Mark Does a "Cane and Rinse" - The SEGA Dreamcast

The Cane and Rinse Podcast is an incredible podcast where in each episode they go over either a single game or a series of games in forensic detail, talking about the development, gameplay, legacy and foibles of some of the biggest games of all time. I am not heralding a new podcast either; they've been going for longer than my own podcast has been, and continue to pump out fabulous shows. I even pretend to chat along with them when reminiscing about something I know.

This has made me ruminate over old games far more, and wondering why my memory of titles I probably spent tens of hours with is so hazy.

So I've decided to start doing a semi-regular "Mark Does a Cane and Rinse" post on something that catalogues my memories of something gaming related.

This time round, it's the turn of The SEGA Dreamcast.

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Background

I have posted several times about the Dreamcast, most notably in a very short almost prologue to this post - Dreamcast Reminisce - but I have never put all of my thoughts about the console, the games, and the personal legacy of the console down in a single post. It seems right, near twenty years since I first learned of the console's existence that it might be a good time to sit down and try to catalogue everything I remember about the time in my life where the Dreamcast came into it.

For clarity, I never actually owned a games console prior to the Dreamcast. I played a SEGA Mega Drive that was "technically" my Dad and I's, but I played it a lot more than he did. I mean, he had PGA Tour III for it, and we used it for gaming on with my late grandfather and my uncle at "Golf Nights", which were basically the male version of the then in vogue mother-attended Tupperware parties. I loved those times, but the console was basically mine - I had Streets of Rage, Sonic (all of them), and loads of other games like Super Hang On and a terrible Asterix game.

I wasn't immune to wanting something better. A friend at school had got a SEGA Saturn, the replacement for the Mega Drive if you discount the MegaCD and the 32X, and I was insanely jealous. Indeed, when almost all my closest friends upgraded to the N64 and the PlayStation I was left wanting, actively asking for the upgraded consoles on a almost monthly basis, becoming a bit of an in-joke between myself and my patient parents.

I remember when reading about the then SEGA Katana project in Computer and Video Games that it'd be super powerful. At the time, there was rumours of the Nintendo Dolphin (the GameCube), the PlayStation 2, and the odd but exciting Direct X-Box from Microsoft. I didn't know what to get, if I could get any of them, but in time I realised that these rumours were all true. In fact, the Xbox would go on to become a console of choice for near a decade.

But first, there was the Dreamcast. I petitioned my parents endlessly for it, until one night they agreed to the purchase, and the next day we went to Electronics Boutique in East Kilbride to put my hard earned £50 deposit for a console and Sonic Adventure. It would become the first time in my life, and only one of two times, I'd be there on Launch Day for a console. The next time would be for the Nintendo Wii, which I ultimately sold later that week unopened. But that story is for another day.

Launch Day

I wrote in my homework diary the original European launch of September, shortly after my own birthday and I couldn't be even more excited. I was anticipating the launch so much I picked up the SEGA Dreamcast magazine Issue 0 that came with a Demo Reel VHS Tape and played it endlessly. Side note - I really wish I hadn't binned all of these magazines, they would make for fascinating reading now.

And then SEGA delayed the launch, a whole month. I was devastated.

On launch day I woke early, so excited. My mum bundled my sister and I into the car, and we drove to the shop just after opening, not that I was expecting a huge queue for the console. I had my deposit ticket in hand, ready to grab the console and my single game (all I could afford at the time). We got in and I picked it up in a special Dreamcast blue spiral bag, and was so happy - until they dropped the bombshell. They'd not received Sonic Adventure. The games hadn't arrived, which meant the only game that I'd pre-ordered and wanted was unavailable. I would have the most power games machine in the world - but zero games to play it on.

The guy behind the counter at EB had an idea - unorthodox, but wonderful. He said that they were sure that the games would come in at some point that day, so if it was okay I could take away another game from the launch line-up, and then bring it back and swap it out for Sonic when it was available. The game I brought home was TrickStyle, a futuristic skate/hover board game that was, as far as I can remember, not that bad at all really.

But it wasn't Sonic.

