Friday, September 21, 2012

The 100 Greatest Sega Dreamcast Games of All-Time! PART FOUR - #040-021

The 100 Greatest Sega Dreamcast Games of All-Time! Counting Down #040 to #021...


HEY! If you're looking for the previous installments in this series, check out the following links below:

PART ONE 

PART TWO 

PART THREE 

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 Dan Stevens and Peter O'Keefe 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 “Propeller Arena” and “L.O.L: Lack of Love” 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, what I wouldn't give to be able to go back to 2000 and hook up my Neo Geo Pocket Color to my Dreamcast at least once...it'd be like making a MegaZord out of underappreciated, gone-before-their-time consoles! 

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

#040
Grand Theft Auto 2


While the GTA series didn’t really become a mainstream sensation until the third installment (and man, can you imagine how history would’ve been different had Sega secured that game as a console exclusive?), the first two titles in the franchise (as well as a little-spoken-of “add-on” for the PS1) were among the most underrated games of the late 1990s.

GTA 2, much like its predecessor, was an awesome top down action game, with a huge sprawling city and tons and tons of real estate to explore. The visuals, while not exactly improved to a large degree, were much more detailed, and the effects - especially the explosions - were much livelier than in the first GTA game.

The game also introduced a gang-based story dynamic, in which “balancing” your relationships with rivaling crime families fluctuated depending on your actions (if this sounds familiar, it’s because Lucas Arts ripped it off for their 2005 game “Mercenaries.”) The soundtrack also kicked plenty of ass, and the exploration-and-mayhem-fueled gameplay resulted in a title that was almost infinitely replayable. Unless your name is “Jack Thompson,” I really can’t see how anyone could be disappointed by this one.

#039
Spider-Man


While there had been several outstanding 2D Spider-Man games over the years (my personal favorite? The Sega-CD version of “The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin"), it wasn’t until this game was released that we had ourselves a truly great 3D Webslinger game.

It was a downright brilliant move on Activision’s part. After all, which studio is better equipped to turn the acrobatic, free-styling super hero into a video game than the “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” crew…you know, guys that pretty much invented the rhythm-action-expressionistic-sport-game genre, all by themselves?

This was just a superlative experience, from start to finish, and in my opinion, the first comic-based video game that was truly designed for comic fans. The graphics were sweet, the gameplay was even better, and the storyline - featuring tons of familiar Saturday morning cartoon voices - was way, way better than it had any right to be. After a good decade of crap like “Web of Fire” and “Separation Anxiety,” this game was pretty much a gift from the gaming gods. And for the sequential art purists out there, it’s an especially awesome experience, as the game features cameos from practically the entire Marvel Universe - from Captain America and The Punisher to, if you can believe it, Uatu the goddamned Watcher!

#038
Confidential Mission



Although I’m one of what appears to only be about four or five rail-shooter fans on the planet, I have a hard time believing that anybody WOULDN’T have an absolute blast playing this game.

There’s just so much to like about this game, from the fantastic visuals to the awesome 60s throwback music to the hilarious attempt to “downplay” the similarities with a certain other mass media franchise involving spies and the word “Mission.”

While rail shooters aren’t exactly known for having the most challenging game play and the best replay incentives, “Confidential Mission” is a happy exception to the rule, as it features some pretty clever gameplay AND tons of reasons to revisit the game, including a downright fantastic multiplayer mode. Also, the game implements a lot of gadgets and other kooky devices, which makes it very different, gameplay wise, than most light gun shooters out there. There’s even a minor emphasis on stealth and technique, so no two playthroughs of the game ever unfurl the same way twice. All in all, this is pretty much the best reason to pick up the Madcatz Blaster for the Dreamcast…and don’t be surprised if you find yourself playing through this mini-classic quite a few times, either.

#037
Project Justice


For my money, the “Rival Schools” franchise might just be my favorite fighting series that nobody has ever heard of. It has such an awesome and creative hook: instead of global stereotypes and movie monsters fighting each other, you take control of high school tropes and clich├ęs and hadoken the hell out of each other with baseball bats and violins.

