Despite succumbing to the hype of Sony’s PS2, a lacklustre advertising budget, management blunders and a lack of big-name publishers (EA and Squaresoft notably), the Dreamcast still receives new releases to this very day.
Sega officially ended production of its final console in March of 2001 having only sold just over 9 million units. So why then, are second-hand consoles so saught after? And why would any developer bother with the platform in 2016?
The Dreamcast Just Won’t Die
For many, the Dreamcast is one of the most fondly-remembered consoles of all time. Sega’s box of online-connected tricks was years before its time, blending the promise of online console gaming with the magic of Sega’s catalogue of arcade hits. The hardware was solid, and though it couldn’t hold a candle to Sony’s beefier PS2, the Dreamcast made up for it in terms of software. Jet Set Radio, Crazy Taxi, Shenmue, Chu Chu Rocket, PowerStone, Virtua Tennis — I could go on for days.
As the result of a short-lived but high-quality catalogue, the console developed a small but fiercely loyal community of fans before Sega pulled the plug. Many of those fans still rally behind the platform today. It’s the last physical remnant of Sega’s role as a hardware manufacturer, and nothing speeds up the nostalgia process like the tragic fall from grace of a company responsible for the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog.
One observation is that Sega didn’t do enough to entice the casual gamer, instead focusing on Sega fanatics and so-called “hardcore” gamers. In this regard, you’ve got a healthy (by retro hardware standards) community of gamers who aren’t quite ready to admit that the Dreamcast is dead yet. These are the kind of people who actually buy new Dreamcast releases 15 years after the last console was produced.
From a development point of view, the Dreamcast offers few barriers in terms of first-party interference. There are no licensing fees to pay, and thanks to a security hole discovered in 2000 that took advantage of Sega’s MIL-CD format to bypass region and boot checks, the Dreamcast can in fact run region-free games that are self-bootable. This is arguably the main reason the Dreamcast homebrew scene has flourished, as it removes the reliance on a boot disc to bypass manufacturer restrictions.
Releasing your game on such an old system is undeniably a talking point. For small indie studios looking to boost interest around their games, a Dreamcast release will pretty much always be covered by blogs like Kotaku and Destructoid. Release costs are negligible in terms of manufacturing, as games can be released on regular CD-ROM rather than proprietary GD-ROMs or cartridges.
Who Releases Dreamcast Games?
There are a handful of publishers and developers (who mostly focus on classic systems) still supporting the platform. The field is split mostly down the middle between original Dreamcast releases, and developers releasing their games on various platforms, both old and new.
Bleemcast! — The Original Homebrew
No article about the rise of Dreamcast homebrew is complete without talking about the release that started it all. In the late 90s, a commercial PlayStation emulator called Bleem! popped up, allowing PC gamers to play PSX games on their computers with varying degrees of success. This did not please Sony, who took the company to court (which eventually forced them out of business) but not before the emulator saw a limited release on the Dreamcast.
Developers hoped that Bleemcast! could be used to run hundreds of PSX games on the Dreamcast, and intended to support around 100 games per disc to be sold as packs. There was even talk of a Bleemcast! controller being released (in addition to a conversion cable for existing Sony PlayStation controllers) as Sega’s controller lacked L1 and R1 bumper buttons — but that never happened either.
In 2001, Bleemcast! finally released their emulator with support for three games — Gran Turismo, Metal Gear Solid and Tekken 3 — all of which ran at the upscaled resolution of 640×480, with added bilinear filtering and antialiasing. The Bleemcast! team’s biggest achievement turned out to be a MIL-CD exploit that bypasses region locks and boot-checks. In essence, this gave the independent homebrew community the ability to produce commercial Dreamcast releases without having to go through Sega or use the system’s proprietary GD-ROMs.
Short for Games of All Types, GOAT Store Publishing (GSP) is the publishing arm of retro gaming retailers GOAT Store. Despite selling products for all sorts of system in their retail shop, GSP has only published Dreamcast titles to date.
In 2003 the company published Feet of Fury, a rhythm-action game that uses controllers, the Dreamcast keyboard, or dance mats (of course). The game is fairly barebones and focuses on simple versus gameplay, but is notable for being the first commercially-released homebrew title that wasn’t an emulator.
The company followed it up with three releases in 2005: Inhabitants, a tile-clearing arcade puzzler for up to three people; Maqiupai, mahjong for the Dreamcast; and Cool Herders, a slightly odd multiplayer sheep-herding game that features both a multiplayer and single player campaign (the latter of which is set in New Zealand).
Their latest release is another puzzler in the form of IRiDES: Master of Blocks — think Tetris, except now you’ve got to match colors too. GSP currently have three upcoming titles: SLaVE, a first-person shooter described by developers as “what happens if Robotron 2084 and DOOM got together and had an illegitimate lovechild”; Hypertension: Harmony of Darkness, a “90s-inspired” first person shooter that’s long overdue; and another FPS called Scourge.
An independent publisher based in Hannover, Germany that specialises in creating new games for older consoles. After numerous successes the company has branched out and now offers games on Steam among other platforms.
