NOTE: I knew I wanted to write an article about the Dreamcast, but this isn't quite what I had in mind. I ended up writing more about the various consoles I had growing up and tried to drill into what had me anticipating 9/9/99 so much. I didn't end up getting into the actual games much, but perhaps I'll try and conjure one of those up in the future.
So here we are, 20 years later and my excitement has long since turned into enjoyment and solidified under the weight of two decades worth of nostalgia. I've known for years now that in terms of a video game console stirring up all those good feelings inside, the Dreamcast will forever be among the elite at the top of the heap. And because of this, I'm penning this love letter to Sega's final piece of hardware in hopes that there are others out there that can relate to what I have to say or perhaps entice others to see what all the fuss was about on 9/9/99 in North America.
Intro to Gaming 101
Like many children of the '80s, my first game console was an NES. I don't remember exactly when my parents purchased one for my sister and me, but I was hooked immediately. The very first time I loaded up Super Mario Bros., I knew I was a gamer for life. Sure, I loved cartoons as much as the next kid, but the interaction I could have with the characters on screen was something I had never really experienced. I was constantly challenged to fend off enemies, survive death-defying platform jumping, and explore every inch of a level to find its secrets. I would soon put any money I scraped together towards new games and keep my fingers crossed for Christmas and birthday gifts to be NES games. And trips to the video store instantly became more exciting because now I could rent a game and binge on it all weekend.
By 1990 or so, I received a Game Boy for Christmas and Tetris consumed my world. I would soon be introduced to games like Metroid II: Return of Samus (which was my first Metroid game), Gargoyle's Quest, Wave Race, Super Mario Land, and other great titles. While my NES still ruled the roost when I was at home, I'd carry my Game Boy just about anywhere I went for gaming on the go.
For the next few years, I read my Nintendo Power magazines from cover-to-cover and continued to stockpile as many NES and Game Boy games as I could (which, in hindsight, was't very many!) Meanwhile, the gaming industry moved forward. As my magazines became more and more filled with SNES information, I realized I had fallen behind the curve, so to speak. It was time to move on. Pretty much all of my (gamer) friends had a Genesis at this point, so it seemed like a good choice for borrowing games and whatnot.
This time though, I was impatient and would need to come up with the necessary funds on my own. The easiest way for me to do that was to trade in some games to help fray the cost a bit. Roughly around 1994, I managed to have enough to purchase a Genesis with Sonic the Hedgehog 2 bundled with it. And it was glorious. The graphics were an incredible upgrade over my NES. The sound was so much more dynamic and crisp. And that controller, oh my, it was perfect. Plus there were all these new games I couldn't play before. Over the next couple of years, I would spend lots of time with games like Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Zero Tolerance, Eternal Champions, etc.
Moving On Up
But again, the video game industry moves so fast. I was late to the Genesis party and in 1995, the Saturn and PlayStation were already available. I had cancelled my Nintendo Power subscription years ago, but in 1996, I started buying various magazines and couldn't believe the games that were coming out on these new consoles. So it was back to saving up and trading in games. At this point, my NES collection was down to almost nothing and my Genesis collection had taken a huge hit. But in December 1996, I had the $300 required to purchase a shiny new Sega Saturn with three games bundled inside (Virtua Fighter 2, Virtua Cop, and Daytona USA).
Remember how I was so amazed at the Genesis? Well, that was nothing compared to the Saturn! This sucker was INCREDIBLE! I had never experienced a CD-based console before (and I didn't have a PC either), so the graphics and sound were unlike anything I'd ever experienced in my house. Sadly, the Saturn's life was cut short as the PlayStation (and Nintendo 64) showed that polygons were the real deal and where the industry was headed.
As the Saturn's light faded out, news of the Dreamcast began to make its way into magazines and my excitement started to build. By now, I had a part-time job and I decided it was time for me to purchase a console on launch day for the first time. Since I had a PC at this point, I was constantly scouring the Internet for more information and rumors. I even printed out various preview articles for all of the launch games and put them in a purple binder and slapped a picture of Sonic on the cover. I lugged this binder around with me to school and would read them over and over. Yes, I was seriously that obsessed. And yes, I still have the binder.
By the time the Dreamcast launched, I had managed to preorder the system, an extra controller, two VMUs, and eight games. It was a school night, but I still got in some gaming in the wee hours of the morning of 9/10. I even woke up early to get in a few more minutes before heading off to a torturously long day of school. After that, I was back at it. And this cycle would continue for many months. When I graduated in May 2000, I basically spent all of my graduation money on new Dreamcast games. I had moved to a larger city and became very familiar with one of the local Electronics Boutique stores.
And then, while working at that very same EB store (I had been hired there around the time the PlayStation 2 launched in October 2000), Sega did the unthinkable and pulled out of the hardware business. Not even two years into its North American life on January 31, 2001, and the Dreamcast was discontinued. The final Dreamcast releases trickled in over the next year or so and then that was it.
Well, sort of. Even though its life was cut way too short, the Dreamcast had still produced a fantastic library of games. Sure, twenty years later, not all of them have aged well, but there are still plenty of bonafide classics well worth playing today. Heck, I've entered 12 Dreamcast completions here on Completionator in 2019 alone...and the year isn't even over yet!
From the epic multiplayer battles in games like Soul Calibur, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, and ChuChu Rocket! to the fantastic single player memories from Grandia II, Jet Grind Radio, and Record of Lodoss War. So many great games played over so many years. Whether it was with friends or all by my lonesome, my launch day Dreamcast always delivered and continues to do so on a regular basis.
After its demise, the video game industry moved forward and has continued to grow more and more. Modern consoles dwarf the Dreamcast in terms of technical prowess and technology like VR has further enhanced the experiences that can be found in this amazing industry. Yet, I've never had my excitement level for anything video game related reach the level it was at for the Dreamcast. Sure, I've preordered games and consoles since then, but not the amount that I did and I certainly haven't printed out a binder full of Internet articles and carried them to work.
So what was it about the Dreamcast? I guess part of it was that I had enjoyed the Genesis and Saturn so much and the Dreamcast was just the next step up. And then there's also the technology factor with the nearly arcade-perfect quality graphics and sound, built-in Internet multiplayer, motion controls (with the Fishing Controller), and the very intriguing VMU. But there's more to it than that. The Dreamcast announcement, launch, and demise all occurred during a stretch of time where I completed my final year of high school, moved to a new city, and started my first year of college that would ultimately put me down a path of becoming a professional software developer.
No, I'm not saying the Dreamcast affected any of my life choices or is in any way responsible for who I am today. I'm probably making this sound a lot more dramatic than it actually is. All I'm saying is, upon reflection, the entire lifespan of the Dreamcast happened at a very unique time in my life as I (begrudgingly) moved into adulthood. The fact that I was already ultra hyped for its release and would later work at a game store where I could talk about (and, sadly, mourn) it regularly only furthered my love for Sega's final piece of hardware.
Sitting here in 2019, I have the benefit of time to look back at myself in the late '80s to the early '00s and see how I grew up from console-to-console, constantly enamored with the advancing technology and opening the floodgates to new gaming experiences. I can see my excitement for the Dreamcast launch reach supreme heights and I can remember how it absolutely met the incredible personal hype I had built up for it.
I said before that I'm a gamer for life. And while my bones begin to creak and I inch closer to the top-end of the industry demographic, it remains a big part of what I choose to do with my free time. I may never be as excited for a new console as I was on 9/9/99, but that's okay. There is no shortage of amazing technology and gaming experiences in the world today and I can certainly be excited for that.