September 9, 2008 8:00 AM | Mister Raroo
[In honor of the 9th anniversary of the Dreamcast launch in the United States, GSW columnist Mister Raroo takes a look back at 9 of his favorite Sega Dreamcast memories. Beyond simply being a home console on which to enjoy some games, the Dreamcast allowed Mister Raroo to bond with a young student, speak to strange creatures, and even contributed to him falling in love with Missus Raroo. For anyone that fondly remembers the Sega Dreamcast, this article is for you!]
Nine Years Old Already!
The Sega Dreamcast has reached legendary status in recent years, with many gamers placing it upon a pedestal and citing it as the best console in the history of home video gaming. There is no doubt that the Dreamcast was a fantastic machine, but I’ll leave the debate over its place in the annals of gaming history to the denizens of gaming message boards and forums. I love the Dreamcast, and I’ll just keep my opinion as simple as that.
With a software library full of diverse and engaging titles like Chu Chu Rocket, Shenmue, Tech Romancer, and Daytona USA, the Dreamcast offers a smorgasbord of software for just about any gaming taste. Though the system may have lived only a short life, it was an extremely memorable one, and it has made a significant impact upon me as a gamer.
In my opinion, the Dreamcast was the last system that truly wowed me. I’ve had a blast with just about all of the game consoles that have been released since the Dreamcast’s U.S. launch of 9/9/99 (And for the record… Yes, I know, it was released in Japan almost a year before that!), but no other system has struck me as being such a massive step forward. As great as Xbox Live is, for instance, my favorite online gaming memories come from the 56k-enabled Dreamcast.
In honor of the Dreamcast’s 9th U.S. “birthday,” I thought it would be fun to take a look nine memories relating to Sega’s last home console that stick out in my mind. The Dreamcast holds a dear place in my gamer’s heart, and there is certainly a reason it is still hooked up to my television and given regular play almost a decade after I first brought it home from the store. So, without further delay, I present nine of the many things I love about the Sega Dreamcast.
The Day Itself: 9/9/99
I had only one thing on my agenda for September 9, 1999: Play Sega Dreamcast. And indeed, that is all I did. I had preordered the system at my local Software Etc. and, to their credit, they had a very efficient set-up for picking up preordered Dreamcast consoles and games. Granted, there was nowhere near the level of launch day madness that there is today. Nobody was camped out for days beforehand and everything was calm and orderly. But all the same there sure were a lot of people at Software Etc. excitedly picking up their Dreamcasts.
My day was a blur of Soul Calibur, Power Stone, Hydro Thunder, and Sonic Adventure. I remember calling my friend Henry to tell him how awesome the system was, and he quickly drove over to my place for a few hours of Soul Calibur goodness. I was floored by the clarity of the graphics and the intriguing oddness of the system. The VMU, for example, with its little screen within the controller, was so weird and neat! All four of the games I bought that day have held up surprisingly well over time, though people may argue Sonic Adventure is nowhere near as good as it seemed back then. Still, I’d propose that being chased at breakneck speed by a killer whale is pretty fantastic!
Love on the Battlefield
When the lovely young woman who is now my wife and I first met, we were both in the midst of earning our teaching credentials. Though neither of us are teachers now, I consider my short stint as an educator not only a great experience in terms of what I learned, but more importantly pursuing teaching as a career is what led me to meet Missus Raroo!
When we were both student teaching, our busy schedules gave us little time to see each other. Our days were spent with teaching at our school assignments, rushing to attend our classes, and squeezing in some part-time work to earn some much-needed cash. By the end of each day, it was far too late to drive to see one another.
Enter Phantasy Star Online. Before meeting me, Missus Raroo barely played video games, but I convinced her to buy a Dreamcast and purchased her a copy of PSO for Valentine’s Day. It turned out to be the perfect gift, as we’d both head to the online world of Ragol and slay monsters together almost every night before bed. We typed messages back and forth to each other as we traversed through PSO’s environments, and this turned out to be one of the most fun parts of the game. I like to think of Phantasy Star Online as the game that turned our relationship from like to love.
After School Special
There are many reasons why I didn’t continue on as a teacher, but one of the biggest was I simply didn’t follow the rules and got in trouble with the administration a lot. I was young and still fairly immature, and I saw no trouble with making kids stand in front of the class and dance “The Robot” for extra credit. In my defense, I believe I really connected with most of the kids in my classes, so much so that a few of them even keep in touch with me today, many years after the fact.
