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Vol. 2, Issue 1
November 11, 1999
Pad Happy:

Sega's Sonic Boom

by Nick Ferguson

The Dreamcast is finally here. So stop crying about PlayStation 2 and buy one, says Nick F..
Hey, so you've had a Dreamcast for 6 weeks already and you've probably got more games for it than I do (I'm surviving on Soul Calibur right now). You're pissed that Shenmue has been delayed again, and you're champing at the bit to get your greasy, pizza-stained hands on a Dreamcast Zip drive and a copy of Biohazard: Code Veronica, right? Right? What the hell do you mean, "I didn't buy a Dreamcast?" Come over here and let me kick your ass for you. Alternately, sit down and let me explain to you, slowly, the multitude of reasons you need to hightail it down to the store and pick up Sega's spanking almost-new goody box ASAP. Brace yourself...

Reason #1: Sega is back
You could practically hear the silence on the Sony newsgroups immediately following the Dreamcast's launch, or at least the sound of a number of PlayStation fanboys (typically guys called "Highwind" or "Squall_69") munching their words. Almost amazingly, Sega is back. Even I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised after my first Dreamcast experience (see my old Console Wars article) I wasn't convinced the console had the power to survive even the whispers surrounding PlayStation 2. Since last Christmas, however, we've seen the Dreamcast go from strength to strength, culminating (so far) in the almighty Soul Calibur unquestionably one of the greatest beat-em ups ever to grace a console. I wager Shenmue will drop a few jaws even further when it eventually gets released, although the jury's still out on those "revolutionary" Quicktime Event gameplay mechanisms. It all seems a bit Dragon's Lair for me (hey, I loved Dragon's Lair too, but these days let's keep it on the Gameboy Color where it belongs)... The point, hotshot, is that those memories of laughing at Saturn owners can finally be put to rest: it is most definitely cool to be a Sega cadet again.

Reason #2: Sony is the new Microsoft
Forget Bill Gates (he's just a front), Ken Kutagari is the real anti-Christ. PlayStation isn't just a games console anymore; it's a global brand. Think Coca-Cola meets Microsoft (minus the Supreme Court verdict) and you're not far off. This is the reason Sony just had to call their next-gen machine PlayStation 2 (yawn) anything else would be throwing away billions in free branding. Sony currently enjoys the kind of market domination not seen since the glory days of Nintendo. The name "Nintendo" used to be synonymous with "videogame" (now it's synonymous with "got Elvis-fat and lost the plot"). The increasingly-cheapo PlayStation is still selling in ridiculous quantities, too: are people buying these things for their pets now or something? Unless you want your grandchildren starting their school day singing the theme from Final Fantasy XVIII, you'd better put a stop to Sony's gaming Empire. Choose life, choose a Dreamcast.

Reason #3: PlayStation 2 is vaporware

Didn't you know? All those demos are really running on SGI workstations, and that "controversial" design (hey, I like it) is lifted straight from the Sony Design Centre's 1983 manifesto. But seriously, the PlayStation 2 isn't scheduled to reach US and European shores till September next year - at the absolute earliest. The Japanese machine may well make it out for March, but by the time the real Dreamcast-killer software comes out you could have had 18 months of genuine 128-bit gaming goodness for a comparatively measly $200. That'll be the price of a single PS2 game (honest)!
Reason #4: Online gaming
OK, so this site is probably not the best place to plug a console on the strength of its online capabilities. Sue me. The fact remains, regardless of what us loonygames-reading types think, and the mass market doesn't play online games - yet. The mass market does seem to be buying a shitload of Dreamcasts, though, and every one of those puppies ships with a modem - Sega's Trojan horse. I have a hunch that when the first batch of multiplayer games hit the US and Europe, Sega are going to have to upgrade their Dreamcast networks pretty quickly. Sega Rally 2 is fine and dandy to start with, but could you really resist once Half-Life DC and Phantasy Star Online make it out? Thought not...

Reason #5: Arcade conversions
Fact: Sega and Namco make the best arcade games in the world. If you want to play enhanced versions of some of the finest games of the last few years, you'll need to buy a Dreamcast. Virtua Fighter 3, Sega Rally 2 and House of the Dead 2 are fine representations of their arcade counterparts, although the best is yet to come with mad free-roaming racer Crazy Taxi and the sim-tastic F355 Challenge waiting in the wings. As for the likelihood of further titles from Namco, the sheer effort they put into their way-better-than-the-arcade conversion of Soul Calibur gives a strong indication of their faith in the console's future. The Dreamcast may munch up a few months' worth of quarters, but in the long run you're guaranteed not to regret it. Broom-broom!

Reason #6: Dinky VMS stuff
OK, so the jury's out on whether the Visual Memory System is a useful tool or a fun gimmick, but the idea is certainly a good one. Essentially a glorified memory card (akin to Sony's PocketStation), the VMS is the tool you use to connect your Dreamcast games to their arcade counterparts. In Japan, a VMS (and a copy of the Shenmue Passport demo) enables you to save your F355 arcade performance data for playback at home in a crazy wireframe replay mode (think Metal Gear's VR mode with cars). We can only hope that with the continued success of Dreamcast, Sega sees fit to increase the potential for interaction between home users and arcade-goers. Think about it - you could spend time at home earning a really cool secret vehicle in the Dreamcast version of some racing game, and then pose by using it in front of the crowds at the local arcade.

Reason #7: Sega's staff are weirdos

Sounds like a dumb reason? Well, maybe you should stick to the PlayStation if you like your games with increasingly big numbers at the end of the title. Personally, and as much as I can't wait to play Resident Evil 3 or Final Fantasy 8 (hey, I'm getting to it), I'm feeling a little let down by Sony in the originality department. OK, they gave us Parappa the Rapper and "survival horror" (for which I'm eternally grateful) but it's time for something else. Sega may yet fall flat with Shenmue, but it's a brave experiment. Likewise, the direction they took with Sonic Adventure was a brave move when everyone seemed to be expecting Mario 64 in hi-res. Look at the wacked, drug-induced stuff they've been churning out of late! Get Bass, Powerstone and Seaman: are these the products of healthy minds? I think we should be told...

- Shenmue delayed again? Nick Ferguson is out for blood (and not that wussy green stuff, either).


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