Friday, August 31, 2012

The 100 Greatest Sega Dreamcast Games of All Time! - PART ONE (#100-081)

The 100 Greatest Sega Dreamcast Games of All-Time! Counting Down #100 to #081...



It’s been 13 years to the month since the Sega Dreamcast was released in North America, and to commemorate the console’s birthday, I decided to embark upon a journey to quantify and rank the 100 greatest titles the system had to offer. It was a gargantuan assignment, obviously, but it was also an absolute blast to take such an all-encompassing trip (really, more of an extended vacation) down memory lane; if you have half as much fun reading it as I had writing it, than I know I’ve made Ryo Hazuki and Ulala proud.

At this point, what more can be said about the Dreamcast? It was the Kurt Cobain of gaming consoles, that amazing, stellar vision that arrived, changed the industry forever, and then faded away long before its time. It was radical, it was revolutionary, it was, for lack of a better term, freaking awesome, and believe you me - narrowing the list down to just 100 games was a challenge in and of itself.

Before we get down to business, a few notes about the countdown:

1. To make things less complicated, I tried to list ONLY Sega Dreamcast games that were given North American releases WHILE the console was still in production. So, if you’re wondering why games like “Rez” and “Shenmue II” didn’t make the list…that’s why.

2. There’s no real set criteria for my rankings. Simply put, I just weighed the overall quality of the games with their influence on my youth, and arranged the countdown accordingly. Your list, most certainly, would differ.

3. Note that this is a list of the GREATEST Dreamcast games ever and NOT the best (which, by the way, is not an interchangeable term for “favorite,” either.) You may think some of my selections are weak, and that’s totally cool. If you disagree, feel free to drop a comment or two. Just try to be civil about it, OK!

4. And lastly, Lizardman is NOT creepier than Voldo. Nothing in this world is creepier than Voldo, and you know it.

And with the fine print out of the way, who is ready to party like it’s 9/9/99?


#100
South Park Rally


Acclaim released several “South Park” titles in the late ‘90s and while the gaming press hated them, I didn’t think they were all that bad. The first game was essentially a Turok-style FPS, and the second game was sort of like “Mario Party,” only with way, way more fart jokes. “South Park Rally,” clearly, was a game inspired by “Mario Kart,” and while it isn’t exactly on par with Nintendo’s venerable franchise, I still think this game is easily the best “South Park” game released thus far, and really, a pretty enjoyable - albeit flawed - kart racer.

While the game definitely has some problems - mainly, the controls, which you will no doubt be wrestling with - the title almost makes up for it with a ton of playable characters, some pretty-well designed tracks and graphics that are just a little better than the average title circa 1999.

Probably the coolest thing about the game is the weapons. Forget blue turtle shells and lightning bolts, this game allows you to attack adversaries with everything from burrito-spawned fart gas to dogs that dry hump your opponents off the road. And take note, gaming historians: this may very well be the only non-hentai video game ever in which players can use herpes as a form of close-range combat…

#099
ECW Anarchy Rulz 


While Acclaim’s first ECW-licensed game was just sort of mediocre, their ridiculously under-advertised follow up is arguably the best pro wrestling game to be found on the Dreamcast…well, pending you don’t have a Japanese model, anyway.

The customization options for the game are pretty deep, with gamers having the ability to create their own wrestlers, factions, arenas and pay-per-view cards. Although the cast isn’t exactly a who’s who of grappling all-stars (unless you consider Chris Chetti and Danny Doring “legendary,” anyway), the game still has a lot of positives, including some great play-by-play from Joey Styles and Joel Gartner (who even begins each match with one his famous bawdy limericks!)

I suppose the real reason to check out the game is the absolutely insane amount of  “gimmick” matches included in the title. Yeah, we’ve seen virtual steel cage and ladder matches before, but when was the last time you saw a dumpster match, or a brimstone match in a “Smackdown!” game? Much like Extreme Championship Wrestling itself in 2000, the game isn’t exactly the highest quality product out there, but “Anarchy Rulz” is still a title that will give you a whole lot more fun and entertainment than you’d expect a 12-year-old wrestling game to grant you.

#098
Evil Dead: Hail to the King


Of course, this game - the first “Evil Dead” video game to hit the market - is a complete and utter rip-off of “Resident Evil.” But hey, that’s not exactly a negative, is it?

While the game definitely has some control issues, the positives here certainly outweigh the negatives. For one, the game stays very, very true to the “Evil Dead,” mythos, with so many neat little touches that make the game feel authentic as opposed to some effortless cash grab. And hell, there’s even a button on the face pad SOLELY for Bruce Campbell quips. THQ definitely knew their audiences on this one.