“Project Justice”, the sequel to the first “Rival Schools” game, is one of my absolute favorite fighters on the Dreamcast, and really, one of my all-time favorite guilty please titles ever. Just about everything in the game is perfect, in a very odd sense. There are a ton of characters - from jocks and karate masters to yearbook photographers and even a superintendent - to choose from, and all of them seem to play quite differently (something of a rarity regarding late ‘90s fighting games, of course.)

The team based-gameplay is terrific, and the combat system is super-enjoyable. Multiplayer is a blast, and there are enough story mode diversions around to keep you playing for weeks on end. But perhaps the coolest thing about the game is that it actually has a “Create-Your-Own-Fighter” mode…which means, yes, you can FINALLY exact revenge on all of your high school bullies (albeit, while as an anime character with ten foot tall hair, but still..)

#036
Cannon Spike


Why in the world this game isn’t more popular is just beyond me. Hell, it hasn’t even become a truly revered cult classic yet…really, what the hell is wrong with you people?

Describing “Cannon Spike” is like listing the ingredients for a cocktail of sheer awesomeness. Like some sort of fan fiction crossover gone amuck, the game features an absolutely stellar cast of Capcom icons, including Mega Man, Cammy, Arthur from “Ghosts N Goblins,” and Baby Bonnie Hood from “Darkstalkers,” who are all playable characters alongside some super obscure characters, including Charlie from “Street Fighter,” a character from the all-but-forgotten arcade title “Three Wonders,”  and even a revamped Linn Kurosawa from that awesome “Alien vs. Predator” coin-op from the mid-90s.

But THAT isn’t what makes “Cannon Spike” the juggernaut of coolness that it is. Not only do you get an all-star cast, you get to play as them in what is, essentially a 3D version of “Smash TV.” It’s like “Total Carnage,” but with a British mercenary’s ass cheeks hanging out of her pants, or “Geometry Wars” with Mega Man and gigantic robot enemies. If you can’t see the brilliance in that, you might as well just give up on existence now.

#035
Sega Bass Fishing 2


It’s not really saying all that much, but “Sega Bass Fishing 2” is definitely the best fishing game I have ever played. Whereas the first two games in the series where more arcade-based, Sega decided to get all simulation-oriented up on us for this game, and the result is one of the most unexpectedly great experiences to be found on the Dreamcast.

Pretty much everything about the series has been revamped and improved for this one. There are more characters, more lakes, more fish, more lures, more rods, more reels and a most definitely a greater emphasis on “realistic fishing.” There’s still some corniness to be found (like when the voice over guy yells “THAT’S SUPER BIG” when you hook an eight pound fishy), but overall, the depths (har-har) the developers went to in order to turn this into a full-fledged angling sim is pretty damn impressive.

The animations are much improved, and the gameplay is far more challenging, albeit, way more rewarding in the process. With so much to do, I found myself cruising around Cormorant Cove for hours…although it may not seem like it at first glance, this is assuredly one of the most immersive - and technically astounding - titles to be found on Sega’s console swan song.

#034
NHL 2K2


NHL 2K2” was the last major, first party release from Sega on the Dreamcast, so it’s always been a bittersweet title for me. That said, it’s easily the best hockey game to be found on the system, and quite possibly one of the best hockey sims EVER made.

The developers took a full year off to fine-tune the game, and the end results certainly demonstrate all of that hard work. The game looks gorgeous, has terrific audio, plays like a dream and has some one of the best season modes you’ll play in a sports game released in the early 2000s. Particularly outstanding is the on-ice mechanics, which makes both offensive and defensive play equally fun and immersive.

Looking for a challenge? The highest difficulty setting on this game is absolutely brutal, and one of the greatest gaming challenges I’ve ever stared down. It took me a full year to finally blast a one-timer past Patrick Roy, and even then, my best efforts resulted in nothing greater than a 1-1 tie. This is just an astounding game from top to bottom, and a total nostalgia trip, too, as every time I take control of Steve Yzerman, I can’t help but feel just a few pangs for the good old days, back when we still had blue lines and goaltenders could hug the crease all they wanted…

#033
Grandia II


While the Dreamcast isn’t necessarily known as a haven for fantastic, traditional JRPGS, “Grandia II” stands out as among the system’s finest role playing experiences.

