When the Dreamcast launched in the U.S. on September 9, 1999, it was meant to usher in ideas that would change games forever. Instead, it had a short, active life in the market, then promptly took a nosedive when the PlayStation 2 launched and faded away. And it took Sega’s hardware future with it! It seems like people just weren’t in the mood for what the Dreamcast had to offer.
But 20 years later? The Dreamcast is better than ever.
It’s due to a number of factors, but a large part is that we’re just more ready for its style of games. The Dreamcast made a big deal about its online play, but in the early days of console connectivity, most of its lineup was about joining up with friends on the couch for four-player action. It was the sort of thing that was on its way out in the early 2000s as the allure of online play and the pressure to emphasize visuals meant fewer split-screen releases.
In recent years, though, the market has turned the corner, embracing games like TowerFall, Overcooked and Gang Beasts. Diablo is big on consoles, and Marvel Ultimate Alliance is back. We see what local play can do that online can’t as well, and that means we’re much more appreciative of games like ChuChu Rocket! and Power Stone 2. We can accept them for what they are, without the pressure of carrying us through a whole gaming season on meager single-player content.
It’s also built for the sorts of shareable moments we’ve learned to embrace in the social media era. In 1999, people were getting tired of handheld pet gadgets. In 2019, caring for a Chao on your VMU is the sort of novel and quirky thing to share in photos and videos. In 1999, it was frustrating when voice tech didn’t work, but in 2019, you expect it to be weird and halting to talk to Seaman and it’s fun enough to just try and see what works. In 1999, you wouldn’t play Sonic Shuffle because of how it’s even worse than the bad parts of Mario Party. Now, that’s precisely why you’d stream it on Twitch. And since a lot of its games never got sequels, there are a lot of fans of games like Skies of Arcadia that can appreciate it even more through a connected community.
A few of the Dreamcast’s hardware decisions make it a lot easier to enjoy in 2019. Its VGA support means that it’s an easy system to make look crisp through cables and adapters. Its strengths in polygons and weaknesses in textures mean games were often designed with clean aesthetics that upscale and age a lot better than its peers. Its ties to the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation were detrimental to its battle with the PS2, but now? If you want to play N64 and PS1 games and have them look how you remember instead of what they actually were, you want the upgraded, upscaled Dreamcast ports that still play exactly how you’d want. There’s a reason that we’re still seeing unlicensed and homebrew releases on the platform, and it’s that the hardware itself holds a lasting appeal.
The Dreamcast did bring ideas that would change games forever, but that change wasn’t soon enough for the system to live long enough to see it. We’re still here, though, and we can enjoy how great Sega’s last console still manages to be.