The game does take a few liberties with the source material, but what the developers tossed in was so kooky and in line with the franchise that their additions - like a troop of zombie boy scouts and a final boss battle with a very Lovecraftian demon - really do sort of feel like things Sam Raimi would have included in a fourth “Evil Dead” movie. “Hail to the King” is by no means a survival horror classic, but for Dreamcast owning B-movie aficionados, it remains an absolute must-play today.

#097
Dynamite Cop



If you’re one of the eight or so people in North America that owned a Sega Saturn, you probably got your hands on “Die Hard Arcade” at some point. A ridiculously fun (and ridiculously ridiculous) beat-em-up based on the Bruce Willis mega-franchise, that title stood out as one of the few truly great, 3D “Final Fight”-style games of the mid ‘90s.

Well, “Dynamite Cop” is basically a spiritual sequel to that game, as it incorporates the same fighting engine and the same style of insane beat-em-up gameplay - albeit, sans the “Die Hard” license this time around. But, hey the designers threw us two bones here - not only is there a playable character in the game that looks just like Bruce, there’s even a character modeled after Eddie Murphy, named, not at all insensitively, “Eddie Brown.”

This game is just an absurdly awesome brawler, with some of the most bizarre moments you’ll find in any Dreamcast game (and believe you me, that’s saying something.) You’ll karate fight chefs on cruises, beat up dominatrix henchmen in caves and at one point, have a boss fight against an octopus. The only major negative I can think of here is that it is a very short game - but then again, this is the kind of title you will want to show off to your friends whenever they’re over, so expect to be playing this one at plenty of get-togethers. It may not be “Streets of Rage 2” in three dimensions, but “Dynamite Cop” still an immensely enjoyable oddity, well worth tracking down for fans of the genre (or for those of us with just flat out weird-ass gaming tastes.)

#096
Zombie Revenge



This game is an absolute dream come true for horror and beat-em-up fans. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to play “Streets of Rage” with the ambiance of “The House of the Dead?” Well, folks, that’s EXACTLY what you get with “Zombie Revenge.”

In a lot of ways, “Zombie Revenge” plays out like a precursor to “Devil May Cry,” with an emphasis on gajillion hit melee combos and fast and furious gun play. However, like arcade titles such as “Crazy Taxi,” there’s also an emphasis on speed, as each action segment only allows players a brief amount of time to clear out rooms of enemies and solve simple puzzles.

While the graphics are, admittedly, a little rough around the edges, the game play definitely compensates for the title’s ugliness. The character design and dialogue is just straight-up cheese, and the combat system is oh-so satisfyingly uncomplicated. This is the perfect way to spend a late October afternoon - and remember, if a zombie drops some carrots after you blast its guts out, please do feel free to pick up the produce and eat it anyway…

#095
Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future



OK, so maybe this game wasn’t necessarily on par with the Sega Genesis titles, and yeah, I think we all would have preferred a 3D “Vectorman” or “Gunstar Heroes” in its place, but for me, the title remains one of my favorite “guilty pleasure” experiences on the Dreamcast.

Despite a preposterous storyline (apparently, the only thing standing between earth and an all out alien invasion is one bottlenose porpoise) and an oxygen-meter that frequently proved itself an annoying element of the gameplay, I still thought the game was a blast, primarily due to its gorgeous underwater seascapes and a control scheme that was, rather fittingly, quite fluid.

This is one of those games where half the fun of the title is just exploring the environment. Yeah, I could complain about some of the awkward camera angles and the crappy boss battles, but that doesn’t detract too much from the many, many things the game gets right. That, and it’s a really long game, too - and without giving away too much, let’s just say that things get very, VERY trippy as the game chugs along.

#094
Outtrigger



Outtrigger” was a really fantastic arcade-shooter that, a good half decade before “Resident Evil 4” or “Gears of War,” utilized something of a “third person shooter” style of gameplay. Admittedly, the game was a bit on the short side, and the missions were largely insanely easy, but the fast tempo gameplay - and especially the multiplayer - made this a Dreamcast offering that truly stood out from the crowd.

While the amalgam of “Halo,” “Super Mario Bros.” and “Crazy Taxi” doesn’t sound like it would result in the most exciting of games, “Outtrigger” actually proved itself to be a highly addictive and satisfying little title, an experience certainly heightened by some great visuals and a really kicking soundtrack.

