Friday, September 14, 2012

The 100 Greatest Sega Dreamcast Games of All-Time! PART THREE - #060-041

The 100 Greatest Sega Dreamcast Games of All-Time!
Counting Down #060 to #041...


HEY! If you're looking for the first two installments of the countdown, you can find part one (counting down games 100-81) right HERE and part two (counting down games 80-61) right HERE

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 Ecco the Dolphin and Seaman 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 “Giant Gram 2000” and “Rent a Hero No. 1" 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, who out there kinda' wants to make a necklace out of an old VMU memory card? There's got to be somebody on Etsy that's game for that kind of commission, right?

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

#060
Armada



How about this for an underserved subgenere: shoot ‘em up role playing games!

There really aren’t too many SHMUPRPGs in the marketplace, and “Armada” is certainly one of the finest I’ve ever encountered. For those of you that dig real time strategy games, you might really like this game, and if you enjoy hardcore space shooters, you will DEFINITELY love this one. All you purists that moan about the lack of “MUSHA” quality 3D SHMUPS really need to give this game a try, as it has some of the most INSANE fire fights I have ever experienced in a video game. 

This is a really deep, rich game, with a downright fantastic combat system. Even if you don’t have any friends, the single-player mode is robust enough to keep most players gaming for months, and if you do have some SHMUP loving comrades? The multiplayer in this game is among the most AWESOME you will find on the Dreamcast, providing a chaotic, anarchic hootenanny easily on par with multi-man ass kickers like “Cannon Spike” and the “Power Stone” titles. 

#059
Bangai-O



Bangai-O” is just old-school, hardcore arcade fun, through and through. The visuals, despite being minimalist, are very colorful, and the gameplay - although very, very straightforward - results in some sublimely addictive gaming runs. 

“Bangai-O,” essentially, is all about explosions, never letting go of the fire button, and collecting lots and lots of outer space apples. There are some pretty enjoyable boss fights, but nothing too severe on your table - although the latter stages can get incredibly frustrating, though. 

It’s really hard to explain what makes this game so unbelievably awesome. In fact, showing a video of the gameplay doesn’t really do the title justice, either. This is just one of those games that you’ll have to experience for yourself to see what all the hubbub is about - and I’m almost 100 percent certain that you’ll be extremely pleased you went through the effort of tracking this cult classic (brought to you by the same geniuses that  blessed us with “Gunstar Heroes” and “Radiant Silvergun”) down. 

#058
Giga Wing 2



Four-player, 2.5D SHMUP action, with some of the most awesome visual effects and tricks to be found on the Dreamcast. Really, do I even NEED to go any more in-depth as to why this game is awesome?

This game is just insane arcade fun, and one of my all-time favorite multiplayer experiences on the console. There’s just so much to love about this game, from the killer operatic soundtrack to the absolutely mind-melting boss fights to the never-ending (and I do mean absolutely freaking ceaseless) blasting action. The only thing keeping this title from being ranked even higher is that it’s EXTREMELY short. As in, you can probably blow through the main arcade mode in less than 20 minutes. 

Despite being absurdly brief, this is just a ridiculously fun game, and the sort of pick-up-and-play masterpiece that you can hop into pretty much whenever you feel like. That, and the game probably breaks some sort of record for highest possible score in ANY video game - believe it or not, there are people out there that have registered scores in the QUINTILLIONS on this one!

#057
4x4 EVO



A truck racing game sounds about as much fun as a root canal. A bunch of gas-guzzlers, chugging along at a snail’s pace, through brown terrain? That’s cool, I’d rather go sort my socks or something instead.

“4X4 EVO,” however, takes what sounds like a less than exciting prospect and turns it into a downright kick-ass sim-arcade hybrid, with tons of cars, a wealth of game modes (including an astoundingly in-depth career mode) and even network play, which at the time, provided some of the most seamless online racing to be found on the console market. 