One of the most iconic commercial independent Dreamcast releases was DUX, released in 2009 (later refreshed as DUX 1.5 in 2013). It’s a colorful side-scrolling shooter that seems right at home on Sega’s console, and has since been re-released as Redux: Dark Matters on Steam. Hucast followed it up with a vertical-scrolling shooter in 2015 called Ghost Blade, notable for its vibrant 480p graphics which sought to push the Dreamcast to its absolute limit.
The company released two more games in 2015: a point-and-click adventure game called Elansar and Philia, which has full support for Sega’s mouse accessory; and Alice’s Mom’s Rescue, a pixel-art 2D platformer with over 25 stages that’s currently enjoying an 8/10 rating on Steam.
Hucast have officially announced Redux 2, so expect more flying/shooting/arcade action from them in the future.
Also based in Germany, NG.DEV.TEAM formed in 2001 with the aim of making 2D arcade-style games. The NG in their name stands for Neo Geo, and their Dreamcast releases consist of ports of existing games designed for SNK hardware.
Despite being published by RedSpotGames, the company’s first Dreamcast release Last Hope was eventually patched up, and self-published in the form of Last Hope Pink Bullets. Last Hope is an arcade-style side-scrolling shoot ’em up that originally appeared on the Neo Geo in 2006. Reviewers noted that some enemy bullets were indistinguishable from in-game explosions, so the game was re-released in 2009 as Last Hope Pink Bullets with — you guessed it — pink bullets instead.
NG.DEV.TEAM followed this up with another Neo Geo shoot ’em up port called Fast Striker in 2010, which placed an emphasis on scoring rather than just survival. The game differs from Last Hope in that it relies more on reflexes and less on memorizing levels and bullet patterns. Continuing the arcade theme, run ‘n gun shooter Gunlord was ported in 2012, a side-scroller that takes place within the same universe as Last Hope. It was well-received and sparked an Indiegogo campaign to bring the title to 3DS and Wii U, but the game never made it.
In 2014 the company released NEO XYX, a vertical-scrolling shoot ’em up in the style of 19XX which received 8/10 review from Destructoid. The company has since released side-scrolling shooter RAZION for Neo Geo in 2014, and is currently working on another run ‘n gun title called Kraut Buster (yes really) due for release in 2016, so it’s possible both will see Dreamcast ports at some point.
Germany really loves the Dreamcast! RedSpotGames is another German publisher established with Dreamcast releases in mind, though the company has since branched out to more modern platforms. It’s not clear as to whether they’re still trading as they haven’t updated their website since 2013 after shipping and pre-order blunders surrounding their last release.
The company’s first Dreamcast release was a port of GP2X handheld title Wind and Water: Puzzle Battles. As the name may suggest, it’s a puzzler that combines elements of both strategy and action, and it’s also now free to download for Windows. This was swiftly followed up in 2009 with Rush Rush Rally Racing, an entertaining top-down racer in the style of Micro Machines. The game featured a frantic split-screen multiplayer experience, and after a positive reception from the classic gaming crowd it eventually saw a release on the Wii via WiiWare in 2012.
RedSpotGames’ last release for the Dreamcast was Sturmwind, a game that began development in 1997 (shortly before the Dreamcast’s release). It’s another shoot ’em up, but it received particular praise for its use of a hybrid 2D/3D engine to provide a visual experience that’s surprisingly crisp considering the age of the platform. To date it’s an entirely original Dreamcast release.
Established in 2004, Watermelon Co. currently only have one Dreamcast release, and that’s only a port. Pier Solar and the Great Architects began life in 2004 as an original Genesis (or Mega Drive) JRPG, and finally saw a “HD” Dreamcast release last year. The game is already out on the Wii U, PS3 and PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
The publisher is currently overseeing development of Elysian Shadows, a so-called “next gen 2D RPG” which was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign. The game should release on Dreamcast in 2016 alongside Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, and iOS versions.
Dubbed the “rarest Dreamcast game ever” by SegaRetro, Frog Feast is a ridiculously simple game that saw release on the Dreamcast in 2007. There are also versions available for the Philips CD-i, Sega Mega Drive (Genesis), Mega CD and System C2 — but good luck finding them.
In 2015 Fruit’Y was released by developers Retroguru for the Dreamcast, alongside a ton of other obscure systems like Amiga OS 4, NetBSD, and as an unsigned PSP game. It’s a puzzler in which you have to recreate fruit-based patterns, and you can download a version of your choice for free, or pay a few Euros for a physical copy.
The first Dreamcast release of 2016 was Leona’s Tricky Adventures from KTX. It’s a quaint adventure-puzzler which is similar to Fruit’Y in its pattern-based approach. You can also pick it up on Windows, with other platforms to follow.
Long Live The Dreamcast
As the Dreamcast ages, it seems that more and more games are released for it. The indie gaming scene is more crowded than ever before, so it makes sense that we’ll see more developers making attempts to break the mold. If you want to follow the Dreamcast homebrew and indie scene, check out forums like Dreamcast-Scene and Dreamcast-Talk, and subscribe to r/Dreamcast on Reddit.
If you’re looking to pick up an old Dreamcast yourself, eBay is probably your best bet though you may be lucky and find one in a thrift store or similar second-hand retailer. If you just want to play your old Dreamcast favorites, download an emulator for your PC.
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Image credit: Sega Dreamcast (Evan-Amos)