Thursday, August 31, 2006

I love my dead grey console: part 1

As I mentioned earlier, I recently acquired a Dreamcast. I did this for no particular reason: I saw one at Goodwill, it was cherry, it was insanely cheap. I didn't know anything about it, I thought it might be cool. Initially, the purchase kicked my handheld gaming time right in the teeth. I'd just suffered a major setback in my Advance Wars II campaign, so those energies were easily canalized into my new toy.(1)

The second main effect of the Dreamcast was a serious pride of ownership. This wasn't a defensive posture, it's just that I'm thoroughly charmed by the little white box.(2) This seems not uncommon: there's the excellent Dreamcast Junkyard, there's this odd little page...(3) The Dreamcast seems to inspire an affectionate loyalty quite unlike the (hostile, incoherent, fanboyish) outpourings other consoles recieve. Couldn't tell you why. I'll say that when it starts looking around on those GDs, it's so goddamned loud that the machine seems like it's trying really hard to entertain me, and I can't help myself, I just start rooting for it.(4)

The third thing I had to do was find some games to play. I'm happy to use the console to play cds in mono through my tv's tiny, tinny speakers, but games just seemed appropriate. I've had luck with this process, and would now like to present a little Reviewiera feature:
how to build a dreamcast collection.

Step 1.
Get lucky and score a free copy of Soul Calibur. This game will flip your wig, making you realize that those Street Fighter days are over, because all that SF once did, SC does at least as well, adding a bunch besides. One title in, your Dreamcast has already fundamentally altered your gaming tastes! A twelve year long relationship with Street Fighter ended in like four hours of game play...

Step 2.
Pick up Rayman 2 for five bucks. Add it to your collection of high-rated 3d platformers you'll never play again, because the whole genre is foreign, inscrutable, baffling. Hello there, Super Mario 64 DS! Haven't seen you in a while...

Step 3.
Throw in a copy of Space Channel 5, for another lincoln. Every library needs a rhythm game, right? Later on, you'll discover that the rhythm game bit is just a cover story: really the game is an upskirt sim. A damn' fine upskirt sim. Speaking of cosplay porn...(5)

Step 4.
Now you'll want to do some research on the nets, figure out exactly what this Dreamcast thing is about. It's about Junkyards and Planets, mainly... Quickly score Armada, which will turn out to be not exactly what you were looking for. A simple scrolling shooter, or maybe, dare one dream, something a whole lot like Tie Fighter? Nope, a game a lot like Asteroids, where the flying is as hard as the shooting. But there's a lot of ship-customization in an RPG-like way, you'll get to this eventually. It'll justify its ten bucks, no fear.

Step 5.
Hit big with Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. (Another hamilton!) Spend a couple weeks playing this game a lot, even though you seriously suck. Solve block-moving puzzles! Solve platforming puzzles! Feel bad because you never finished Metroid Prime, which is better than this, even though this is really really good! Reave souls! REAVE SOULS! Give up eventually because there's a monster you can't figure out how to fight.

Step 6.
Watch the opening movie of Resident Evil: Code Veronica. Be wowed. Resolve to play the game sometime, if you can ever figure out how to play the stupid thing and its stupid stupid controls. Three disks for five dollars, shouldn't be hard to get some mileage out of this one.(6)

Step 7.
ZOMBIES! Ah, Zombie Revenge. Nobody understands you. Nobody really likes you, even. Well, Tycho from Penny Arcade is on record as liking you, and so am I. So your controls are a little sloppy; not every game needs to be ridiculously technique-filled. Sure, I love all that in my 2D side-scrollers, along with a nice sense of design, but the only place you get those anymore is on a handheld. On a bigger screen, I'll take some 3D action, nifty textures, well-done scurrying sewer rats, and, oh yeah: a shitload of zombies lining up for bullets in the brain. Looks great, sounds good, and there's all the zombies you could reasonably want to annihilate.

Step 8.
Back to the internet! Score a copy of Shenmue. Be totally into Shenmue. Be, if you will, all about Shenmue. Decide that all modern "sandbox" games with "urban" settings and "crime" stories are hacky ripoffs of Shenmue. Contemplate changing your name to Ryo Hazuki. Ponder Nintendogs, a game that obsessed you for a couple months, and marvel over the kitten in Shenmue, from years before. Get to the second disk, and wonder at the incredible realism of the warehouse district. The game really captures what it feels like to loiter in a warehouse district! Lose some momentum by butchering a couple of save routines. Hit a really annoying stealth mission and fail at it for a couple hours. Give up. Resolve to come back to this game: it'd be embarassing not to finish a title that's in your top 5 all-time.