True enough, the game has some detractions. The soundtrack is pretty lame, and the visuals are nowhere near being the console’s best. That said, the gameplay here is just so intricate and smooth, and the multiplayer remains some of the most cerebral to be found on the Dreamcast. Seriously, who would’ve thought that racing sport utility vehicles through rainy trailer parks and mountainous islands would have been this much fun?

#056
Super Magnetic Neo



As perhaps the definition of a criminally underrated console, there were SCORES of criminally underrated games to be found on the Sega Dreamcast. In that, “Super Magnetic Neo” is not only one of the most absurdly underappreciated hidden gems on the console…it’s also one of the most absurdly underappreciated platforming games of the early 2000s.

“Super Magnetic Neo” is a game that, simultaneously, feels really familiar and totally cutting-edge. While the rudimentary gameplay is quite comparable to games like “Klonoa”  and “Crash Bandicoot,” the title also throws in all sorts of aesthetic and mechanical wildcards - at times, feeling like the veritable precursor to games like “Psychonauts,” “Katamari Damacy” and even “Super Mario Galaxy.”

The game looks downright terrific, and while the audio is a tad repetitive, I still think it’s pretty decent, overall. I guess the thing I dig most about the title is that it’s one of the very few truly challenging 3D platforming games on the Dreamcast - as fun as it may be, be forewarned: you will be dying ALL THE TIME when you play this one. 

#055
Metropolis Street Racer



Oh, Bizarre Games…we hardly knew ye. 

Unless you’re an absolutely bitter Sony fan boy, you probably really, really enjoyed the “Project Gotham Racing” series on the Xbox and Xbox360. And if you didn’t…you, good sir, have horrible taste. Of course, this game was, in many ways the “first” PGR game, as it was not only designed by the same people that later made the Microsoft titles, but featured many gameplay components that became hallmarks of the franchise (namely, the “Kudos” system.)

In addition to looking absolutely gorgeous, the game played like an absolute dream, too, with smooth controls, tons of game modes and racing mechanics that remain some of the best among arcade titles on the Dreamcast. If you’re a racing fan - or hell, if you just like enjoyable things, period - this is a disc you DIRELY need to have wedged in your Dreamcast ASAP. 

#054
The House of the Dead 2



While nobody really remembers this game as a technical masterpiece, there is no denying that it’s still a fun, twitch-based shooter. That, and it holds a pretty special place in my heart, as it was the very first Dreamcast game I ever got an opportunity to play. 

Which you see is pretty much what you get with this, one of the marquee games released on the system’s launch. It’s certainly not up to snuff with some of the other 09/09/99 games (certainly, its graphics have not aged all that well), but the gameplay is just so satisfying that it’s hard to hold anything against the title. 

This game is just cheesy fun, through and through, with ridiculous boss fights and even more ridiculous voice acting One word of warning, though: although you can play the game with a standard VMU controller, I HIGHLY recommend using the MadCatz blaster if you can, as it totally changes the game dynamics for the better. 

#053
Illbleed


This game was just SO freaking awesome, and it pains me so to know that only me and about four other people on the planet have ever played it. 

If you love horror (and if you don’t, something is very, very wrong with you), you will absolutely adore this super-duper-innovative survival-action game, which incorporates influences of everything from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and Tobe Hooper’s “Funhouse” to, if you can believe it, “Unsolved Mysteries” and “Scooby Doo.”

As I was saying, this is a really creative survival-horror game, which entails exploration of these gigantic, haunted carnival worlds. The game space is littered with all sorts of death traps, which you can detect using a really ingenious “senses” system - so you can literally SMELL your way out of precarious predicaments. With an unorthodox (although enjoyable) combat system and some of the spookiest atmospherics on the Dreamcast, “Illbleed” is a game that is pretty much required gaming come Halloween time - or really, any other major holiday, I suggest. 

#052
Virtua Fighter 3tb



The “tb,” in case you were wondering, stands for “team battle,” - which is a component of the game that allows players to create “stables” of fighters, for no other reason, I suppose, then the fact that the “Marvel Vs. Capcom” games were really, really popular at the time. 

