Every year on the anniversary of the North American launch of the Sega Dreamcast, September 9th, I always try to do a piece celebrating one of my favorite consoles of all time, but I knew there would come a day when there really wouldn’t be anything left to say. The times in which comic book video games and the Dreamcast intersect are very few, and as of this writing, the only two games I haven’t covered in any capacity are Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, a Capcom fighthing game based off of the manga of the same name, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 which has Spider-Man as a character you can unlock.
I own THPS2 on the Dreamcast, but as it’s a game I didn’t play back when it was new in the year 2000, I had a LOT of difficulty both finding and putting the time into it to have anything intelligent to say, also I’m simply really bad at THPS. I’ve had Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure on my radar since last year when I played and reviewed Sword of the Berserk last year, however it’s a game that costs well over $100 USD which puts it far out of my reach for something I’m not ever sure I would gravitate to having no real basis for the source material. With my options limited, I had to get creative so I thought it would be fun to tell the story of how exactly I came to know about and love Sega’s beloved last console and what it was like to be a fan of the box in a small town in the province of Newfoundland, Canada.
The year, of course, was 1999…
That year was one of transition for me, as up until that time, video games to me were Nintendo: My first game console was an NES, my first portable was a Game Boy and even though I wanted a Genesis because Sonic looked so cool, the 16-bit console I owned was the SNES. When it came to getting a 3-D capable console, there was absolutely no choice: I HAD to have a Nintendo 64. It was in the N64/PlayStation/Sega Saturn era that my loyalty to Nintendo was tested the most though, because even though I still cherish games like Super Mario 64, Star Fox 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time to this very day, it was hard to love video games and just own an N64. While the previously mentioned games and other Nintendo/Rare developed titles were terrific and worth owning the console for, the period between those releases was excruciating; Especially when you would see video game magazines other than Nintendo Power with pages upon pages of previews and reviews for amazing games on competing consoles
I’ve never been quite the Nintendo fan since the turn of the millennium, and I don’t think I ever will be again, frankly. Like Bart in shock at Kamp Krusty saying over and over again “Krusty is coming”, I spent all of 1998 replacing Krusty with Zelda, refusing to acknowledge the presence of any other console because Zelda would come and smite them all. Once 1998 turned into 1999 and after I had driven the Master Sword into Ganon’s skull on New Year’s Day, I spent a lot of time thinking “what next to look forward to now?”. I didn’t take to Super Smash Bros. because I didn’t really have any friends to play it like it was intended to be, same with Mario Party earlier in that same year, and the only game I really got excited over was Star Wars Episode 1: Racer because it was 1999 and you could taste the Star Wars hype it was so thick.
Not having the internet, all of my video game news came from Nintendo Power and TV commercials, so the fever leading up to the release of the Sega Dreamcast in the fall of 1999 was lost on me. My first time ever seeing the box and what it had to offer was during commercials that would air during Beast Machines on YTV featuring Sonic as a DJ for a party featuring guests including other characters from the Sonic universe, the cast of Virtua Fighter 3TB and Afro Thunder from Ready 2 Rumble, concluding with the “Its thinking” marketing slogan. Forgive me, I’m not a sports guy so I’m not sure who the player is (feel free to tell me in the comments):
The same station started a short lived video game show called Gamerz that showed a lot of Dreamcast games, even going as far as to put a score on Castlevania: Resurrection, a game that never came out. A show with a lot more credibility than Gamerz, the Electric Playgound, also did a lot to sell the console to me as seen as early in the season 3 premiere of the show where they capture a lot of footage with people from Sega at that year’s E3. Host Victor Lucas went on to give Sonic Adventure a 9.0 in the show’s Reviews on the Run segment, but co-host Tommy Tallarico was not so kind. In hindsight, Tommy’s opinion is probably the one that’s shared for Sonic Adventure close to almost two decades removed from its North America release but I still like Adventure a lot:
What really drove my interest in the Dreamcast sky high was the Video Game Buyer’s Guide 2000 made up from the staff at EGM, a book I still own and flip through even today. I’m not sure if I bought it with my own money or got it in my Christmas stocking, but it started a tradition of me looking forward to getting these guides every year:
In the ratings for the system that year, the lowest the Dreamcast received was an 8.0/10 from Chris Johnston, but even they opened their review of the hardware with “Dreamcast is off to a really good start in the U.S”. John Davison in his 8.5/10 review for the system stated “Right now, you’re not going to get anything capable of pumping out better looking games…” and Dan “Shoe” Hsu said in his similar scored piece “Why wouldn’t you buy one?”:
The following pages showed the top ten games to buy for the system, a list that included the original Marvel Vs. Capcom, Sonic Adventure and a game that EGM had awarded a rare platinum review for: Soul Calibur:
The opening pages of the book had a series of awards titled “The Good, The Bad and the Silly” where the award of “Biggest Comeback” went to Sonic the Hedgehog with the Runner-Up going to Sega enterprises because of the Dreamcast. Clearly those putting together the guide were fans of the Dreamcast, and it was easy to get caught up in that excitement flipping through the magazine.
