Why the Sega Dreamcast won the last console war

Tuesday was the ninth anniversary of Dreamcast's release, and Don Reisinger wants to celebrate that event with an ode to everyone's favorite old console.

Don Reisinger
Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
4 min read

Although few outside the video game community noticed, September 9 was the nine-year anniversary of the Sega Dreamcast's launch. I can still remember holding the Official Dreamcast Magazine in my hands with a huge picture of Sonic on the front just waiting for the console to be released. And once it was released, I couldn't have been happier.

But unfortunately, I was (and I'm probably still) in the minority. Back then, Sega was off its game. It was trying to recover from the Saturn debacle and the countless other false starts it had succumb to over the years with products like the Sega CD and arguably, the GameGear.

The Dreamcast seemed different to me, though. Unlike previous Sega consoles, which only copied competing products and failed to truly grasp what gamers wanted, the Great White Beauty sitting under my TV was different. For once, Sega was ahead of its time; the Dreamcast had the best graphics of any console in the space at that point, offered compelling games that people actually wanted to play, and even included support for online gaming.

Of course, it lacked some of the necessities that could have made it more relevant in succeeding years: it didn't offer a DVD player like the Playstation 2 and although it had connectivity options, Ethernet support wasn't built into the console, which put it at a significant disadvantage once Sony, and especially Microsoft, entered that generation's console war.

Worse, the Dreamcast was plagued by poor third-party support and even major titles like Shenmue were met with lackluster excitement. Everyone wanted to play the Playstation 2--it offered better graphics capability, a DVD player, and better third-party support. All the while, the Dreamcast sat on store shelves.

And in the end, the Dreamcast finally died before its time and Sega was forced to retreat from the console space and try its luck in software. It was a sad time for Dreamcast Fanboys, but they got through it. How you ask? By keeping it connected to their HDTVs at all times and telling themselves that no matter what sales figures say, the Dreamcast really did win the last console war.

OK, so maybe the Dreamcast didn't really win the last console war. But who cares? The way I see it, the Dreamcast was the best console of them all. If you wanted to play great games, one of the best places to do so was on the Dreamcast. It had Shenmue, Samba de Amigo, 2K Sports, Skies of Arcadia, Jet Set Radio, and countless other titles like the Sonic and Crazy Taxi series that truly made an impression on the lives of many gamers. And we also can't forget that many of those series still live on in today's consoles.

See, I don't really care that the Dreamcast was torn apart during the last console generation. To me, the Dreamcast was the real winner because it provided me with the highest level of satisfaction and the best all-around gameplay. It may not support an online gaming environment like we're used to today and it won't look any better on my HDTV, but it can do something that few consoles since its release have been able to do: provide me with a fun factor that eclipses all else because it's designed with the gamer in mind.

Today, hardware cycles and the video game industry itself are becoming too commercialized for some of the more hardcore gamers. Some believe that the industry has sold out and the idea of fun gameplay has been replaced with fast profits. It's tough to argue with that logic given the state of affairs in 2008.

But I digress. I'm not saying that the Dreamcast is the best console of its generation because it sold extremely well or that it provided more functions than its competitors. I'm saying that the Dreamcast is the best console of its generation because it captured the essence of gaming and provided users with an experience that, in my mind, wasn't rivaled before it was released and hasn't been rivaled since.

Say what you will, but what other console in recent memory has been able to captivate a cult following like the Dreamcast has? What other console in the past few generations was truly ahead of its time while still providing gamers with an experience they actually wanted? And most importantly, what other console in the past few generations has been able to leave a lasting impression on so many people across the globe?

It may have failed and Sega may be out of the hardware business. But for me, the Dreamcast is still the centerpiece of my gaming.

Happy Birthday, Dreamcast. We miss you.

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