Left in Japan: The Dreamcast Chronicles
The Dreamcast. Sega's ill-fated last shot at the videogame hardware biz. I was only vaguely aware of the little swirl until it had already begun its steady decline with the advent of Sony's entertainment behemoth, the PlayStation 2. Though while other DC owners were scouring local store shelves for cheap domestic releases, I was looking over the ocean to see what Japan had to offer. While a number of those games were released in the US and even a few on other systems, some will never forget or forgive the "betrayal" of Shenmue 2, there are still a number of gems that for some reason are either very hard or impossible to find anywhere else. Here are some of my personal favorites.
Blue Submarine No. 6
Based on the anime of the same name, search sunken cities for loot while keeping your mini-sub from being bit in half by giant mutant sharks. The characters are cell-shaded and well animated, while the mini-sub you spend most of the game piloting has plenty of customization tweaks to turn it into your own sweet aquatic ride. Though the best aspect of the game, which others in this genre usually fail at, is it really captures the feeling of being underwater, and even more importantly, makes it fun.
Save the world from aliens by blowing up buildings. I am not joking, though the way this game approaches the art of demolition is definitely tongue and cheek. Plant bombs of varying power and radius of effect all over nine different structures, some with as many as 20 floors to them, and then enjoy watching the fruits of your destructive urges from multiple camera angles. And if this becomes too nerve wracking, you can always take a break by destroying buildings with a tank, helicopter, or even a cannon. No actual buildings were harmed in the making of this game.
Originally an arcade release, this horizontal shooter will defy your belief on just how good a Dreamcast game can look. Once you get over the visuals, you'll find an engrossing and relatively unique take on the genre, where dying will actually drop you into one of the level's two alternate paths. With varying difficulty levels that actually effect the game, unlike most shooters, and a remix mode where the enemies are completely rearranged, there's plenty here to satisfy even the biggest hori shooter appetite.
Communication Logic Battle Daisessen
Japan has a long tradition of taking something made in the US and making it better. Now they've done it to the classic boardgame Battleship, though here you need to arrange your army men in special formations and launch attacks using specially shaped bombs, both of which have better versions available at the shop after you win a few rounds and have the money to spend. With character selection with everything from a skiing dog to a sexy cat-girl, this game has something for everyone and is just as fun for kids as it is for adults. Two player mode is difficult unless you have two VMUs with screens attached, however.
Cool Cool Toon
SNK's only true original for the Dreamcast, CCT is a musical rhythm game in the vein of Sega's own Samba de Amigo. In simple terms, it's a matter of pressing the appropriate button the moment before the circle around it closes, but the timing on this is tight, so you'll have a lot of problems just clearing the first dance match if you can't keep to the beat. The graphics are cell-shaded and the characters hip, bringing to mind a cuter version of Jet Grind Radio. It's even possible to play the game with Samba's maraca controllers if you happen to own that expensive accessory.
Here's a "game" that made me loathe the space limitations of the VMU. Dream Studio allows you to create your own adventure games from colorful components that vaguely resemble Sega's RPG Skies of Arcadia. All the main character can do in the beginning is run. Anything else you'll have to program yourself, but this toolkit is so well made the only real limitation beyond the space of the VMU is your own imagination. You can make a character hop all over the scenery, push blocks to fill gaps, fight monsters and defend with sword and shield, transform into a monster himself, and even do a little dance. Though by the time you've finished fully implementing just one of these features on a well populated map, you'll have already run out of space.
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