Later that day, it turned out that the games had been delivered to the shop on the opposite side of the mall, so I could get Sonic. I can't remember if my mum took pity on me and we went up to the shop that very day, or the next day, but once I had Sonic in hand it went in and my life was changed. Sonic Adventure blew me, and any friend I played it with, away. Everything about it was just simply stunning. Maybe one day I'll do a forensic description of the games, but for now let's just say that Sonic Adventure was for a short while my jam. It doesn't hold up well at all today - I went out, in 2008, and bought a GameCube Wavebird controller and the game for my Nintendo Wii just to play it, and it... wasn't very good, even in the "DX" version.

With Sonic things were great. But I was only just getting started.

Games

Obviously, games are what make a console great. You could have the most powerful games console on the planet and with nothing to play on it you're snookered. I'm looking at you, Xbox One X. Either way, this is what sunk the Dreamcast in the end, a simple lack of games that made people really want to get the console - that and, of course, it wasn't called PlayStation 2. But, that's for a little bit later and I'm getting ahead of my self.

My Dreamcast was not for wanting games however. I had plenty of the things, and used my allowance at the time to make sure I picked up not just the "best" games of the era, but also a few odd choices that weren't the greatest but certainly made me happy for the briefest time. Bear in mind, at this point, I'd jumped from a decade old Sega Mega Drive to the Dreamcast, whilst only touching PC gaming a few times in the years between, so almost everything was a new experience to me.

I had a few of the all time classics, of course. Crazy Taxi, Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 naturally, and both of the Shenmue games - that I've talk about before. I also picked up a few classics that have aged terribly - I adored Headhunter at the time, but that thing did not survive the subsequent gaming generations, and I also played a lot of Quake III Arena on the console despite owning it on PC. I just enjoyed the deathmatch capabilities and it was one of the first games I really played online.

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As well as the "classics" that always spring to mind, I adored a few others. One punishingly hard game, Metropolis Street Racer, sticks hard in my mind for just how good it looked and how much I was hyped for the game, being one of a select few Day One game pre-order and purchases, but it did me in, in the end, being just a bit too hard for my tastes. Another, Jet Set Radio, was a game I absolutely loved despite it having a few flaws - and is one, like Crazy Taxi, I've bought a few times since for the Port Generation for iPad and Android phones. Oddly, I couldn't remember that I owned Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 for the console, but obviously I did - it's there, in the photo - but my memory of that game is confused with the PS1 version I am sure I played more of at friends' houses.

Before I talk about the bad games I had that I liked, here's one that I didn't like. The second game I got was SEGA Rally 2, and I was so excited for it. Mud on the cars when you drive through it! Arcade style Rally gaming that I loved! I even made my dad drive the 30 minutes to Braehead to go and get the game - and despite playing it a lot, I don't think I actually liked it. There was a real lack of courses, and the arcade play wasn't really fun for me, and I realise that that makes sense - my memory of the game comes mostly from those awesome swinging arcade cabinets, but after putting up with terrible Mega Drive games because they were given to me this was the first I bought myself and found it to be disappointing.

Then there are the few shanners that I loved. I enjoyed Midway's 4 Wheel Thunder a lot more than I was expecting - it become one of the most played racing games I owned. My sister ostensibly had Pen Pen TriIcelon, a "racing" "game" that was... well, it's hard to describe, so here's a video of some gameplay. We enjoyed it - I remember it being one of the smoothest games at the time. And then there was a rollercoaster game called Coaster Works that, despite getting high review scores, was absolutely shite.

You might notice that there are a few ultimate classics I haven't mentioned - SoulCalibur, for example - well, during the Dreamcast era I didn't own it, a friend did. I ended up picking it up  much later and blitzing it, but I was never a fighting game fan and still to this day SoulCalibur might be the only one I've truly enjoyed. Same goes for Virtua Tennis. I borrowed this, at first, and made my way to the top of the world, and later picked it up cheap on the side. This is why these two games appear in my disc collection.

I binned off the cases for some reason, preferring to use a GAME approved CD holder, which is a terrible decision. Despite this, however, I did keep all of my Demo Discs.

Fandom

From that first month, I adored being a Dreamcast owner. As I mentioned, I played that VHS tape a lot watching the technology being the console and the games that were coming. I owned every issue of the Official Dreamcast Magazine (ODM) - remembering those who wrote for it, and those who'd moved over from C&VG at the time.