“Virtua Fighter 3” is a really undervalued entry in the series, wedged between the outstanding second game and the absolutely sublime fourth installment (which I consider, pound for pound, to probably be the best fighting game ever made.) While this game isn’t quite as legendary as its older and younger siblings, it’s still a really sound fighting game - and perhaps the best technical fighter to be found on the console. 

There’s a lot of really neat additions to the gameplay, like the inclined stages, the ability to toy with the camera mid-fight and even the ability to knock apparel of your adversaries (who goes into a karate death fight wearing fedoras, anyway?) By now, we all know that “Virtua Fighter” equates fantastic fighting action, and this installment is certainly no exception. Besides, everybody needs to see sumo wrestlers take on blondes in mini skirts and knee high boots every now and then, don’t we? 

#051
Chu Chu Rocket



While there wasn’t necessarily a surplus of great puzzle games on the Dreamcast, I think this game is certainly the console’s towering achievement within the genre. And if not, there’s no denying that it’s the absolute kookiest, that’s for sure. 

I guess the best way to describe “Chu Chu Rocket” is Mouse Trap…on drugs. Lots and lots of psychotropic drugs. As the player, it’s your duty to drop these little tiles on the game space, which direct the mice around the board. The object of the game is to round up as many mice in a rocket as possible, which is complicated just a bit by an in-game spinner that occasionally drops predatory cats on the board, as well as a random shifter that either speeds up or slows down the tempo of the game. The single-player experience is an outright trip, but just you wait - this thing supports FOUR PERSON MULTIPLAYER, too. 

This is a downright phenomenal party game, and one of the most addictive titles to be found on the Dreamcast. Simply put, I’ve never played anything quite like it before or since…which is reason alone, I suppose, to give this cult classic disc a spin. 

#050
Samba de Amigo 



Long, long before “Guitar Hero,” “Rock Band,” and even “Donkey Konga,” there was this off-kilter Dreamcast original, which had players rocking out to Ricky Martin alongside a maraca shaking simian. And of course, the game came bundled with a set of plastic maracas, making the experience twenty thousand times more surreal…and in hindsight, pretty damn revolutionary, too. 

I guess the gameplay of “Samba de Amigo” explains itself, but at the time, it was one of the most staggeringly unique games to be found on the market. The graphics were also really well done, and the rhythm action gameplay was complex enough to provide a challenging, yet accessible, experience for pretty much everybody that played it. 

And then, of course, there’s the soundtrack, which remains one of the absolute best on the console (and believe you me, that is definitely saying something.) Banging some plastic equipment, while blaring Chumbawamba, Reel Big Fish and Richie goddamn Valens at full volume - really, does life get any better than that?

#049
Space Channel 5



You know, there just aren’t that many space-spoof-dancing-satires about broadcast journalism out there, and I don’t necessarily think that any developer out there could produce a better title within the sub-sub-sub-sub-genre than “Space Channel 5.”

Ultimately, the game is nothing more than a glossy, higher-tech variation of “Simon Says,” but there is just so much style and weirdness alongside the gameplay that this game is almost impossible to resist. From the pink-haired protagonist (who may or may not be that one chick that sang “Groove is in the Heart”) to the d√©nouement in which it’s your duty to rescue Michael Jackson (yes, the same one that was in “Ready 2 Rumble Boxing 2”) from outer space terrorists, you just know you have your hands on something special right here.

Granted, the gameplay is probably a little too basic for you kids that grew up on “Call of Duty” and “Halo,” but it remains a pretty fun - and quite challenging - experience today. Besides - how many go-go dancer-space-shooters-tabloid-journalism-technology-parables-in-video-game-form are out there, exactly?

#048
Crazy Taxi 2



While the sequel to the much-beloved Sega arcade game had considerably less “All I Want” in it than the original, it was still a very, very good game - in fact, in many areas, it can be considered a marked improvement over its predecessor. 

