When I was in middle school I had a friend who always had the latest cutting edge technology.
He pulled out a Palm Pilot in the playground and wowed the school with his snake game Capabilities. I distinctly remember being at his house on his birthday, going into his basement and seeing a huge TV with a 3D Sonic the Hedgehog overtaking a truck. A strange gray plastic console was plugged into the front, with an even stranger controller in my friend’s hands. I’ll never forget how he pulled a Tamagotchi-esque memory card out of the bottom of the controller – it broke my little brain.
The Sega Dreamcast, released in North America in September 1999, made a better impression on me than most. It underperformed so far that it knocked Sega out of the console business for good. Although it never managed to catch the hype surrounding the PlayStation 2, Sega’s final console was the first to feature any type of online functionality that would later become an industry standard.
Dreams vs Reality
Sega was a huge titan in the console market, a true rival to the dominant Nintendo. The Genesis, released in North America in 1989, was an overwhelming success. For a brief period in the early 1990s, Sega controlled 65 percent of the North American 16-bit console market. The Genesis sold around 31 million units and introduced the world to the company’s decades-long mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog. But Sega’s successor console from 1995, the Saturn, didn’t reach the same high heights as its predecessor, selling just 9.25 million units over its lifetime.
So on their next console, Sega had to release a blockbuster machine to salvage their reputation. Codenamed Katana, Sega focused its resources on developing a technologically advanced console that could compete with the Sony PlayStation and Nintendo 64.
The Dreamcast was the first 128-bit home console to come with a 56k modem capable of connecting to dial-up Internet. It used GD-ROMs, a precursor to DVDs that could store over 1GB of data. But even before it could take its first steps, it faced some serious mistakes. Third-party developers struggled to create content using the new technology, and EA flatly refused to develop games for the Dreamcast unless they were granted the sports title exclusivity.
Worse still, Sony announced that its PlayStation 2 would be released in March 2000, just a few months after the Dreamcast launched in September 1999. The PS2, which used DVD technology and was much easier for developers to work with, became the best-selling Game console of all time with more than 158 million units sold by 2022.
cabinet of curiosities
Although the Dreamcast lacked the power of the PS2, it featured a library of games unlike anything else out there. Sonic adventure was the first game that brought the blue hedgehog into the world of the third dimension and is still an absolutely amazing platformer. Running at the speed of sound across roads and through loops never gets boring, especially when a whale is chasing you. To date, Sega hasn’t released a non-2D Sonic game that’s anywhere near as fun or groundbreaking as Sonic adventure or its continuation.
Sega released weird games that took risks during the Dreamcast era. shen mue helped inspire single-player action games like the Grand Theft Auto and Yakuza series. fighting games like Soul Calibur, Kraftstein, Marvel vs Capcom 2and dead or alive 2 still have loyal fans who host tournaments. space channel 5 Take control of a TV presenter who had to dance to defeat monsters. rec was an audiovisual mind blast accompanied by a vibrating block that some naughty players used for, ahem, “personal gratification.” And then there is Sailor, where you raise a human-faced fish by speaking to it through a microphone.
But these strange gems weren’t enough to save the Dreamcast. In March 2001, less than two years after launch, Sega announced plans to discontinue the console.
“If you look back and then certainly post that, I don’t want to say it was all incremental, but it was an evolution of the previous experience,” said then-Sega of America head Peter Moore The ringtone in 2019. “I think the Dreamcast was revolutionary.”
Moore’s words still ring true 23 years later – the legacy of the short-lived Dreamcast is hard to overstate. It brought online gaming to the masses years before teenagers started yelling at each other gloriole when Xbox Live launched in 2002. It had a library of classics that are still considered some of the best games of all time. It’s a reminder that sometimes the best platforms don’t get the recognition they deserve – until they’re already gone.