The Dreamcast, Sega's last mainstream console release, was a system discontinued far before its time. With a huge library of unique, arcade-style games under its belt, it attained a sizable fan base who still have Dreamcasts hooked up to their televisions to play games that, even 10 years later, just can't be played anywhere else. Sega recently looked into solving this problem with the Dreamcast Collection, the first (of hopefully many) restorations of classic Dreamcast titles. They've also been putting Dreamcast titles on Xbox Live Arcade lately. At face value, this is wonderful news, but there are things that Dreamcast fans — or people even mildly curious about the system — should know before diving in.
Firstly, the featured games have been modified from their original versions. They're not emulated but actually ported and given additional features, such as integration with Microsoft's services. There are Achievements, leaderboards, integration with Xbox 360 profiles, in-game instruction manuals, and other things to conform with the new host system. Purists will likely scoff at this, especially since all of this tinkering appears to have caused some performance hits. On the Dreamcast Collection disc, load times have gone from the Dreamcast's "long but tolerable" to "simply absurd." Every game's original load time has been inexplicably doubled. To make matters worse, not only is the presentation beyond bare-bones (you get one static splash screen for game choices), but whenever exiting from a game that you're playing, the Collection doesn't even have the good graces to take you back to this main selection menu. Instead, you're unceremoniously dumped all the way back out the Xbox 360 Dashboard. This can get frustrating very quickly if you like to switch games a lot.
The graphics are both enhanced and worsened, depending on the display mode. When displaying any in-game engine polygon graphics, the games actually look as good or better than hooking up a standard Dreamcast to a VGA monitor (which was already very good). Unfortunately, much like the same setup, full-motion video and 2-D graphics look incredibly blurry. The extra horsepower afforded by the Xbox 360, however, does grant one additional boon: the frame rate is fantastic. Never have Dreamcast games moved this smoothly, and people wondering what Dreamcast games look like when approaching 60 frames per second may well want to look into this.
Aside from the load times and graphics, the games otherwise look and play just like their old-school counterparts, for better or worse. Some of these games have aged well, but some have not. A rundown:
Sonic Adventure is Sonic Adventure, and it always will be Sonic Adventure, a fast-paced straightforward alternative to Super Mario 64. It's a fair game that was a wonderful romp back in 1999, but it just doesn't hold up all that well after 12 years. The beefed-up visuals and frame rate actually cast this game's technical failings (immense amount of bugs, lacking animations) in a worse light than usual, making the whole product appear disjointed and clunky. This is also the game on the Collection that's heaviest with load times, so be prepared to stare at idle screens a lot. There are better ways to play this game (some of which don't ask for extra money on top of a base purchase for "Director's Cut" content — for shame, Sega), but the harsh truth is that in terms of quality gameplay, Adventure is left in the dust by more recent releases such as Sonic Colors and even Sonic Unleashed on a good day. Try those instead for your console Sonic fix.
Crazy Taxi is the full Dreamcast version with all of its gameplay content intact. Considering the immense amount of replay value between the core game's arcade roots and the home version's mission modes and modifiable rule sets, this is actually a pretty good deal. There's just one problem: The original Offspring and Bad Religion music that defined the game's mood is gone. This wouldn't be so bad if music that was suited to Crazy Taxi's fast and frenetic pace had been put in its place. Unfortunately, the replacement music is somber and sometimes depressing. Who would want to drive recklessly to this noise? Doesn't Sega still have Jun Senoue on its payroll? Crush 40 could have rocked this. The core game is still a good value if you can get past the new, bad music. Better yet, pop in your own tunes via custom soundtracks.
Sega Bass Fishing is an underrated and overlooked Dreamcast title in that it seeks to do what no other fishing title does: make the sport appear not boring to the outsider. It achieves this through fast-paced, time-limited game mechanics and simplifying the rules of cast-line fishing to their basics. The result is a far more fun fishing game than anyone would expect, and the same holds true to the largely untouched version on this disc. Unfortunately, one thing keeps this from being perfect: the lack of a motion control fishing rod solution. The game is very playable with a standard controller, but it is absolutely not the same. Fishing controllers were available for the Dreamcast version, and the Wii port uses the Wii Remote and Nunchuk to great asset so that players can feel every moment of fighting a tough fish. Here's wishing for a patch that adds Kinect support.
Finally, rounding out this collection is Space Channel 5: Part 2, the only game to come out of all of these mild fiascos with its dignity intact, and even a little bit improved for good measure. SC5 can best be described as a "rhythm game on rails," following the linear but expertly choreographed adventures of reporter Ulala as she dances to save the galaxy from the evil Rhythm Rogues. Players tap directions and buttons to the beat to earn high scores, clear missions, and unlock bonus characters and costumes for our heroine. Depending on who you ask, the original SC5 games on Dreamcast were either criminally overlooked gems or games that would have been nice to play had they not suffered from glaring input timing problems. This version suffers no such setbacks; the timing is forgiving and the game is infectious enough to almost justify the purchase of this disc.
While it would be easy to slam this Collection due to all of its alterations and lack of optimization, the very fact that these games are on a disc instead of being lost to the digital download ether is a huge plus in its favor. If you still own a Dreamcast or have the means to get one (they're cheap and the games featured on this disc, aside from SC5:2, are even cheaper), this title is hardly the best option unless you're a fan of saving work and consolidating game collections. I'd love to see these collections continue so that Dreamcast games that are even more notable and harder to track down can regain their rightful spotlight (Jet Grind Radio, Skies of Arcadia, Sega Marine Fishing, Zombie Revenge, etc.). Until that happens, this is a passable first effort, but the Dreamcast deserves far, far better than this.
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