One of my favorite students was one of the “bad” kids. Other teachers warned me about him before the school year began, saying how he disrupted class and was generally a pain in the read end. In my class, though, he was a great kid and displayed a level of wit and humor well above most of his peers. His family life was pretty crummy, so his acting out during class was simply his way of looking for attention. When he was given proper acknowledgement and some responsibility, he excelled.
One afternoon after school as I was walking to my car I noticed he was sitting in front of the school. It turns out his mom had failed to pick him up and he wasn’t sure how to get home. I decided to give him a lift, but I warned him we’d have to make one stop on the way to his house. When he learned this stop was Funcoland, he didn’t object, and he happily tagged along as I went inside to pick up my preorder of Street Fighter III: Double Impact.
Word spread amongst the kids that I was a gamer, but the fact that I gave this student a ride home also made its way to the administration. The vice principal sent out a notice to all teachers stating that giving students rides home from school was forbidden and could be grounds for dismissal. Obviously, he was referring to me. Thankfully, that incident wasn’t the straw that broke the camel’s back and I never gave a student a ride home again. But I swear that after our trip to Funcoland, that kid tried harder, participated more, and generally seemed like a happier student. Maybe seeing one of his teachers in the light of being an actual human being with an interest he could relate to made all the difference.
Waiting for Godot… I Mean, the UPS Guy
Street Fighter III: Double Impact represents only one of the many fantastic fighters on Dreamcast. Capcom, in particular, gave substantial support for Sega’s system that made all fighting game fans happy. Marvel vs. Capcom, Street Fighter Alpha 3, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Capcom vs. SNK, Project Justice and many more kept fighting fans busy for the duration of the Dreamcast’s existence… and beyond.
The arcade-perfect conversion of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was especially memorable for me because getting my hands on it was such a problem. Despite preordering the game and paying for it in full, a Gamestop clerk called and informed me that the store wouldn’t have enough copies for everyone who reserved the game and that if I wanted a copy, I needed to be at the store when their shipment came in.
Other gamers also obviously received the same message, as there was already a core group of anxious people hanging about the store when I arrived on release day. After a grueling wait for the UPS man to arrive with a box full of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 discs, the clerk doled out copies of the game and I was lucky enough to snag the last available copy. I rushed home and spent the remainder of the day in fighting bliss with my wonder team of Tron Bonne, Jill Valentine, and Strider.
During the Dreamcast’s short life, Sega seemed to have little fear of taking risks, which is perhaps why the console came to an untimely demise. That said, it was this aggressive attitude on Sega’s part that brought forth the release of not only Samba de Amigo, but also its costly maraca controllers. I scraped together all of my available money to purchase the game and the maracas, and it’s remained one of my favorite gaming purchases of all time. Missus Raroo was so impressed with how fun Samba de Amigo was that she rushed out to get a copy and some maracas so she could play on her own Dreamcast.
Creating the sheer absurdity of a maraca-shaking music game starring a wild-eyed monkey in a sombrero is perhaps one of Sega’s crowning achievements, and it is a game that my wife and I will bring out on regular occasion to this day. Recently at a family birthday party, we decided to set up our maraca controllers and let people shake away the afternoon. Missus Raroo’s dad, in particular, took a liking to Samba de Amigo and enjoyed many rounds, though he didn’t seem to quite understand the proper technique needed to play the game. Instead, he just shook the maracas like crazy while methodically moving his feet in a bizarre rhythm as if he were slow dancing. It was a grand spectacle to behold.
Blasting Zombies With Our Fingers
One of the few games Missus Raroo can routinely beat me at is Typing of the Dead. Being a conversion of House of the Dead that replaces light gun triggers squeezes with keyboard strokes, Typing of the Dead tests the typing dexterity of players by presenting them with a onslaught of zombies that are destroyed by quickly typing often-hilarious words and phrases that appear onscreen. Only the fastest and most accurate fingers will excel, and Missus Raroo annihilates any and all competitors.