That same book gave numbered reviews to other systems and did similar top ten must own games of the year lists, awarding the number one game for the Nintendo 64 that year to Resident Evil 2. I had missed out on that franchise only owing an N64, and the port to that system that year was my introduction to the series that kick-started my love of the series. When I found out that the Sega Dreamcast was going to become the home of the first next-generation entry in the series, Resident Evil CODE: Veronica, I desperately wanted the system. In my english mid-term in January I even went as far as to write about how the Dreamcast’s internet out of the box capability was something that was going to change video games forever.
When the Dreamcast was new, I was in my first year of high school with not that much money to buy games let alone afford a console. The town I grew up in, Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, with a population today of 2,995 didn’t have any type of chain video store like a Blockbuster, so I couldn’t even rent the console, that is, until many months, close to a year after the initial launch actually, that I found a place that did rent the Dreamcast. A person I knew in grade school by the name of Peter McCarthy spoke of a store close to him in his town of Upper Island Cove (about a 20 minute drive from Harbour Grace) called Mercer’s and the stories he told to me of this gas station/rental location hybrid were mythical. He would say how all of the newest releases across all consoles would come out day and date at the store, making me very envious as someone who lived and breathed video games, but it was not a place I could ride to on my bike and it would take a lot of convincing to my parents to drive me there. I eventually did convince them to let me start renting from there, and in September of 2000, I went to Mercer’s and saw that they rented Dreamcast for $20 a night with three games, but sadly no VMU and they even had CODE: Veronica! All it took was one Friday night in September 2000 with that game and I knew I had to have a Dreamcast.
I returned it on a Saturday and rented out Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion the next day and after playing Dreamcast, it was so hard to go back to N64 games. Though they haven’t aged particularly, the visuals of CODE: Veronica were like nothing I had ever seen before, in particular the opening movie featuring Claire Redfield running through an Umbrella facility being chased by a helicopter. To go from that level of visual fidelity back to the ugly, muddy textures of N64 carts with compressed sound was tough. Even Resident Evil 2, a game I played at least once a week that year, didn’t impress me the way it once did. Renting out Dreamcast became a ritual for me in the weekends following, trying to get further in CODE: Veronica without the help of the internet because I simply didn’t have it and trying other games like House of the Dead 2, Soul Calibur, Power Stone, Sonic Adventure and ports of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Vigilante 8: 2nd Offense. A cherished memory of mine is getting my mom to print out the complete FAQ of CODE: Veronica from her place of work to try and finish it during Halloween of 2000. I managed to get to the end of the first disc during a Saturday night rental, died, and because I didn’t have anyway to save, lost a lot progress. I turned it off, went to bed, and got up early and started right from the beginning, making it the Chris Redfield section on the island of the second disc; The farthest I ever made it without being able to save.
2000 was the year when I made the decision to stop buying Nintendo Power and start buying Electronic Gaming Monthly, and even with the impending launch of the PlayStation 2 and the coverage it got, the Dreamcast still seemed like the system to own. New releases like Grandia 2 and Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, games that were already out and possibly discounted like Crazy Taxi and of course Resident Evil CODE: Veronica as well as slick PS1 ports were far more appealing than anything that the PS2 launch line-up had to offer, and at a much more affordable price; The PS2 was about $500 brand new that year in Canada. In 2000 I wanted to get a Dreamcast for Christmas that year, but was talked out of it in favor of getting a PSOne and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, which, given that Sega ceased being a console manufacturer in 2001, was probably for the best.
I wouldn’t own my own Dreamcast for many years after it stopped production as a went from a high school student to university student, and then a university student to low-paying full time work employee, eventually coming to build a small but respectable library, but I kept my love of it alive by picking up games from its library that made it to other machines in the meantime. When I eventually got my PS2 after the first price drop in 2002, the first games I owned for it were Resident Evil CODE: Veronica X and Crazy Taxi. I bought the PS2 port of Grandia 2 when it was on sale in the winter of 2002 out of money I got for Christmas that year, even though EGM had given the port a 4.0/10, far from the gold award the Dreamcast version had received in 2000 for an average review score of 9.0/10. As the years went on I want to build a larger vicarious Dreamcast library, buying Space Channel 5 for PS2, Samba De Amigo on Wii, the Sonic Adventure games on the Gamecube and Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 when it eventually released on PlayStation 3.
This year marks the 18th anniversary of the North American release of the Sega Dreamcast, and all these years later and with all the advancements consoles have made, it’s a system that will forever hold a special place in my heart. A few years ago my first Dreamcast died and I was absolutely heart broken. The first thing I did was run out and buy another as it was a system I could never see myself living without. When I read stories of people furiously trying to get miniaturized rereleases of retro consoles, I know the only one that I would stay up late or get up early for would be a Dreamcast. That devotion is owed not only to a great library of games, but to a simple buyer’s guide I studied every page of, and unforgettable memories with Sega’s last console release.
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