CHAPTER 15: SEGA DREAMCAST

If you grew up in Harbour Grace and had limited resources, it wasn’t exactly easy being a Sega fan. Their arcade games were nowhere to be found; outside of Sonic there were hardly any Sega Genesis games for rent and the Sega Saturn, the companies first 3-D capable console, was pushed out by the Sony PlayStation and the Nintendo 64. Wal-Mart carried very few Sega Saturn games, and if you bought the system and had to rely on renting like I did, that wasn’t an option because no stores carried Saturn software. A big regret I have in my later years is ignoring the Sega Saturn because it’s home to some amazing games that are now prohibitively expensive to purchase due to their rarity, but this isn’t exactly unique to me.

The Sega Saturn is notorious for having a legendary bungled launch. To get ahead of the fall 1995 release of the Sony PlayStation, Sega surprised those in attendance at E3 that the Saturn was available on store shelves at that very moment. The problem though was that few games were ready to be released as developers were prepping their software to release later in the year. Sega’s decision to stealth launch the Saturn angered both retailers and its development partners, which derailed a lot of momentum they had built up during the days of the Sega Genesis. As the years past, Sega’s mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog, was also nowhere to be see. For the launch of their next console, the Sega Dreamcast, the company would not make the same mistakes.

Throughout its entire short life cycle in the North America market, I paid little to no attention to the Saturn, but it was impossible not to aware of the Sega Dreamcast, even where I lived. Commercials for the system and its games would run constantly on the shows I would watch, showing footage from Sonic’s first 3-D foray, Sonic Adventure, where he speeds down the side of a building at lightning speed, concluding with the tagline for the Dreamcast: “It’s Thinking.” Episodes of The Electric Playground aired around the unforgettable launch date of the system, 9/9/99, boasting about Sega’s record launch numbers that topped even the mighty box-office gross of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

From these brief snippets of footage, I knew that the Dreamcast was something I had to pay attention to. For one thing it would already have Sonic’s equivalent to Super Mario 64 and for the one year window between its launch and the release of Sony’s PlayStation 2, it was pushing visuals that were better than anything I had seen on either the Nintendo 64 and original PlayStation. Still, there were still reasons to be cautious given Sega’s handling of their last system.

What pushed me over the edge of skepticism to outright fanatic of the Sega Dreamcast was a 1999 holiday buyers guide produced by the staff of Electronic Gaming Monthly. The book graded the systems on the market that year and broke down the ten best games to buy that were released over the course of the year. The Dreamcast came highly recommended, winning scores of 8’s and 9’s from those who wrote about it. Awards towards the beginning of the magazine celebrated the return of both Sega and Sonic and a collection of review scores from the pages of Electronic Gaming Monthly towards the back were full of 8’s, 9’s, even a coveted 10 for launch darling SoulCalibur, a 3-D weapons based fighting game from Namco. The system was already off to a great start, and this momentum looked like it was going to continue throughout the new year. I was once again a Sega convert, even going as far to write about the Dreamcast’s technologically advances like a built in modem for my grade ten English mid-term.

In the video game community, you’ll hear the term “killer app” applied to a game that you desire enough to buy a console just to play it. When the Nintendo Switch launched in 2017 for example, that game for many was The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. As much as I loved Sonic and thought Sonic Adventure looked incredible from commercials and coverage on The Electric Playground, the Dreamcast’s killer app for me was Resident Evil CODE: Veronica.

After buying a copy of Resident Evil 2 with the Christmas money I received in 1999, magazines began showing previews of a Dreamcast exclusive Resident Evil game sub-titled CODE: Veronica. Though it didn’t carry a number, it was to be the true sequel to Resident Evil 2 that continued the adventures of Claire Redfield and her brother, Chris, who was absent from the series since the first game. As a newly christened Resident Evil junkie, the Dreamcast was the next console I craved, as for the time being, it was the temporary home for one of my new favorite series of games.

Throughout a lot of the year 2000, I would take my Dreamcast fix where ever I could get it. When my mom would come into St. John’s to shop at Costco, I would break away to visit Future Shop, the Canadian equivalent of Best Buy, to look at Dreamcast games and read the Resident Evil CODE: Veronica strategy guide to see what plot points I could get from it. When we would eventually venture to the Avalon Mall, what spare change I had in my wallet was spent playing Crazy Taxi, an arcade game that made its way to Dreamcast that has become one of my all time favorite games. I’m happy to say that Crazy Taxi cabinet still exists in St. John’s in a place called the GForce Funderdome and even though I own the game on two different consoles, I’ll make special trips just to put a few tokens in.

Being a broke teenager, getting a Dreamcast of my own was never going to easy. Thought it took some searching, I was at the very least fortunately able to find a place that rented the console. Around the one year anniversary of the Dreamcast’s launch, my mom offered to take me to Mercer’s to rent a game, which is an opportunity I would never turn down. On that trip, I was floored to discover that Mercer’s was stocked with a lot of Dreamcast games, most important of them all Resident Evil CODE: Veronica, and that they rented the system plus three games for a night at the low sum of twenty dollars.

Resident Evil CODE: Veronica opens with a cinematic of Claire Redfield running through the halls of an office building escaping a hail of bullets being spewed from a helicopter. She leaps down a set of stairs to find herself surrounded by a group of soldiers all pointing guns at her. Eyeing explosive canisters in the background, Claire lets go of her gun, drops to the floor, catches her firearm and dispatches the firing squad with just a few bullets. To see this now you would roll your eyes, but I was floored to see the visuals that a video game console were capable of. When I surrendered the system and went back to playing my Nintendo 64, everything just looked downright primitive.

The months that followed had me renting out the Dreamcast at every opportunity I could, making it that much farther in CODE: Veronica every time while also getting hands on time with other games like Sonic Adventure, SoulCalibur, and a fantastic fighting game from Capcom called Power Stone. About the only thing missing from the equation was that Mercer’s didn’t provide a memory unit to save your game, so each go around with CODE: Veronica meant starting from the beginning. That Halloween I printed off a complete text walkthrough of CODE: Veronica using the computer at my mom’s office and made it my mission to see it through to the end. I stayed later than I normally did and made it to the halfway point only to die at a boss, my heart sinking in my chest as I lost hours of progress after continuing. I went to bed, woke up, and started over. I once again failed but made it a little bit farther, but there was progress being made.

After getting hands on time with the Dreamcast and reading about its holiday 2000 offerings, my mind was made up: I wanted one for Christmas that year. I wanted to see Resident Evil CODE: Veronica through to the end and experience all the great games I was reading about in magazines. As if he somehow knew the future, my brother logically presented a different proposal. Instead of getting a Dreamcast, it would be better to instead get my own PlayStation, adding that the Dreamcast probably wouldn’t be around for much longer and CODE: Veronica would eventually make its way to the PlayStation 2. I didn’t want to believe him, but deep down I knew he was probably right.

In early 2001, the news broke that Sega was exiting the hardware business and shifting its focus to making games for other consoles, including their bitter rival in the great console wars, Nintendo. It truly was the end of an era.

One thought on “CHAPTER 15: SEGA DREAMCAST

  1. Pingback: SMALL TOWN VIDEO GAME STORIES: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION | Comic Gamers Assemble

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