It’s really difficult to describe the gameplay of “Outtrigger,” which is probably what makes it so awesome. Incorporating elements of “Quake,” “Virtua Cop” and even “Sonic Adventure,” the title is truly unlike anything else on the Dreamcast. For those of you looking for a fast-paced, ADD-style shooter, this is a game you definitely need to put in your console ASAP.

#093
D2


Now here’s a game that really, really got shafted when it was originally released.

As a survival horror title, EVERYBODY assumed this thing was a “Resident Evil” knockoff, and while it does share some commonalities with Capcom’s hugely popular franchise, “D2” also managed to do a lot of innovating of its own.

Yeah, the character models are a little crappy, and some of the cut scenes go on FOREVER, but the gameplay itself is just way too satisfying and enjoyable to count the aforementioned flaws as fatal ones. Set in an arctic tundra, “D2” is a mishmash between a FPS and a third person action adventure title, with some downright excellent atmospherics to boot. It may not exactly be an Oscar-winner, script wise, but for a horror game circa 1999, this is actually one of the better written games from the timeframe, with some really well-crafted plot twists and scripted scenes that, while somewhat cheesy, are engaging and interesting enough to keep you playing well into the wee hours of the night. That, and does the Kimberly clone monster remind anybody of anything?

#092
Spawn: In the Demon’s Hand



While most of the recent attempts to turn Spawn into a decent video game have faltered (barring the Xbox version of “Soul Calibur II,” of course), this Capcom-produced licensed game is actually - shockingly - pretty enjoyable.

For starters, there is an absolutely enormous cast of playable characters in the title, totaling in excess of 30. The gameplay is also pretty varied, as it offers numerous single and multiplayer modes, including some downright fantastic, four-screen deathmatches. While the graphics are a little hard on the eyes - with a soundtrack that’s perhaps even worse - the game itself is just so fast-paced and fluid that it’s hard to dislike it. Even with those aggravating camera angles…

Instead of being a standard, “Tomb Raider”-like action game, “Spawn” actually plays more like an arcade shooter, ala “Outtrigger.” After clearing out a few minions, you quickly transition to a boss fight, which are generally some pretty entertaining clashes. While the single-player mode is rather decent, it’s the multiplayer that makes this one a worthy addition to any Dreamcast owner's library - if you’ve ever wanted to play a merger of “GoldenEye” and “Power Stone,” this is probably as close as any of us are ever going to get.

#091
Tokyo Xtreme Racer 2



Since there were so many awesome racing games on the Dreamcast, I suppose it’s easy to see how a game like “Tokyo Xtreme Racer 2” got overlooked.

While the visuals in “Tokyo Xtreme Racer 2” may not have been the prettiest the console had to offer, the racing in the title was downright terrific. Especially awesome were all of the customization options - on a system loaded with fantastic sim-racers, “Tokyo” was a refreshing change of pace, a sort of hybrid arcade/sim game that featured a lot of elements that you wouldn’t be able to find in “Sega GT” or the “Test Drive” games.

Yeah, yeah, nighttime racing is really nothing new in video games these days, but at the time, the after-hours racing in “Tokyo” were truly cutting edge - and clearly, the absolute best looking midnight visuals in any console racer to date at the time. While the game definitely has some issues regarding cornering (not to mention some pesky rubber band AI), the sheer fun of the title more than makes up for whatever slight technical issues the title has. That, and damn, is it ever fun to shunt some Mazda facsimiles!

#090
Vanishing Point



When I first heard about “Vanishing Point,” I was really excited…mostly because I thought it was based on one of my favorite B-action movies ever. It wasn’t until I actually placed the disc in my Dreamcast that I realized that it wasn’t inspired by a 1970s car-chase movie with lots of sociopolitical undertones…and I STILL ended up enjoying the game immensely, anyway.

As it turns out, the 2001 Acclaim title was called “Vanishing Point” because it was one of the few racing games on the market at the time that didn’t suffer horribly from draw-in and pop-up visuals - the sort of graphical hiccups that marred just about every PS1 racing game you could think of.

While the car models weren’t the best the system had to offer, the actual track visuals were downright beautiful, and you had a wealth of models and venues to choose from. In addition to featuring some really solid online play, the game also had an extremely fun “stunt mode…and if you haven’t ever taken a virtual BMW on a “hump back relay” before, you are seriously missing out, bro.