Of course, “Grandia II” is a sprawling, epic RPG, with a better-than-normal storyline. What sets the game apart from the gajillion RPGS of the timeframe, however, was the title’s awesome battle system, which allowed players the ability to run around in real time and slap the hell out of opponents as opposed to taking turns, “Final Fantasy”-style.

If that wasn’t enough, the combat system also allows for quick cancels and even a few combination moves, which can be strengthened via special, collectible items within the game world. The character design here is also noteworthy - all in all, this may very well be the greatest game ever made in which the primary protagonist is smartass assassin with a talking eagle and an acrobatic android as a best friend.

#032
Crazy Taxi


Really…who out there reading this hasn’t played (and loved) this game?

There really isn’t much to say about “Crazy Taxi” at this point. The gameplay is ridiculously simple, but ridiculously addictive and enjoyable, as well. You commandeer a cab, you haul ass around a facsimile of San Francisco, and you rock out to Bad Religion and the Offspring while blatant product placement for Kentucky Fried Chicken and Levi’s flashes by you. It’s arcade hullabaloo at its finest, really.

Just being able to play the arcade version of the game without losing ten dollars over the course of fifteen minutes was, in and of itself, a reason to enjoy this Dreamcast port, but for me, it was the inclusion of console-specific mini-games that really took the title to the next level. Honestly, you don’t know how much shame I feel regarding the absurd amount of time I spent playing the “bowling ball” attraction way back when. You, really, really, don’t.

 #031
The King of Fighters: Evolution


What could possibly be better than an arcade-perfect port of one of the best 2D fighters of all-time? How about an arcade-perfect port of one of the best 2D fighters of all-time with a touch of 3D gloss?

Basically, “Evolution” is a fine-tuned re-iteration of “The King of Fighters ‘99,” only with backgrounds that have been rendered in three dimensions. Granted, it’s a very small change, but that’s exactly what makes this game so utterly awesome: SNK KNEW that they didn’t have to change a damn thing about the gameplay mechanics, and their restraint in issuing unnecessary tweaks for the sake of issuing unnecessary tweaks should be commended.

You really don’t need me to tell you how fantastic the fighting system is, so I won’t tell you what you already know. All you really need to take into consideration here is that the graphics are beautiful, the gameplay is phenomenal and there are a ton of characters to choose from. The minor tweaks to the gameplay - you now have four-man teams, with a designated “striker” character, as well as the inclusion of two new “power-ups,”  a counter and an armor mode - alter the gameplay only slightly, and in my opinion, for the better. All in all, this is one of the absolute best iterations of one of the absolute best 2D fighting games ever…and if you haven’t given this thing a spin in your DC yet, you really don’t know what you’re missing.

#030
Capcom vs. SNK: Millennium Fight 2000


This is a hardcore fighting game fan’s fighting game, and, even now, it remains an absolute blast to play.

Needless to say, the fighting system here is utterly fantastic, and the unique ratio system insures that all throwdowns are relatively competitive. I really like the fact that Capcom allowed players to choose whether they wanted to utilize a “Street Fighter Alpha” style attack meter, or a “King of Fighters ‘98” styled one - a really, really neat touch that shows how serious the developers were about making this a truly deep fighting experience.

The cast is excellent, and the brawls - which sometimes entail 4-on-4 mega battles - are absolutely awesome in all regards. And for those of you that have never experienced a Wild Iori vs. Evil Ryu showdown before…well, let’s just say, it’s one of the most awesome multiplayer experiences you’re likely to ever have with a VMU controller in your hands.

#029
Ferrari F355 Challenge


This game is pretty much the pinnacle of arcade racing. There might be kookier and crazier racing games to be found on the Dreamcast, but there probably isn’t an arcade-styled game that’s more in-depth - or this enjoyable.

What the game lacks in models and customizations (the titular vehicle is the only kind of car you can select), it more than makes up for it with absolutely stellar visuals, tight-ass controls and some of the best multiplayer racing you will ever experience. A lot of games strive for that perfect mix of simulation and arcade elements, and this game achieves that balance better than just about any racer I have ever played.