Typing of the Dead is a game we enjoy without fail whenever Halloween rolls around. This year will be no exception, and I might practice in secret so I can finally beat Missus Raroo in heated competition. But, in all honestly, no amount of practice will give me the edge. I am a fast typist, but when it comes to destroying zombies with keystrokes, nobody can beat Missus Raroo.
Conversations With a Fish
One of the strangest and most satisfying gaming experiences I’ve ever had was with Seaman, a piece of software in which you literally spoke to a virtual fish. Packaged with a microphone that plugged into your Dreamcast controller, Seaman put players in the role of caregivers of strange, man-faced fish that existed in real-time thanks to the Dreamcast’s internal clock. Stay away from your Seaman (or Seamen, as the case may be) for too long, and you’ll hear the freak of digital nature complain about being hungry or having a dirty aquarium.
Seaman was a total head trip for me, as sometimes the words that came from its mouth were eerily accurate. At the time Seaman was released, I was in the midst of my student teaching and would usually check in with my Seaman in the mornings before I headed out and in the evenings when I got home from my classes. One evening Seaman asked me what I did for a living and when I told him I was teaching, he asked what age group and stated the kids probably pass notes and goof around when I’m not looking. It really felt as if he was alive.
Seaman is so special, in fact, that even my family members were interested in what the little creature would say. To this day, my mom regularly asks about Seaman and wonders how that strange man-faced fish is doing. Maybe I should loan her my Dreamcast so she and Seaman can be together again.
Shoot for the Stars
Until the resurgence of shooters on Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network, the “shmup” was more or less nonexistent on home consoles. Prior to today’s downloadable shooters, the last system that provided a safe haven for shooter maniacs was definitely the Dreamcast. With great titles like Cannon Spike, Bangai-O, and Zero Gunner 2, anyone with an affinity for navigating streams of enemy projectiles could find solace in Sega’s final system.
The Dreamcast’s control pad may be ill suited for shooting supremacy, but that hasn’t stopped me from putting in hours upon hours of shooting time on the system. For the hardest of the hardcore, an easy (but pricy) solution for the Dreamcast pad’s shooter ineptitude is to buy one of the amazing arcade sticks released for the system. The spot-on arcade conversions coupled with the use of an arcade stick and the inclusion of a “tate” mode in many games (namely, allowing you to play the game with a TV turned on its side to keep so as to replicate the arcade screen ratio) turns the Dreamcast into a veritable home arcade shmup machine.
Today, spending $50 on an arcade blast-a-ton like Gunbird 2 would seem unreasonable to most people, but I happily paid full price for just about every Dreamcast shooter on launch day. And for the stellar Japan-only shooters like Zero Gunner 2, I paid the lofty import prices needed to secure such gems. As I see it, some of the best shooters of all time reside on the Sega Dreamcast, and that is reason enough for me to keep the system hooked up and ready to go at all times.
Life After Death
Despite the Dreamcast’s short official life span, the system continued to see a small but mighty trickle of releases in Japan for years after its “death.” Games like Rez, Ikaruga, Trigger Heart Excelica, and Under Defeat gave me a reason to keep my Dreamcast set up alongside my other systems. In fact, I believe most of the postmortem Dreamcast releases hold strong in terms of quality when compared to the top game releases on “superior” game consoles.
In addition to official releases, the Dreamcast became a haven for homebrew fanatics, of which a strong community exists today. Some unofficial but rather excellent game releases from the homebrew community have demonstrated that the Dreamcast isn’t going away any time soon. It is one of those rare game systems that not only reaches players on a gaming level, but touches an emotional chord as well. The Dreamcast isn’t a system that people simply play—it’s a console they truly care for.
Though the future will bring new games and systems, I don’t know if any of them will ever surpass what was accomplished on the Dreamcast. New games may boast more polygons, superior AI, and higher definition, but I’m not convinced that I’ll ever have a greater amount of fun and enjoyment than what is provided with my Dreamcast. Not only do I foresee the Dreamcast being perpetually connected to my television, but I have a feeling I’ll be celebrating its “birthday” in many Septembers to come.
[Mister Raroo is a happy husband, proud father, full-time public library employee, and active gamer. He currently lives in El Cajon, CA with his family and many pets. You may reach Mister Raroo at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tonight he'll probably stay up way past his bedtime playing Dreamcast games.]
Categories: Column: Game Time With Mr Raroo