#089
Vigilante 8: Second Offense



While the “Vigilante 8” series was unmistakably a knockoff of “Twisted Metal,” that didn’t mean that the series couldn’t provide as much fun as the vehicular combat innovator it imitated. And in many ways, I think the second “Vigilante 8” title is a marked improvement over some of the latter games in Sony’s series (ESPECIALLY the third and fourth “Twisted Metal” games.)

The game’s graphics, admittedly, we’re pretty bland, but the title compensates for it with some downright HUGE levels and plenty of vehicles, all of which handle quite differently from one another. That, and unlike the PS1 era “Twisted Metal” games, you had the ability to upgrade your vehicles, equipping your characters with hover pads and ski treads.

The combat system was simplistic, but fun, and you never really had to tussle with the control pad too much. The character designs were especially well done, employing a novel 1970s hook that merged disco with sci-fi schlock. And if you can’t have a good time while shooting at your buddies in UFOs commandeered by crude ethnic stereotypes, I really don’t know how you can enjoy life in the remotest.

#088
Blue Stinger



Even on a system renowned for weird-ass, genre-defying games, “Blue Stinger” remains one of the most bizarre games to come out on the Dreamcast.

“Blue Stinger,” for the most part, can be classified as a “survival horror” game. However, it has so much humorous elements that, more accurately, it could be described as a parody of the genre, a sort of self-aware, deconstructionist title that pokes fun at titles like “Resident Evil” and “Dino Crisis.”

The graphics in the game are very good, and the story, although intentionally hokey, is really a lot better than you’d think it would be. The gameplay is sort of a mixture of “Shenmue,” “Mega Man Legends” and “Syphon Filter,” with an emphasis on environmental exploration. Granted, some of the action sequences get a little out of hand thanks to a mostly crappy camera, but it’s not so bad that you can’t enjoy the title as a whole. Simply put, if you’re looking for a game that does something different with genre conventions, this is one underappreciated title you need to give a spin.

#087
Psychic Force 2012



There were a ton of killer fighting games on the Dreamcast, so it’s understandable how a game like “Psychic Force 2012” could have gotten lost in the shuffle. It’s a shame, too, because this Taito release isn’t just one of the most original titles on the Dreamcast, it’s also one of the system’s absolute best multiplayer games.

The major hook behind the game is that the actual fighting isn’t restricted by gravity. So, instead of just jumping around and kicking the shit out of each other, SNK and Capcom style, you actually have the ability to fly across the screen, like you were in “NiGHTS” or something. It’s a style of gameplay that, honestly, I haven’t experienced before or since. And the really shocking thing? Not only does it not get in the way of combat, it actually makes for a surprisingly deep and nuanced fighting system.

There’s just so much to like about this game, from the super-creative physics to the kick-ass multiplayer battles to the cyber-punk character design to the hyper-trippy, stylized visuals. That, and the story mode is actually pretty involving for a fighting game from 12 years ago. This is definitely an underappreciated gem whose rescuing from obscurity is long, LONG overdue.

#086
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear



Yeah, yeah, the whole “squad-based shooter” thing has been run into the ground over the last decade and a half, but that doesn’t keep this title from being one of the best the played-out genre has to offer.

The cerebral, strategic shooter was refreshing change of pace from the myriad “Doom” and “Duke Nukem” clones of the timeframe, emphasizing grey matter over firepower. While there may have been perhaps too much emphasis on mission pre-planning (for some levels, it seems like the mission debriefings last longer than the missions themselves), the overall gameplay was rewarding and very well structured - meaning, holy hell, you actually had to think your way out of certain spots.

True, the graphics look very underwhelming today, and compared to Xbox games like “Ghost Recon,” the title does seem just a bit primitive. Even so, once you actually get into the groove of things, you’ll find “Rogue Spear” to be a very enjoyable - and challenging - title, and one that you might find yourself replaying quite a few times.

#085
Test Drive V Rally



Despite the title, “Test Drive V Rally” really isn’t an official “Test Drive” game - it’s actually a title developed by Eden Studios and published by Infogrames. Oddly, the PS1 version was published by EA and marketed as, of all things, a “Need for Speed” offshoot, but that’s really just an aside.

This is just a sublime, technical rally racer, with tons of licensed cars and some outstanding weather dynamics. While “Tokyo Xtreme Racer 2” may have been the first arcade racer I played with truly outstanding nighttime racing, this has to be among the first simulation racers to really nail not only past-midnight driving graphics, but also rain-soaked and snow-drenched racing, as well.

