, has made its way to the retail space. Included are the already released Sonic Adventure and Crazy Taxi along with Space Channel 5 Part 2 and Sega Bass Fishing.
As an overall package, Dreamcast Collection is uninspiring. Selecting a game from the boot menu engages that particular game and that game only; you're forced to quit the disc and reboot Dreamcast Collection from the 360 dashboard if you want to play something else. Furthermore, each game has its own separate achievements, as if the disc simply contains executables for current (for Crazy Taxi and Sonic Adventure) and future (SC5 and Bass Pro) Live Arcade games. The price is a rather generous $30, but after 2009's exceptional Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection and the great Sega Ages releases, one would have hoped the first batch of games from Sega's last gasp would up the ante in quality and/or quantity. The leader boards are functional and the added resolution is nice, but other than that Dreamcast Collection feels like four games slapped on a disc with minimal effort.
When I was fifteen Sonic Adventure was poised to be my favorite game of all time. Starry-eyed over Nights: Into Dreams and Burning Rangers, crushed over the cancelation of Sonic Xtreme, and delirious over the launch of the Dreamcast - collecting Sonic Adventure with my new console on 9/9/99 was probably the most excited I had ever been about any videogame. At the time I didn't care about the annoying camera, abhorrent lack of character control, idiotic dialogue, or the general chunkiness. All I knew was Sonic Adventure had it all; six playable characters, kart racing, snowboarding, fishing, platforming, exploration, rail shooting, pinball, a ridiculous sense of speed, an interesting system of raising little pets (to this day I'll defend Chao raising as way ahead of its time), and a great effort at translating Sonic's 2D gameplay to a 3D landscape. Sonic Adventure's expectations were forged by my youth and carried into adolescence; for what I was looking for, it was practically perfect.
Twelve years has not been kind to Sonic Adventure. On top of its existing problems, made all the more visible by a decade of new software, its most impressive assets have been rendered technically inept or, to put it blatantly, dull. The kart racing in Twinkle Park is barely interactive and snowboarding in Icecap lacks any semblance of intuition or strategy. There's a reason why Sonic Adventure 2 went straight to stage select and ditched the open world adventuring, because finding out where to go or what to do is often completely up to the glowing hint orb that floats outside Station Square. Controlling Sonic is at least manageable on less demanding stages like Emerald Coast or Speed Highway, but seemingly unplayable on later stages like Sky Deck. Sonic Team couldn’t find a way to balance Sonic’s blazing speed against smaller sections of precision platforming.
We didn't know it at the time, but Sonic Adventure was setting a precedent for Sonic titles for the next decade. Both Sonic Heroes and Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) owe a lot to Sonic Adventure, and viewing the genesis of Sonic's darkest days is slightly interesting to watch, albeit not so great to interact with. Certain aspects hold up OK; the sense of speed is still impressive (forgiving the lack of actual interactivity during these moments), the frame rate is rock solid at 60fps, and you had to admire Sonic Team's ambition for trying to be a jack of all trades, but this is all much harder to swallow in 2011 than it was in 1999. The camera, the lack of character control, and the myriad of bugs and glitches cast a shadow on its brighter points.
The real tragedy is Sega has ignored any chance to clean up some rough edges for inclusion in the collection. Would taking the camera off LT and RT and mapping it to the second analog stick really been that big of a hassle? Or would it have hurt to maybe tinker with the questionable collision detection or patch the areas where Sonic falls through the level for no reason? Worse, certain aspects of Sonic Adventure are completely misleading. The achievements suggests Battle Mode, a collection of extras that arrived with the GameCube’s edition of Sonic Adventure, is available, but, just as if you bought Sonic Adventure of Live Marketplace, you're prompted to pony up an extra $5 for the pleasure. Additionally, the launch trailer for Dreamcast Collection broadcasts Sonic Adventure in widescreen display - but no such option is found anywhere in the game. It's very misleading.
