So in the spirit of Valentine’s Day (yes I know it's long passed by now), I thought it would be fitting to talk about my most beloved system the Sega Dreamcast. It was the short lived little engine that could, which unfortunately became Sega’s swan song as a console manufacturer. Allow me if you will to take a trip down memory lane and reminisce about the good ol' days.
To set the tone for this little love letter we need to go back to my days in junior high. Picture if you will your typical lunch room setting, now enter the video game / nerd table. Everyone is trading stories of what you had read in X gaming magazine, or if you were the strange kid at the table, what you read on the internet. Growing up my focus had always been on Nintendo systems until a would be salesman converted me to the church of Sega. You see unbeknownst to literally everyone in our little circle was the fact that the father of one of our friends worked for the Sega Corporation.
As a 13 year old your very existence is to one up your buddies, and nothing quite says I'm cooler than you like “oh yeah my dad makes video games, just thought you should know.” As if that statement wasn’t groundbreaking enough, he then dropped the big one on us. He explained how Sega loaned him a Dreamcast a good two weeks before the now infamous 9/9/99 launch. How it was even delivered to his house at night by two guys wearing suits. Now before we proclaimed him our leader and carried him around the hallways Rudy style, the skeptics got their questions out, “show us some proof” we demanded. Believe it or not the kid had Polaroids to back up his entire story! One of him and his father smiling with Dreamcast controllers, the other a Dreamcast in a metal briefcase! Looking back the whole thing screamed viral marketing, “now son, you tell your friends how much fun you had with the Dreamcast okay?” but dammit it worked! I made it my mission to get my hands on a Dreamcast at all costs.
Unfortunately my parents weren’t as enthusiastic over the future of gaming as I was. I’m sure many of you out there have heard this dreaded statement from your parents growing up, “what’s wrong with the system you already have?” If anyone out there worked you’re way out of this one, I tip my hat to you, you’re a legend. For the rest of us that meant a big fat NO and you walked away with your tail between your legs. I needed a source of income to purchase the Dreamcast and I needed it quick. I had already run though my birthday cash and Christmas was too far off to ask Santa. So I did the honorable thing and decided to get into the homework business (shhh don’t tell anyone!). Writing essays, letting kids copy off me, did I mention I won student of the month twice that year? In no time I had amassed quite the fortune, okay it was more like $300 but that’s like a couple grand when you’re a kid! The purchase was made, the Dreamcast was finally mine.
Visually the system was a beast and personally I can’t think of a bigger graphical leap in my lifetime. One day I’m playing Turok 64 (fog everywhere!), next it’s Sonic the Hedgehog running away from a giant Orca. In short, it blew my mind. For the younger ones out there let me explain it this way, remember when Keanu dodged the bullet in the Matrix? Well that was the Dreamcast in a nutshell.
In terms of titles, the Dreamcast walked the line of offering serious hardcore games and offbeat avant-garde titles. The open world masterpiece that is Shenmue, talking to your pet fish in Seaman, oh and a trippy rhythm game that came with a vibrator (there is a joke somewhere in there). Okay maybe the vibrator isn’t a good example but you get the picture. Sega was pushing the boundaries of what we considered to be gaming at the time. The crowning glory of the Dreamcast though had to be it's arcade ports. Games like Soul Calibur, Crazy Taxi, Power Stone, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Virtua Tennis, Silent Scope etc etc. On top of that the system had an insane amount of crazy peripherals to mess around with too. You had the VMU, light gun, the Seaman microphone, maracas, the fishing controller, dance pads, and the keyboard and mouse! Speaking of that keyboard and mouse, if you could convince your parents to tie up your phone line for an hour or two, you could play your Dreamcast online!
Of course we all know the Dreamcast wasn’t meant to be as Sega would shift their focus from hardware development to strictly software. Yet here I am 15 years later asking myself why am I still enamored with this bygone system? I have fond memories of my Nintendo 64, Gamecube, SNES, but I haven’t played any of those systems in years, nor do I plan to. My Dreamcast on the other hand has always had a place under my television and it always will. I think it has to do more with the fact that it's demise came while it was at its height. It's strange to say and honestly I can’t think of another system that had such a cruel fate. We didn’t see its decline via dwindling sales or less games being released, one day it all just ended. I guess over time in my mind (and probably many others) the Dreamcast has developed this mythos to it. The so called last bastion of true gaming and if it wasn’t for you meddling kids and your PS2 things would have been different! Regardless of it all, I'll always connect the Dreamcast to a time when my life was much simpler and carefree; after all isn’t that what nostalgia is supposed to invoke?
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