Long, long before tracks like Atlanta Motor Speedway and Laguna-Seca were immortalized in titles like “Forza Motorsport,” you could blast your way around the Suzuka Circuit in this game…and the crazy thing is, the tracks in “Ferrari F355 Challenge” look about as good as they did in “Gran Turismo 4,” if not even better. And just wait until you take your F355 for a lap around the Nurburgring…

#028
Virtua Tennis


This game pretty much came out of nowhere, and once you gave it a try…just one or two games…you were hooked. Whether or not you were a fan of the sport was irrelevant, because this was one of the most addictive, insanely enjoyable games released on the Dreamcast, even if you have no clue who Jim Courier is.

For starters, the visuals were absolutely amazing, and even today, they still look incredibly impressive. The designers threw in a ton of game modes, and the world circuit mode will most likely have you playing for quite a few months. And then there’s the multiplayer, which was just utterly astounding. Some of the most heated virtual battles I ever had on the console were while playing this game - despite what you may think, this game is definitely catered to the “hardcore” demographic.

The replay value in this one is off the charts. Not only does the game take quite awhile to fundamentally “get down” (and “mastering” the title may take you a good year or two), there is just so much to unlock, with a ton of variables that instantly change the entire mechanics of the game. Playing on hard court is different than playing on grass, and doubles mode is totally different from the single affairs. If you’re looking for a game to dominate your life for a couple of months, this is definitely one of the best the system has to offer.

#027
Sega GT


The Dreamcast response to “Gran Turismo” may not have been the “GT Killer” that the suits at Sega had wished for, but there is no denying that “Sega GT” was, and still is, one of the absolute best games to ever make it to the company’s final console.

As you’d expect, the game is absolutely flooded with different modes and options, and the career mode will probably take you a couple of months to (gleefully) slog through. There’s 22 tracks and more than 130 cars to choose from, and prior to “Forza Motorsport,” I think the game had the most realistic handling of any “semi-simulation” game on the console market.

The customization options were just absurdly awesome, and the visuals were downright tremendous. Of course, with racing games, gameplay is really the only thing that matters, and thankfully, “Sega GT” had some of the most enjoyable, intricate racing mechanics of any game at the timeframe. It’s an utterly fantastic title, and one you’d be wise to try out if you get the opportunity.

#026
MDK 2


This was a game that really, really deserved so much more attention and praise than it ended up receiving. Even now, it’s a shockingly underappreciated title, perhaps still too obscure to even merit a sizable cult following. And with that in mind, I don’t think I can imagine a greater virtual crime.

A BioWare produced game that was given a Wii-make last year, the original “MDK 2” is just a bundle of awesome so astounding, you’ll have a hard time believing all of it was molded into a single CD-ROM. Half silver-age comic and half sci-fi satire, it’s like playing the bastard amalgam of “The Silver Surfer” and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” And if that doesn’t have you at least a little intrigued by “MDK 2,” you might as well stop reading this thing right now.

At heart, “MDK 2” is a really polished, fine-tuned third person shooter (think along the lines of “Advent Rising,” only actually worth a shit this time around), with outstanding boss fights and killer multiplayer. Additionally, the quirky storyline here is actually really well-developed, and the character design is one of the best you’ll find on the system. It’s a self-referential, quasi-intellectual deconstruction of video games, sci-fi camp at its finest and in some ways, a really intelligent social satire. But above all, however, it’s just a tremendously enjoyable single player and multiplayer experience - if you haven’t played it, you really don’t know what you’re missing out on.

#025
Ultimate Fighting Championship


I’ve been a huge fan of MMA since the days of Keith Hackney and Tank Abbott, so this game was an absolute dream come true for me. Even if you don’t know the difference between Royce Grace and a Rolls Royce, however, you can still enjoy the game - in fact, it might just be the system’s greatest, unheralded 3D fighter.

The fighting engine in the game is pretty simplistic, consisting mostly of striking and periodic ground battles that consist primarily of button mashing exercises. Even so, the game is really well-made, and the fight system - as simple as it may be - is one that resulted in some of the most insane fights I’ve ever had on the Dreamcast.

