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Sega Dreamcast: A Review
Page 1 of 2
Author: boon kiat
Date of review: 24-February-1999
Type Of Review: Games

Introduction
OK everyone.. I just went ahead and did it! =) I got me a Dreamcast and the S$600 deal gave me:
  • the basic console (comes with one gamepad controller)
  • 220V to 110V converter for use in Singapore
  • VF3 TB
  • Sega Rally 2

In Japan, the whole deal would have cost : 29,800 + 5,800 + 5,800 = 41400 yen = S$579 (and that excludes sales tax in Japan and the step down transformer). So, it is a pretty good deal, value-wise. What do I think of it? Well, itís a mixed bag.

The Console
The packaging is quite straightforward.

The box contains one controller, a user guide, the console itself, and the necessary cables (power and AV) to hook you up.

The Dreamcast console itself is very dense. You would not expect it to weigh as heavy as it did. It even comes with a fan blowing out from the right edge of the console. In front, there are 4 controller ports a la Nintendo 64.



"It can get quite annoying because the only way to reset the machine is to hold down A+B+X+Y and press Start on the controller (which sounds oddly enough like Ctrl-Alt-Del). A sign of Microsoftís influence?"


At the back resides the power socket, the AV-plug and, interestingly enough, a serial port, which I suppose plugs to the modem. I was told that the Dreamcast in Japan comes with a modem built-in. I donít think the Singapore version has that feature.

The controls on the console itself are quite sparse too. The top only has two buttons: for power and eject - and a light too.

I quite missed the Reset button on my old Saturn and I have no idea why this was not there. It can get quite annoying because the only way to reset the machine is to hold down A+B+X+Y and press Start on the controller (which sounds oddly enough like Ctrl-Alt-Del). A sign of Microsoftís influence? =)

Also missing are the expansion port at the back (used for VCD/MPEG cartridge) and the expansion cartridge (used for extra RAM in MSH vs SF, Netlink modem, savegame memory, etc.) on the Saturn.

Powering it up without a CD opens up the control options, similar to the old Saturn. You get 4 menu option icons, each animated in 3D.

The first option allows you to play games, and is represented by the gamepad. The second allows you to manage the savegame files in the VMS, a memory backup device that plugs into the controller and also functions like a small Tamagotchi toy on its own.

The third option is a music CD player, and it is quite boring, compared to the Saturn version, which gave karaoke facilities (key/tone change as well as vocal muting), in addition to having a cool animated spaceship that moves through space in time with the music.

The Dreamcast CD player merely depicts a 3D spinning CD, with track and time info displayed prominently. You donít even get to program the tracks. I guess Sega decided to skip all the frills this time around. The only concession Sega made was to introduce some rotating lights that lights up the spinning CD, which doubles up as a screen saver.

"The Dreamcast console itself is very dense. You would not expect it to weigh as heavy as it did. It even comes with a fan blowing out from the right edge of the console. In front, there are 4 controller ports a la Nintendo 64."


I also tried popping a VideoCD into the player without any luck though. This is quite odd since VF3 ships with a MPEG decoder to show some FMV sequences, and they look quite good.

The last option allows you to change system settings, such as language, date and time. It also allows you to enable autostart, or to disable it. Another sign of Microsoftís influence? =|

The console itself does get pretty warm, even with the fan on. Just for your info, the fan is fairly quiet... way quieter, say compared to that found in my Microsoft Force Feedback Pro joystick.

I am not going to go into the hardware specification of the Dreamcast, since it seems like every review I read already included it.

The GamePad Controller
The original Dreamcast gamepad feels like a step backwards to me, having gotten so used to the Saturnís excellent gamepads.

"Setting aside the seeming lack of buttons (not really needed in the first two games I bought), the pad itself is quite ergonomic and I had no problems using it to play VF3 for long stretches at a time."


I grew up on the Street Fighter games, having played my way all the way from the World Warrior incarnation, and the Saturn gamepads with 6 top-facing buttons seemed just right for the game, allowing me to access all six punches and kicks at my fingertips.