For one, you have more playable characters, which is always a positive. And the newly designed city - this time around, a stand-in for New York City as opposed to a facsimile for San Francisco - is far more diverse than the locale in the first title. 

Sega changed pretty much NOTHING about the gameplay here (outside of the newfangled ability to make your car “jump” over obstacles), which is definitely a good thing. There really wasn’t anything broken about the original, and I think Sega made the right call by making this game, essentially, the exact same as the original. In that, the title is more or less “more of the same,” but really…when the “same” is this damned satisfying, who cares if it lacks all that ingenuity? 

#047
Sega Marine Fishing



So maybe bass fishing isn’t the most exciting thing in the world to you, but you have one of those Dreamcast reel and rod controllers lying around the place anyway. Might I suggest this entry in Sega’s arcade-fishing series to put that peripheral to good use? 

As with the “Sega Bass Fishing” games, “Sega Marine Fishing” is a relatively simplistic game to grasp, but one that remains infinitely enjoyable because the core gameplay is so satisfying and addictive. The graphics are also pretty great, and the audio is way better than you’d expect it to be. All in all, this game looks and sounds better than most of the first party Wii games out there.

I really have a hard time establishing just how addictive this game is. The allure of reeling in a new record for heaviest marlin is, in and of itself, pretty tempting, but once you factor in all of the unlockables and mini-game challenges, this game becomes staggeringly compelling. Oh, the man hours that went into FINALLY unlocking the Sonic the Hedgehog jig, my friends…

#046
NHL 2K



As a gargantuan hockey fan, this was a game I was absolutely pumped to play. Although the loss of the EA series on the Dreamcast was a very big blow, this first-party offering from Sega was probably just as good - if not better - than the Electronic Arts NHL games from the same time frame. 

For one thing, the goaltending in the game was just superb, and on the highest difficulty setting, this thing became positively riveting. I really didn’t have that many memorable multiplayer experiences with the game (primarily, because all of my friends in junior high weren’t into hockey), but as far as single player experiences go? Good lord, did I get my money’s worth out of this one. 

Since Sega skipped a year to release an update of the game, I ended up gleefully playing this one for a solid two years, in the process guiding the Red Wings to THREE consecutive undefeated seasons and ultimately guiding the Kings (back when they had STEPHANE FISET in goal) to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. Needless to say, this is a game you definitely need to check out if you have even the slightest interest in the National Hockey League. 

#045
NBA 2K2



NBA 2K2” was one of the last true must-have releases for the Dreamcast, and it remains one of the system’s finest sports games today. 

For starters, the defensive schemes were completely changed up, so actual man-to-man coverage could now be a possibility. The inclusion of double-team options and half-court traps really moved the series closer towards being a technical basketball sim, and it made games - especially online - far more strategic and cerebral affairs. 

Of course, there was still plenty of fun to be had on the offensive side of the ball, especially with the newfangled ability to call in-game offensive plays, like picks and crossovers. And since the game had a litany of NBA legends on the roster - including heavies such as Michael Jordan, Dr. J and Magic Johnson - there were definitely some entertaining fantasy match-ups going down at my place all the time. Heck, even if you’re not a through-and-through NBA fan, you can still have tons of fun with the “Street Ball” mode - which cut into so many hours of homework time way back when that I kind of feel shameful reflecting on it. 

#044
Headhunter



OK, so technically, this game was PAL-only release (despite being ported to the PS2 in the States shortly after the Dreamcast’s demise), but it’s such an awesome, insanely underrated action game that I simply couldn’t assemble a list of the system’s best offerings and leave it off the table. 

For the most part, the gameplay elements of “Headhunter” are cobbled together from any number of gaming franchises. You have the stealth element from “Metal Gear” and “Syphon Filter,” the open-world exploration of “Grand Theft Auto,” and even some light-puzzle solving, a la “Resident Evil.” The gun play feels a lot like “Max Payne,” which is pretty peculiar, since this game came out a good year before Rockstar’s title. 