The visuals were pretty good, and the customization options were quite nice. The multiplayer, however, is the real draw of the game, as it’s one of the most unique - and deepest - fighters on the console (sorry, “Virtua Fighter 3tb,” THIS GAME is the best “sim-fighter” to be found on the Dreamcast.) And of course, the cast in the game is downright legendary - in what other game can you have epic throw downs between Ron Waterman and BAS FREAKING RUTTEN, anyway?

#024
Street Fighter Alpha 3


Dear god, THIS GAME.

This title is just 2D sensory overload, and one of the most beautiful games you’ll ever witness. The cast of characters is just mind-blowing (you can have turbo-speed throw downs between “Final Bison” and Sodom from “Final Fight,” for crying out loud!), and the gameplay itself? Absolutely sublime.

If you’re looking for a fighting game that will keep you playing for months and months, this is one fighter you need to pick up ASAP. You get three different styles to choose from (patterned after the first and second “Alpha” games AND “Super Street Fighter II Turbo”) - so if you want some SUPER COMBOS, you got yourself some goddamn SUPER COMBOS in “Alpha 3.” You don’t need me to tell you how fantastic the audio and visuals are, and words fail to adequately describe how sweet the fighting system really is. And if you haven’t tried out this game’s “World Tour” mode before,  you ought to be ashamed to call yourself a gamer.

#023
Resident Evil: Code Veronica


Prior to “Resident Evil 4,” this game was pretty much the crowning achievement of the “RE” franchise. Even now, it’s quite possibly the greatest “old-school” survival horror game ever made - yes, even with the “tank” controls and occasionally crappy camera angles.

For all of the gripes and criticisms that are lobbed at the “RE” series - the laughable voice acting, the melodramatic plots, the (over)emphasis on pre-rendered backgrounds, etc. - the one thing we tend to overlook is that the games from way back when were also extremely fun and engrossing, and there definitely wasn’t a more enjoyable or immersive “RE” game than “Code Veronica.”

The visuals here are fantastic, the audio is better than you’d expect and the gameplay is quite diversified. The puzzles in “Code Veronica” are certainly miles better than the time wasting junk you found in the earlier titles, and the combat system is just pitch-perfect. Hell, even the story isn’t THAT bad - even though I am still quite thankful for the ability to skip over cut scenes, though…

#022
Power Stone


Power Stone,” in a way, was sort of like the Dreamcast’s answer to “Smash Bros.” And while I’m probably in the minority here, I actually liked this anarchic brawler from Capcom WAY more than the original N64 mascot fighter.

The best way to describe the game, I guess, is a FULLY 3D “Smash Bros.”, only with a much more in-depth fighting system. Unlike in “Smash Bros.,” you can actually run around in three dimensions, in full three dimensional fighting arenas - a dynamic that makes the game really, really entertaining and almost always chaotic. And it gets more insane from there, as almost all of the stages have multi-tiered environments to explore and kick-ass in.

Not a lot of people played this one, but those that did reflect on it as one of the greatest console multiplayer games of all-time, a game that is definitely on par with “GoldenEye” and “Mario Kart.” Just how the hell was a game featuring a character named “Wangtang” not any more beloved, anyway?

#021
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater



It’s easy to hate on the series now, but when it was first released, it was a mini-revolution in gaming. This iteration is pretty much celebrated as the absolute best version of one of the best games of the 1990s - and if you’ve never gotten your hands on the game, welcome back from your three decade-long exodus to Mars.

Call the game what you wish - extreme sports, freestyle action, whatever - the game brought rhythm and technique back into the industry, creating a subgenre of gaming where the emphasis wasn’t on high speed thrills or cockamamie scenarios, but simply mastering (and having a ton of fun with) a simplistic, but absurdly addictive and in-depth, gameplay mechanic.

I really can’t tell you the hours I spent just cruising around in free skate mode - if my total play time with the game didn’t exceed 100 hours, I would be downright shocked. Even today, it’s still a solid title that holds up way better than you might expect - and thanks to “THPS,” it’s quite likely we’ll never have Primus or that one song about “Superman” out of our heads, EVER.


And that folks, is our update for this week. Be sure to tune in next Friday for the final installment of the countdown, where we will countdown #020 all the way down to the single GREATEST Dreamcast game of all-time! Until then, don’t forget: it’s still thinking

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