Sega’s swansong may not have saved the company from exiting the console business, but it did create some utter classics that people still talk about to this day and established the Dreamcast as a fitting capstone on a career plagued by shambolic launches and too many cooks in the kitchen. You might remember my recent article about how the Sega Dreamcast was the most underrated consoles ever made.
Not only did it have awesome graphics, groundbreaking connectivity online, and even better games, but also it came out at a competitive price and never seemed to lose momentum in terms of releases. That is why I think it is high time I make a best-of list for that system – well, at least according to my tastes.
Below are the 10 best Dreamcast games ever made:
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10. Jet Set Radio (developed by Smilebit, published by Sega in 2000)
An arcade game about graffiti and roller skating? That’s the premise here and it works – really well. You go around tagging the city with your designs, racking up points along the way, and jamming out to a great soundtrack the whole time.
Like so many things about the Dreamcast, this game illustrates how the system was a transition between the dying arcades and the vibrant home consoles.
9. Ikaruga (developed by Treasure, published by Sega in 2002)
Shoot ‘em ups are not for everyone, then again, Ikaruga is not trying to get everyone’s attention. This game is madness put into a gaming format and it works even if you are not good at it. A game that thoroughly rewards trial and error as well as mastery, Ikaruga is not casual by any stretch of the definition. Nonetheless, it is a tour-de-force experience that brings the gritty, smokey lights and sounds of the Japanese arcade to your living room. And once you do master its mechanics, you will find a whole new world of challenge and gameplay opens up before you. Using lights, sound, and addictive but tough-as-nails gameplay to reel you in, Ikaruga will never let you go once you figure out what it is all about.
8. Virtua Tennis 2 (developed by Hitmaker, published by Sega in 2001)
You might not know this, but Sega’s sports games were the envy of the industry back in the day and, oddly, their Virtua Tennis series was top dog when it came to that sport. That is for good reason, too, as VT2 is not only really engaging but also teaches you a lot about the game in fundamental ways.
This is not like a wacky Mario Tennis type of game, but rather something rather earnest and grounded in the “simulation” aspect that Virtua titles tend to promise. It is an easier game to grasp at first, but actually becoming good at it will take some work. It is so user-friendly, in fact, that it seems like it is an introduction to sports games for people who are not really into them that much.
Any gamer will find something to love with Virtua Tennis 2 and it really shows how Sega’s magical combination of arcade prowess and the ability to bring that to the home screen made it such a potent competitor in the console wars.
7. Sonic Adventure 2 (developed by Sonic Team USA, published by Sega in 2001)
When Sonic first entered the 3D world for real with Sonic Adventure, it gave all of us an idea of what could have been if Sonic X-treme had ever come out on the Sega Saturn. The Dreamcast itself might have ended up being a different story entirely, had Sega succeeded in at least bringing their mascot to the Saturn in some meaningful way but – outside of that racing game with the upbeat music – we got nothing. So there was a lot of pressure on Sonic Adventure to be epic as heck.
And when Sonic Adventure 2 came around people were not so much expecting the world from it, as they were expecting more of that same good gameplay they got in the first game. They got it – and in spades. SA2 is like the first game after eating corn and drinking milk for a few years: everything is beefed up from graphics to features and gameplay.
It all works really well, too. In contrast to many modern Sonic games which are known for their less-than-successful experiments, Sonic Adventure 2 sticks to the script and turns out an amazing piece in the process.
6. Phantasy Star Online (developed by Sonic Team, published by Sega in 2000)
Online fantasy role-playing games are nothing novel now, but back during the Dreamcast era, it was pretty much a concept no one had ever heard of before. This was before World of Warcraft made MMORPGs a household term, and Phantasy Star Online really helped lay the groundwork for a lot of the games to come.
And did I mention that all of this was on a console? The Dreamcast’s revolutionary inclusion of a modem meant that every system was ready to game online if the owner had access to the Internet. This upfront inclusion of the modem meant that every Dreamcast owner could, in theory, play games online.
Not only did this show that Sega had learned its lessons from the endless peripherals of the Genesis days, but also showed that the company thought the Internet and online gaming were the future.
How right they were and how edifying an experience like Phantasy Star Online was, back then.
5. Soul Calibur (developed by Project Soul, published by Namco in 1999)
Namco’s Soul Calibur is a weapons-based fighting game that puts as much of a premium on tight gameplay, as it does flash and bang. A gorgeous game that really pushes the Dreamcast graphically, Soul Calibur is, above all, an amazingly addictive title – especially when played with friends.
Again, the DC did a lot of awesome things in terms of multiplayer gaming and SC truly felt like you had an arcade cabinet in your home. Sounds, music, graphics, gameplay, pretty much everything about this game is perfect and it has truly stood up over time.
And this is not some obscure title, either, and, in fact, might top some lists of best games for the Dreamcast. Critics and gamers alike recognized Soul Calibur’s genius when it first came out and it was one of the most praised fighting games to ever hit a console.
4. Silver (developed by Spiral House, published by Infogrames in 2000)
The short description: probably the most overlooked Dreamcast game ever released and also the most underrated on this list.