But the real reason to play “Headhunter” is the story. If you’re sick of the generic, “Matrix” and “Buffy” level elementary plot structures of most early 2000s games, then this game - basically, a politically charged “Blade Runner” - is a refreshing change of pace. There aren’t too many Paul Verhoeven quality social satire sci-fi action games out there about class warfare and corporatism - and off the top of my head, “Headhunter” is the only one I can think of that’s actually any good. 

#043
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure



Well, you have to give Capcom all the credit in the world - when they include the word “bizarre” in the title of one of their games, that make DAMN SURE it’s going to live up to the namesake. 

This game is actually something of a compilation disc, as it contains two separate fighting games (the eponymous offering and an earlier iteration called “JoJo’s Venture.” Both games have multiple gaming modes - a story mode, a challenge mode, and of course, some multiplayer options. “JoJo” is a very solid fighting game (it’s made by Capcom, how could it not be?), but that’s not necessarily THE reason why you should check it out. That reason, you may be pondering? Because this game may very well be the most messed up fighting game I’ve ever played, that’s why.

The attacks in this game are so out-there that, by comparison, it makes “Guilty Gear” look like “Fight Night.” That, and the cast is absolutely amazing, from a naked gypsy named after Bette Midler that throws tractors, scissors and Cadillacs as projectiles to a dude that lets his octopus-shaped shadow do all the fighting for him to an Indiana Jones facsimile to a puppy that attacks you with its dragon aura. Really, what more could you want out of a 2D brawler than that?

#042
NFL 2K2



The last football game released on the Dreamcast by Sega, “NFL 2K2” was our final opportunity to hear “Dan Stevens” and “Peter O’Keefe” call 78-0 blowouts on the system the “2K” series was intended for. Even today, it’s a bittersweet event booting this little sucker up.

Admittedly, there wasn’t that much innovation here, as the online integration and gameplay was pretty much the same as it was in 2K1. That said, I really like how some of the menus were redesigned (especially the play-selection screen), and some of the minor tweaks to the offensive side of the ball (particularly the run game), made the game an immensely enjoyable experience (albeit, one that routinely led to games with Arena Football League scores, but what the hell ever.)

Of the three 2K games released on the Dreamcast, this is definitely the one I played the least (probably because I never owned it in middle and high school.) Well it didn’t have the appeal that the first two games in the series had for me, there’s no denying that it’s a deeply rewarding and addictive football game - and one that plays just as fantastically as it did more than a decade ago. 

#041
The Typing of the Dead



Just the concept here is reason enough to include it on the countdown. If I lived to be a million, not once would I have ever thought of merging “The House of the Dead” with “learning to type” edu-software - once and for all proving that the masterminds at Sega are no doubt some insane geniuses. 

When Sega brought out it’s Seganet Keyboard, I don’t think anybody really expected a “House of the Dead 2” relaunch to be the peripheral’s “killer app,” but what do you know? Not only is “Typing of the Dead” an astonishingly weird idea for a game, it actually results in a pretty damn enjoyable title, too. 

I could spend the next 10,000 words trying to explain to you the inherent weirdness/awesomeness of the game, but it’s to no avail. Basically, you’re getting all of the rapid-fire arcade gameplay and B-horror cheese that you’d get from a typical “House of the Dead” title, only with the characters running around with Dreamcasts tied to their backs and lugging around electro-keyboards that blast away zombies when you type in “Pickles” and “Tongue Mashing.” The boss fights are particularly surreal, as you blast away giant baddies by spelling out pun-loaded sentences and absolutely bizarre phrases such as “open up your fruit cage.” As unfathomable as it may sound, a degenerate version of “Mavis Beacon” really did become one of my all-time favorite Dreamcast offerings - too bad the console died out before we got “Altered Beast” revamped as a “Math Blaster” clone…


And that folks, is our update for this week. Be sure to tune in next Friday for the fourth installment of the countdown, where we will countdown #040-#021 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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