I could never quite get used to the Playstation and Super Nintendo gamepads when playing SF games, since these only had 4 buttons on top. I had to contort my fingers just to reach two additional buttons at the top.
The Playstation and Saturn also upped the button ante from the older 16bit consoles, each providing 8 gamepad buttons.



This is why I find it odd that the Dreamcast only has 6 buttons! In Capcom beat-em-up games like Street Fighter Collection/X-Men, the extra two buttons can be used as macro buttons (simulating all three punches or kicks), and comes in real handy in getting the super combos out on demand (OK, so I cheat a little! =P )

A lot of people have likened the Dreamcast controller to the N64ís original controller, but I feel it is much closer relative to the Saturn analog controller, which first debuted with Sega Nights, right down to the grips for your left and right hand.

Setting aside the seeming lack of buttons (not really needed in the first two games I bought), the pad itself is quite ergonomic and I had no problems using it to play VF3 for long stretches at a time.

"The original Dreamcast gamepad feels like a step backwards to me, having gotten so used to the Saturnís excellent gamepads."


Sega also markets two other controllers, an arcade stick (such as those found in VF3 cabinets in the arcades) and a steering wheel. Both devices also allow you to plug in VMS devices. In Singapore, the stick retails for S$95 and the wheel for S$105 (approximate), but they cost less in Japan (5,800 yen and 5,000 yen respectively)

The arcade stick is almost identical to the real version found in Sega VF3 cabinets but offers more buttons (six instead of four). However, the wheel is a far cry from the force feedback wheel in Daytona/Rally/Scud Race cabinets). Anyway, I canít afford them yet, so I canít give a proper review of them... yet. =)

Coming soon, is a light gun that will come bundled with House of the Dead 2. This conversion should be spot on since it is based on the Naomi/PowerVR architecture.

Memory Cartridges
Memory cartridges have really come a long way, since I bought my first Saturn memory cart.

The Saturn utilised a single memory cart that plugs to the console itself. The Playstation refined it further by allowing each player/controller to have a dedicated memory cartridge to save player-specific information. The Nintendo 64 then leapfrogged the Sony by allowing the memory cartridge to plug directly to the gamepad.

So, it is inevitable that Sega would take the concept of the memory cart further in their next console. =)



First, the Dreamcast gamepad allows you to plug in TWO separate devices. This is useful if you wish to have vibrating/rumble pack device in addition to the memory cart. But thatís not all (gee, beginning to sound like a Sell-A-Vision ad), each memory unit is actually programmable. In fact, prior to the Dreamcast launch, the memory unit (VMS) was sold as Tamagotchi-like module, containing a mini-Godzilla game.

In future, you can even bring these VMS cartridges to Sega arcade machines, to store user specific information (gear/suspension settings for racing games? or even RPG characters?). This is because Segaís next-generation Naomi arcade machines, which replaces the older (and costlier but slightly superior) Model 3 technology, is also based on the PowerVR second generation chipset used in the Dreamcast.



"In future, you can even bring these VMS cartridges to Sega arcade machines, to store user specific information (gear/suspension settings for racing games? or even RPG characters?)."
"So you can finetune your Daytona car at home, then bring it to the arcades to compete with your buddies. I believe this way, Sega can maintain a competitive edge in both the arcade and console gaming scenes."


I managed to see the last Model 3 arcade game (Star Wars Trilogy) side by side a Naomi arcade machine (House of the Dead 2), and quite honestly, the Naomi was not too far behind in terms of video quality.

One of the problems with the Model 1/2/3 architecture was that it used very expensive technology (originally developed for the US armed forces), and it was costly for arcade owners to purchase many of these units (such as for multiple Daytona machines).

So you can finetune your Daytona car at home, then bring it to the arcades to compete with your buddies. I believe this way, Sega can maintain a competitive edge in both the arcade and console gaming scenes.

All this is merely pure speculation at this stage of course, since there are no such games. A thought just occurred to me though. Wonder if viruses can get passed along these VMS devices?

OK, enough of the preamble. Letís get on with the games, which is why you came here, right?



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