Dreamcast launches to fanfare, worthy titles

Sonic Adventure
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Stop dreaming, It’s here.

For a while, it seemed as though 9-9-99 was never going to arrive. For three months, I waited oh so impatiently for this magical day to arrive, because I knew that on that day I would be a proud owner of Sega’s new 128-bit Dreamcast system. Even test runs on imports and severe cases of insomnia during the final days didn’t hold me back. And on that great day of 9-9-99, I was the first person in line at my local Software Etc., ready to dedicate my life towards the new world that Dreamcast would offer.

When I got home, all my hopes and desires were soon to be answered, as I inserted my first title, Soul Calibur, into my virgin DC. Right from the intro, I thought I was watching over-glorified FMV, like the crap that is used in Final Fantasy 7. But upon closer inspection, I realized that it wasn’t FMV, it was the actual game engine!

Yes, all the stories about DC are true. This is one powerhouse of a system. But what causes this system to look so darn good? Could it be the 200MHz Hitachi SH4 CPU, or could it be the second-generation NEC PowerVR graphics processor? Sure, I would have been happier if Sega stuck with 3dfx for their 3D engine, but the PowerVR is a worthy substitute.

Granted, I didn’t personally count if the PowerVR is generating the promised three million polygons/sec, but if the detail of games like Soul Calibur are any example, then those promises are easily kept.

Now normally I would degrade the use of FMV on a console system because of the crappy animation you see in titles, like the previously mentioned FF7, but the since DC uses a special form of CD-ROM (or in this case, GD-ROM) that can hold one gigabyte of data (as opposed to about 600MB for CDs), and the use of MPEG video compression, video from the DC easily eclipses that on the PlayStation. It might not be DVD quality, but it’s pretty close. And a DVD expansion for DC is in the works.

Sound quality is also as impressive as it was on the Saturn. While many reviewers, myself included, believe that the Saturn had the best sound chip in the business, DC ups that factor with its very own Yamaha Super Intelligent Sound Processor capable of handling 64 independent sound channels and adding 3D environmental audio effects. When playing this out to a stereo system, the results are unbelievable.

And it doesn’t end there. DC also allows video output to the usual sources: RF, composite, and S-Video. However, DC is the first game system outside of a PC to allow direct connection to a VGA monitor, and let me tell you, the amount of detail in VGA mode is breathtaking! Before DC came out, I looked at images running from my Voodoo3 powered PC and thought that this is what DC would look like. I’m not afraid to eat my words since DC far exceeds anything my PC could process.

Memory cards are necessary for today’s games, and Sega’s memory cards break the norm as well. Called the Visual Memory Unit (VMU), not only does this allow saving and loading of games (of up to 200 blocks), but it also allows you to download special mini games that can be played when the DC is not in use. It even is used to enhance some of the original DC games, as explained in the mini-reviews below.

DC set another first as well by being the first system Stateside to pack in its own 56K modem and its own Web browser. In addition, Sega offers new users to the Web access via AT&T’s World Net service. However, current Web users can use their current Internet provider at no additional cost. Sega’s Planet Web browser might not be as intricate as, for instance, Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0, but it does get the job done, and provides adequate Internet access for beginners. I only wish though that Planet Web allowed access to sound (WAV) files or movies such as Quicktimes, but unfortunately that is not the case. Also, typing web sites or email using the on-screen keyboard can be slow and tedious.

A special DC keyboard is planned for release, but I think that Sega should also make a special adapter allowing use of a standard PC keyboard, resulting in PC and DC users saving their hard earned cash for some new games.

Also, I would have liked to see the modem have a re-drive jack so I can daisy-chain my DC line to my phone and my computer, but since there isn’t one, I need to disconnect my phone and hook it into the DC modem. As for online games, none will be available until early next year, which will be a shame for early adapters. But once online games such as Sega Rally 2 are released, expect some heavy Net competition to take over.