Step 9.
Ecco! I'd read about this game a bunch. Consensus was: this game is pretty. Playing Soul Calibur, I'd already decided that the 'Cast level of graphics is as good as I'd ever need, so a verdict of "it's pretty", even from 7 years ago, is good enough for me. And five bucks? Yoink!

Sure enough, it's pretty. Beautiful, matter of fact. And there's no doubt about it, it's a game where you play as a dolphin. I mean, you're very much a dolphin in this game. After I'd played for an hour, I had the following exchange with Canada:
Fat: Man, this Ecco thing is cool. You're a dolphin, you swim around, there's a bunch of special moves that all pretty much just make you...frolic.
Canada: ...
Fat: ...I just recruited some other dolphins to help me rescue a baby whale from an underwater landslide.
Canada: What the fuck are you talking about?
Fat: This game, Ecco, Defender of the Future. You play as a dolphin!.
Canada: ...
Fat: Dreamcast game. Launch title.
Canada: Can't hardly see why the system failed, can you?
Fat: (while thinking "people like dolphins, though") I dunno, it seems pretty cool to me.
Canada: Can you breathe underwater?
Fat: ? What? No, of course not. You're a dolphin. You're a mammal, you have to surface to breathe.
Canada: That's lame.

Back downstairs, I began to muse on purchasing some weed, which surely would kick this game to the Next Level.

Or...skip the weed, run upstairs and raid the fridge for a can of whipped cream.


Step 10.
Crazy Taxi. Drop a fiver on a copy of this, beat up, though complete with booklet. Play this for most of an evening, realize you'll never get much better at it, understand that you've already gotten yr fiver's worth. Rejoice! --Between this and dotstream, you'll never need another racing game!

And that's how you build a Dreamcast collection!

(1)An amusing progression, two tex from DDT:
Dude. Advance Wars 2 is the shit! 17jul, 20:35.
Advance Wars 2 is rad. But evil. 21jul, a school night, 00.12. Shockingly late for DDT to be up!

Not long after recieving these tex, a customer of mine wasnted to see my copy of AW2 on his new DS Lite. While he was dicking around with it, I got distracted by the phone. I returned to him and noted the sickly look on his map: "what did you do, Tom?".

"Uh, I think...I think I just..." "Oh fuck no. You didn't just fucking wipe my save file. Fuck. You just wiped my fucking save file."

"Maybe it's still saved on your machine?"

"That's not how portable games work, Tom." Since I'm not totally stoked about replaying the first 20-some hours, I haven't picked up the cart since. I'll probably sell it.

(2)As opposed to my defensive pride in my Gamecube, for example. The customary take on this platform is that it's underpowered, the weakest machine of its generation, which simply wasn't the case. I dunno, maybe people are gentler with the 'Cast because they have fond memories of Sonic or whatever. Whatever, it's the only console that prods people to say things like "There was a lot of unrealized horsepower in the poor, star-crossed little Dreamcast, and it was hard to see it go." (Tycho, from the 2nd Penny Arcade book, p28.)

(3)This has to be a project in somebody's history of design class.

(4)Nobody needs to root for their Xbox, their Playstation. These machines were hits. Somehow the Dreamcast's career is...forlorn. Unloved by the world at large, forgotten by most, considered a failure if it's considered at all. Even a piece about interesting and influential industry failures mentions the 'Cast, without actually pointing out what was interesting or influential about it...

The short version of that answer would be, I think: the Dreamcast was the Xbox without a company able to lose huge money establishing it. Both consoles have libraries dominated by shooters, racing, and sports games, and both were well ahead of the curve in offering an online component. Unfortunately, Sega combined being too early with doing a crappy job on its online component, and had shallow pockets for marketing.

(5)Thank you, UK Resistance.

(6)The voice acting and intro movies in my meagre Dreamcast collection kick the hell out of their counterparts in my rather larger 'Cube library. This is probably just a result of Resident Evil having super-good movies, and LoK:SR having the best voice work I've ever heard in a game. The MDK2 intro is funny and stylish, two attributes few cutscenes ever feature. Just an odd fact.

1 Comments + Unabashed Criticism:

Blogger d.d. tinzeroes said...

Having read this and witnessed to degrees yr budding romance w/ yr Dreamcast, its funny that just the other day I was thinking how the Dreamcast seems to be the console you should have first purchased, rather than the Gamecube, cause you and the Dreamcast seem a good couple.

I had always been intrigued by the existence of the Dreamcast when it was still on the market, but someone with a playstation got to me first with FFVII and that was pretty much that.

12:20 PM  

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