I still have every demo disc, as detailed in the picture below. I played these a lot, at the start - especially the Toy Commander demo, for some reason - I guess it was because after Sonic it was the game that felt truly 3D, with a full 3D world to explore and see around. Going back over this below discs made me very happy to see a raft of now forgotten games pop up, seemingly lost to time.

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I also was really into being a part of the internet fandom. I read the Edge forums when they existed with Edge becoming my default purchase after ODM died. I even... ahem... started my own fansite. My friend Ross, who had a console along with me and who I borrowed games off, started to review games as .RTF files, for putting onto our site. I made it using Homesteads, a UI based website builder not unlike Squarespace that I use now, and we started to create the site. We called it Dreamcast House (DCH) and had a logo and everything - but alas, it never became the massive empire we wanted it to become. Ironically, if we had persevered we might have outlasted some of the other sites I read at that time.

Foibles

The console wasn't perfect, of course, and despite my fandom I knew as much. For example, whilst Wifi was still a thing to properly take hold, so was Broadband, and the Dreamcast had it's dial modem inside. The internet functionality was impressive - the Dreamarena stuff always was a pleasure to have a go at, especially playing online - but it was a faff having to take  up the actually PC internet telephone line, which meant no one else could dial into their emails or Netscape. In the end, I moved my Dreamcast to my bedroom and it forever went off line, never to taste the Dreamarena again.

One of the "best" features that was unused was the Visual Memory Unit, or VMU. Instead of being a normal memory card, the Dreamcast had small little Gameboy style memory cards that acted as a second screen built into the controller. It was impressive, at first, and used quite well in a few games. One of the best examples was the most played sports game I owned, UEFA Striker, a shocking game deep down, but was the best facsimile of football the console had, really. It used the VMU's screen to switch formations mid game, without having to pause and go to the menu, a neat trick for multiplayer 1 versus 1.

But the VMUs had a flaw - they weren't powered by rechargeable batteries, instead by watch batteries, and whist they held the game saves without battery requirements, they beeped in a choir anytime the console came on after they had ran out, and with my three controllers each holding a VMU, it was... a mess. Of course, I could just buy a new set of batteries, but after a few months they'd go again, meaning it was an expensive outlay.

When mentioning the VMU, I should add that I love the Dreamcast controller. It is a little light, without the two VMUs, and the triggers are a bit soft feeling, and it's missing a second analogue stick, a must today, but it felt great in my hand and I never felt like it was rubbish. The D Pad, I always liked using, compared to the D Pads that followed.

Obviously, the biggest problem with the Dreamcast was the fact that it simply wasn't a PlayStation 2. It felt sad towards to the end after being to into the console and trying so hard to get friends to buy it. Almost every friend who did play the games with me loved it, and wanted to play it, but that wasn't enough. When, in 2002, a friend brought round his PS2 and Grand Theft Auto, I was suitably disappointed.

Legacy

Of course, my disappointment didn't change my opinion of the console. I loved owning my Dreamcast, and I got to be part of one of the most revered failed consoles of all time. It was great to be there, from launch, supporting Sega and their incredible box of tricks, but in the end it was sad to see the console die, and with it the unreal news that the makers of Sonic and the Mega Drive, were going to slip off making their own consoles and into others.

I had a severely bad reaction to this, at the time, and felt like I'd been sold a pup. Two years, in today's climate, is nothing - I've had my Nintendo Switch for almost a year, and that has felt like a blink and miss it moment of time - but between 1999 and 2001 I changed a lot and so did my mentality, and those two years - aged 14 to 16, felt and still feel like forty years in comparison.

I have since spent a long time thinking a lot about the Dreamcast and what it meant to me. It was fun, at the time, and now it is great to have been part of that club.

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If you're wondering where I went after the Dreamcast, I got an (Original) Xbox in 2004 on the cheap, which I followed in 2007 with both an Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii, before swearing off gaming in 2012 after Mass Effect 3 until the Switch came along.

If you've enjoyed/hated/liked this, please let me know your thoughts - comment below, if you want, or tweet my public account @mondaygraveyard on Twitter. I'd love a share and discussion about the Dreamcast, so let me know what you think.

In the future, I aim to tackle a few other things - my other games consoles, other major games, and a few other things in this series. And of course, give Cane and Rinse a listen, it's absolutely fantastic.