Sega Bass Fishing
Sega Bass Fishing might seem like the runt of the litter, but it's actually held up better than Sonic Adventure. Fishing has found its way into games for ages, but rarely is it implemented in any interesting way. A game of anticipation, fishing can seem almost as boring as baseball only with even less actual interaction. Original developers AM1 and SIMS thankfully understood this, and created Sega Bass Fishing with an arcade approach. An actual port of the arcade mode, which plopped you in a few areas and governed your skills with a timer, is present and good for a bit of fast fun, but the feature presentation is Original Mode, which expands upon the arcade experience with a more career-oriented approach.
Most copies of Sega Bass Fishing came home with a neat little fishing rod controller that was actually a really cool little peripheral. Seven years before the Wii and six before Guitar Hero, the general public wasn't used to interacting with anything other than a controller. The fishing rod controller was a surprise success, doing for fishing what Golden Tee did for golf. It was silly, but it made the playing Sega Bass Fishing more special than it probably should have been. The 360 gamepad does a pretty good job, but the novelty just isn't there.
Space Channel 5 Part 2
Space Channel 5 Part 2 is the only game in this collection that I never owned because it never actually came out on this side of the planet (technically it did as part of a PlayStation 2 collection, but not on the Dreamcast). Tetsuya Mizuguchi's (he of Rez and the upcoming Child of Eden fame) first music-based game paid homage to Parappa the Rappa and traditionally hyperactive anime, but emerged as a creation all its own. Essentially a rhythm and dance game, Space Channel 5 reporter Ulala had to mimic dance moves of Morolians in order to free hostages.
Part 2 replaced Morolians with The Rhythm Rogues an added a few new moves to Ulala's repertoire. Its brevity is kept in check by its difficulty, as right about the time the guitar-off with Pudding rolls around is when you'll start having some trouble. The premise of a rhythm game would be dull if not for the constantly ridiculous and thoroughly Japanese context. A stylish news reporter with pink hair dancing to beats for the safety of humanity is weird enough, but combine that with antagonists like the Space Bird Mistress, freeing the Space President from a giant man-eating plant, and an appearance by Michael Jackson (actually voiced by Michael Jackson) and suddenly "wacky" is underselling what's on the table. Space Channel 5 Part 2 was seemingly immune to the effects that time had on the quality of the other three games in the collection. It’s still a great game.
Sega's arcade heritage is legendary and, while you could make a case for Sega Bass Fishing, Crazy Taxi is Dreamcast Collection's chosen representative for their arcade line. Basically, you drive a cab around a San Francisco-ish type city picking up fares and getting them to their destination as fast as possible. Whether you're fighting a timer in Arcade Mode or a time limit in Original mode, drifting around corners, jumping off ramps, and generally driving like a crazy son of a bitch nets more cash/points. Though the same premise was approximated as a minigame in every Grand Theft Auto after III, Crazy Taxi's breakneck pace and arcade flavor rendered it much more exciting than GTA's annoying, stunted attempts at reproducing the process. As an arcade game its appeal was short lived, but the home release had a few extras to stretch it out.
Time has been considerably more kind to Crazy Taxi than other late 90's arcade games, but the transition to a 360 disc has been rather cruel. The HD refresh smoothes the visuals out at the cost of highlighting some rather ugly textures, but the real tragedy lies with the music. Few experiences in gaming were as synonymous with a soundtrack as Crazy Taxi; hearing Dexter Holland scream YAYAYAYA eight times in twenty minutes might have grated at the time, but the precious handful of songs from Offspring and Bad Religion seemed perfect fit for driving like a maniac and disregarding basic traffic laws. The license to use their music was apparently lost and Sega replaced their tunes with marginally talented and unimpressive tracks from nameless punk bands, and it does little other than interrupt nostalgic opportunity. It's a bummer, and it adds credence to the theory that Sega was content to merely shove these games out of the door without cause or concern of their value to gamers.
Dreamcast Sampler would have been a more apt title. After putting together the wonderful Ultimate Genesis Collection and the stellar Sega Ages line, it's hard not to feel like Sega dropped the ball with Dreamcast Collection. Busting out of the gate with two prerequisites, one throw-in, and one legitimately interesting game wasn't the greatest way to reintroduce Dreamcast in the retail space. It's a shame, but Sega certainly has a great library on deck for the inevitable follow up.