Earlier this week, I retrieved a ridiculously dusty bag complete with dangling cobwebs from a shelf. I don’t even know how many years it had been since the contents of that bag had seen the light of day.
What was contained within – you ask, having not seen the title of the post, the big photo below this text or the tags next to it? The answer is nostalgia. Nostalgia in the form of a short-lived and decade-old games console. It was my Sega Dreamcast.
If you’ve never owned a Dreamcast, you may be wondering what the small object with the buttons is. It’s the VMU which stands for something…That is another way of saying “memory card with a screen”. It plugs upside down into that hollow part of the controller.
The screen has a basic two-shades-of-beige display (think Snake on early mobile phones) and had some kind of gaming purpose in mind…I just knew it as a stupid Tamagotchi. Here are some closer shots in all their crummy glory:
(Curiously, the easily forgotten Sony PocketStation came out at about the same time.)
I was always worried about the battery inside it for portable gaming. I’ve been terrified that it would run out and I’d lose all my save data. But I found out recently that the high-pitched screeching noise heard whenever I turned on the Dreamcast is a message to tell me the battery is dead. So it does work off the power in the controller and saves are safe.
Although I am still terrified that the battery will melt and the acid will burn through the controller and then my hands and then through the floor like something out of the Alien films.
As I unpacked the bag, the first thing that struck me was the controller, or ‘joypad’ as I believe we used to call them. Simpler times. Before that word sounded like an erotic iPad app.
I was surprised by the similarity to the Xbox 360 controller, as you can see from the photos above. Note the colours and letters of the face buttons, the placement of the stick and d-pad, the triggers and the…Sticky outy bit in the middle of the back.
Is there some rarely mentioned trivia about a connection between Sega and the development of the Xbox that I’ve totally missed?
That Microsoft connection isn’t too unusual considering Windows is mentioned on the front of the console.
Ports and dirt included for good measure there. On the subject of said ports, I had to figure out how to actually attach this contraption to my TV.
Hours of fruitless internet searches had me convinced I was missing SCART or AV cables that should have come standard. All I had was this archaic device that I believe ancient civilisations called an ‘RF unit’:
After a little bit too long, I eventually realised I could just plug this into the back of my TV (it still has analogue TV capability) and auto-tune. Embarrassment aside, I remembered this hassle from the original PlayStation and the Mega Drive.
The machine was soon up and running and after that classic startup noise, I was asked to input the date and time. The default was 27/11/1998. The date the console was released in Japan – it wasn’t released in Europe or America until almost a full year later.
(On that note, I have a memory of me getting my arse handed to me in Soul Calibur on an imported Japanese Dreamcast a neighbour had. I blamed my unfamiliarity with an analogue stick at the time.)
I eventually found my way to the menu, clumsily photographed above for the sake of consistency. It has a dancing controller…That’s about it.
I quelled my fear of missing game saves by finding the few I’d left on the VMU – Sonic games and Resident Evil 2 saves. All somehow dated 27/11/1998, so I never found out when I last touched the console. But did realise I’m kind of stupid for not waiting till the anniversary to publish this.
The Dreamcast also had these weird cases that opened both ways. As if they were designed for two-disc games. Can’t remember any game using the other side for anything but than a manual though. The thin parts are pretty flimsy, so despite the odd and distinctive look, it’s pretty poor design.
I decided to play the Dreamcast exclusives (of the time) that were most important to me: the Sonic Adventure series.
I was pretty shocked to find just how ridiculously scratched up the discs were. I couldn’t get a good photo of the scratch marks but they’re the worst discs I’ve seen – and I rent games! Old Playstation and PC discs I own aren’t scratched as bad as that. So I wonder if the Dreamcast carved them up or I’m blocking out a decade-old memory in which I just went at them with a knife.
I’d maintained that Sonic Adventure was a good game. Going back and playing it now tore the nostalgia goggles from my eyes and ripped some flesh with them.
It is horribly broken. It has the linear, automatic speed forward parts that ruins 3D Sonic games. The camera is even worse than I remember. There’s a really odd clipping problem whenever a floor texture changes (like the line where a flat surface becomes a ramp), you can get sort of trapped on the edge, with your character teleporting into stances of various angles and directions.
Most the levels are passable, although exploring with Tails’ flight or Knuckles’ climbing and gliding is still genuinely fun, especially in the Mystic Ruins. There are some cool details and even though it’s a mess, you can tell there was a lot of effort and care put into it.
I daren’t even attempt Big the Cat’s fishing levels though.
Sonic Adventure 2, on the other hand was the infuriating mess I remembered. It just worsened what it took from the previous game and cut out the best stuff altogether. Still don’t understand how anyone could prefer it to its predecessor. Definitely where it all went wrong for the franchise.
Although I did unintentionally enjoy the stupidity of where Tails narrates exposition to himself in a plane. Imagine these following actual quotes in a tone I can only compare to the talking dog from Pixar’s Up:
There’s no mistake about it; this must be the island. It’s a secret military base that’s reinforced, and super-strong. It’s called Prison Island. I heard the news about it on satellite TV.
Hey, look, it’s Amy! And Eggman too. What’s Amy doing here? Doesn’t matter. I have to help Amy, because she’s in danger.
Well, that’s it for the glimpse of this nostalgia trip. Just going to leave you with a rarely heard tune from Sonic Adventure (set to play at 1:28). Here’s to the consoles of our memories.