Sega also has access to their Dreamcast Network, allowing downloads of saved games, special VMU games, and other special goodies to be used on your DC. None are available as of this writing (9-11-99) but look for some in the near future.

But what the biggest concern is whether or not Sega will be able to spring back from their distant third place position behind Nintendo and Sony. In my opinion, I have a strong belief that they will succeed. First of all, I felt that the Sega Saturn was without a doubt the most underrated game system on the market (along with systems such as the Turbografx, the Atari 7800, etc.) And in my opinion, when Bernie Stolar took over for Tom Kalinske, he killed off the Saturn rather unfairly, denying access to quality Japanese imports like Thunderforce V, Silhouette Mirage, and the arcade perfect X-Men vs. Street Fighter. This left Saturn addicts like myself isolated and deserted, and it wasn’t only gamers that were hurt, but game companies as well. Working Designs, originally a dedicated Saturn developer, jumped to PlayStation after some heated arguments with the Stolar-operated Sega.

But not one month before the official launch of DC, Stolar is released from Sega, and without warning. And guess what? Working Designs now offers to develop for the DC. It’s kind of ironic that Stolar was released from Sega one month before DC’s launch, because he was released from Sony as well right before the launch of PlayStation. Hopefully now, Sega will allow plenty of high-quality titles for the Dreamcast.

I’ve decided not to give Dreamcast a rating at the moment. I think it’s rather unfair to rate a new console system as soon as it is released when it has not really lived up to its full potential. Personally, I’m impressed. But the true test will come in time, as Sega battles for marketshare and new games come out to tax and expand the system even further.

And as for it being a total success, if indications of the first day’s launch are true (over $95 million), as well as its amazing number of launch titles (12 as opposed to five when PlayStation launched and two for the N64), then DC will definitely stand the test of time.

Now I know that you’re wondering about the games, and which ones should be purchased with the system. Well, I’ve come up with a list of the games that I tested out, with my own ratings of each:

Sonic Adventure (Sega)

Sonic finally arrives in a true 3D game. Originally planned for the Saturn (and later scrapped), Sonic fans can truly enjoy a full 3D experience similar to when Mario 64 was released three years ago. The main game engine feels like the original Genesis title, and retains the speed of the originals, but adds new features such as six playable characters, tons of mini-games, and a special feature where you can actually raise a special group of creatures called “Chaos” (pronounced Chows) in order to obtain special hidden emblems (ie. Mario 64’s stars).

The only complaints involve some moderate slowdown and some glitches where your character can get stuck on a stage or run through a wall, resulting in a deadly fall. Good, but flawed. It gets 4 GiN Gems.

Hydro Thunder (Midway)

A beyond perfect arcade port, involving graphic textures that run smoother than even in the arcade. I do question the amount of replay value after all the tracks are found, as well as some minor slowdown at times, but it’s still a respectable turnout. It gets 4 GiN Gems.

Sega Sports NFL 2K (Sega)

You’ve heard about this one a lot since E3. It can be clearly said that after a 2 year hiatus, Sega Sports is back and is better than ever! Not only is this game as gorgeous as everyone says (60 fps, 1500 motion captured moves, and one heck of a TV-style presentation), but it plays great too.

This can easily be compared to the original Madden series on Genesis as the definitive football game to beat. After looking at 2K, Madden and Gameday for PlayStation look like child’s play. It earns a perfect 5 GiN Gems, more if I could give them.

Soul Calibur (Namco)

Not satisfied with a typical arcade port, Namco upped everything with this phenomenal release. A new graphic engine generates characters that rival even their best FMV introductions, as seen in Tekken 3 and Soul Blade.

And for veterans of either Soul Blade or the arcade Soul Calibur, you’ll be pleased to know that Namco didn’t sacrifice the gameplay in behalf of the graphics. Not only that, but Namco also added too many special features to count. To me, this game was the equivalent of Christmas when I was a kid — one big surprise at a time! It rounds out the top titles available for Dreamcast at the moment with a perfect 5 GiN Gems.

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