If you are looking for the Dreamcast’s own spot of Square magic, then Silver is right up your alley. We have pre-rendered backgrounds and an epic, engaging story as well as gameplay that keeps you grinding away for hours.
Best of all is that the game is available on a range of platforms now, as opposed to just the Dreamcast so you do not have to dust off your old console just to experience the wonder that silver has to offer.
If you are looking for something thoroughly classic that brings to perfection the kinds of pre-rendered fantasies that were common on the PSX, then you need Silver.
3. Resident Evil – Code: Veronica (developed and published by Capcom in 2000)
Resident Evil was such a big deal in the 1990s that it is hard to quantify in terms that make sense now, since it is everywhere and very much a part of the landscape but, back then, Resident Evil was typically known for being on Sony’s systems.
Code Veronica changed that perception in fundamental ways even if it was not the first RE title for another system ever released. In terms of how Code Veronica moved the series forward, it replaced pre-rendered backgrounds with new, shiny 3D models but maintained a lot of the game’s trademarks outside of that.
Epic, B-movie storyline? Check. Crazed bad guys with nonsense for a motivation? Present. The best thing about CV though is that it made sense in terms of RE’s established rules and the general feel of the story. There is a reason it has become a touchstone for many gamers and that is because it is really quite good. If the other Resident Evil games were not exactly your thing, this one would be.
2. Skies of Arcadia (developed by Overworks, published by Sega; 2000 JP and NA, 2001 Europe)
Role-playing games were a big, big deal during the PS 1 and PS 2 eras and Sega had to show up in this regard somehow. Phantasy Star Online made the console stand out, but it was Skies of Arcadia that summoned legions of classic JRPG fans to the system.
It is a beautiful title that really takes the aesthetic that Square shows us in Final Fantasy IX and gives it a Dreamcast coat of paint. The game might not be for everyone. After all, if you do not like RPGs, this title is not going to convert you as it is a distillation of pretty much every great role-playing game convention out there.
That said, this is one of those rare, magical experiences and a time when both the game and the story work together to deliver something truly outstanding. If you want to see the best of what the Dreamcast has to offer when it comes to role-playing games, then you really cannot do better than Skies of Arcadia.
Power Stone 2 (developed by Capcom, published by Capcom for Japan and NA and Eidos Interactive for Europe in 2000)
This is an off-the-wall concept for a fighting game but, since Capcom helms it, it is an amazing game that makes it work.
It is an arena fighter with really bright, colorful graphics and a simple, but intuitive fighting system that does some new things without being an isolating experience.
Fans of Capcom’s fighting games should definitely play Power Stone 2 and see what all of the fuss is about.
Crazy Taxi (developed by Hitmake, published by Sega in 1999)
Have you ever wanted to be an unhinged taxi driver that transforms his day-to-day work into an arcade game? That is basically the premise here, and Crazy Taxi does a great job of delivering it in a way that any gamer can grasp, but only few can master.
This reminds many of us of Sega’s glorious arcade days and, indeed, Crazy Taxi is that game that shows the transition from the arcade era to one where home consoles are more than capable of handling advanced graphics and sound.
Rez (developed and published by List; 2001 JP, 2002 NA and Europe)
A “musical rail shooter” that combines bright, colorful arcade classic graphics with an equal dose of old-fashioned gameplay, Rez is another title that has a modern life on current platforms. The words psychedelic and maddening come to mind, but Rez is also about flow and getting into the groove of its mechanics.
Like the best arcade games from the era of Atari, Rez keeps things simple, fast, and elegant. You will not find yourself burdened by extraneous plot, ridiculous graphics, or low quality anything in this title.
Rez is about the experience of playing Rez and that makes it one of the more pure gaming concepts I have talked about on this list.
Okay, time to announce the winner, now! Guessed it already? Yeah, it is more than a safe bet…
1. Shenmue 1 and 2 (developed by Sega AM2, published by Sega in 1999 and 2001)
The original life simulator, Shenmue 1 and 2 showed that the Dreamcast was truly next generation in terms of how we understand games now. Before Grand Theft Auto 3, Shenmue showed us what it was like to live in a huge virtual world where people lived their own lives and we could too.
The fact that people want this trilogy to be concluded all these years on should tell you something about the game. Originally conceived as a combination of action-adventure game and interactive cinema, Shenmue is a work of both genius and art on many levels. Everything has an immediately organic feel that sets the game apart from pretty much everything else that came out during this console generation.
The world had a depth to it that few games have replicated and it really captured the 1980s bubble-economy Japan in a way that few games have. I do not just recommend this game, I think this game is mandatory playing material for anyone that calls themselves a gamer. Transport yourself back to 1980s Japan and experience Ryo Hazuki’s quest to avenge his father from a pair of modern eyes.
And that’s the end of another gaming journey, but what about you, retro folks? Do you have any Dreamcast favorites that you think should be on this list? Or what about your own underrated consoles? Let me know your story in the comments section below. I would love to hear from you.
Until next post!