The world hopping championship mode was just all-out awesome, and the multiplayer here is truly terrific. The attention to detail was just staggering, with the driving surfaces - tarmac, soil and gravel - producing completely different driving conditions, making the title an extremely deep, and extremely replayable, experience. That, and the design-your-own-track mode remains one of the absolute best in-game course designers I have ever tinkered around with to this very day.

#084
Plasma Sword: Nightmare of Bilstein 



The other truly awesome, weapons based 3D fighter on the Dreamcast, ostensibly.

A lot of Capcom fighting franchises became extremely popular (namely, a certain street fighting series that has had more sequels, prequels and remakes than the entire “Halloween” franchise). The “Plasma Sword” series (which began with the earlier “Star Gladiator”) was never really that popular of a series, which is a complete shame, since they’re such fun, intricate and insanely entertaining fighting games.

Tremendous polygonal fighting models, with gorgeous 2D backdrops? Check. An insanely detailed, sweeping narrative, with tons and tons of playable characters? Check. Super sweet, hyper-fluid controls? Present. Mega-hyper-duper-super electro-light-show attacks that make the 64 hit combos in “Marvel vs. Capcom” look like sparklers by comparison? All here, and counted for. “Nightmare of Bilstein” may not have the brand name appeal of some other fighters on this list, but it’s definitely an underrated brawler you need to give a try.

#083
Looney Tunes: Space Race



One look at this game, and you just have to think it’s going to suck. Come on, it’s a licensed title clearly built to ape the success of “Mario Kart” - how could it do anything but blow?

However, once you actually get your hands on the title, you quickly come to the realization that not only is this a pretty damn good kart racer, it’s actually one of the best non-Nintendo produced offerings in the subgenre. For one, the cel-shaded graphics are just beautiful, and the controls handle as smoothly as you could possibly want them to. The game makes excellent use of the license, with plenty of nods to the Acme Universe. That, and you have to give the designers serious props as far as design choices go - replacing the “blue shell of doom” with an anvil that clobbers your adversaries is just flat out genius, if you ask me.

It’s easy to be skeptical, but I assure you this is actually a great little racer. It’s funny, it’s vibrant and the races, believe it or not, can actually get a little intense - certainly, way more intense than any game of “Mario Kart 64” I have ever played. And let’s face it, people - being able to commandeer Marvin the Martian is so much cooler than just playing Donkey Kong, Jr. on a go-kart…

#082
Shadow Man



There really aren’t a lot of positive things one can say about the existence of Valiant Comics, but this kick-ass action game might be one of the few reasons we can be thankful that short-lived, wannabe comic empire was ever around.

The game plays out very much like the “Soul Reaver” games, which is most definitely not a bad thing. In “Shadow Man,” you find yourself navigating your way through not just one, but two massive game worlds - the “real world” you and I are familiar with, and a “dark world” where demons and vampires and Irish snake mentors (really) are all over the place. Granted, it may not sound like an original concept for a game (and it isn’t), but the execution here is just flat out superb.

There is a ton of action in the game, but there’s also a LOT of exploration. Though the game requires a bit of grey matter between your ears, the puzzles and backtracking never gets so tedious that you get bored with the experience - and by the time things get all shooter-oriented again, you will have MORE than enough action to keep your trigger thumb aching. And if that wasn’t enough, the game is also pretty atmospheric and spooky at points, in addition to having a storyline that, shockingly, is kind of interesting and immersing.

#081
Wacky Races



You know, I’d be lying to you if I said some whimsical nostalgia didn’t play at least a little role in why I like this game so much. I mean, it’s game, released in the 2000s, featuring characters from a super-obscure Hanna-Barbara cartoon from the ‘70s. It would be like a GTA-style sandbox game, starring “Eek the Cat,” being announced as a Wii-U launch title tomorrow.

The shocking thing about the game, however, is that’s it’s actually a really good game in addition to being a really bizarre licensed one. In fact, it’s a really, really good game, that is about 800 times better than you’d think it would be.

The cel-shaded graphics are fantastic, and the voice acting is very good (even though the music is mostly just meh.) The racing aspect is  also really well-done, with each racer handling differently (as well as having completely different sets of weapons, too.) The characters, clearly, are tremendously designed, and there’s a staggering amount to do in the game world. And after playing it for a couple of years? I am CONVINCED that nobody on this planet can beat me while I’m commandeering one Dick Dastardly…


And that folks, is our update for this week. Be sure to tune in next Friday for the second installment of the countdown, where we will countdown #080-#061 on our ever-dwindling list of the greatest Sega Dreamcast games of all-time. Until then, don’t forget: it’s still thinking…

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