Dreamcast: Sega’s Last Scream (Part Four)

Dreamcast: Sega’s Last Scream

SEAMAN

“F-ing Amazing.”

If words were scarce, or we lived in a quasi-perfect world in which a simple two-word recommendation would trigger the neurons in such a way that you ABSOLUTELY MUST PICK UP THIS GAME, then my job would now be over. How those cats at SEGA dreamed up this eclectic souffle of gaming madness, I’ll not know. But heed these words, intelligent and blue-caller-classy reader: if you do not spend good time with Seaman, you are going to hell. It really is a simple algebraic life equation: No Seaman in mortal existence… Then no blissful afterlife- because you sucked ass.

Anyways, if you haven’t picked up the scent in the air, some call it ‘love.’ There’s a small section of my heart that lies dormant if and only for Seaman, one of the most bizarre yet damned compelling titles ever to grace ANY game system to this day. The premise of this one, you’re asking for? Oh, and you thought Eternal Champions was a lot to swallow…

The game starts you off in a dark laboratory with a single Seaman egg, and audio cues to recreate the experiments and legendary tales of Dr. Jean Paul Gasse. Dr. Gasse, so the story says, was a cat that found a living Seaman specimen in Old Alexandria in Egypt sometime in 1997. Apparently, this ‘Seaman’ had some kind of influence on the progression of ancient Egyptian civilization, and the historiographies of the day were orally passed from one Seaman to the next over generations. Fast forward to 1997, where one last remaining Seaman was found and rushed to a French laboratory, only to die. However, it did not die before letting out a series of Seaman eggs’ and that’s where you come into the picture: you are now responsible for the development of one of these Seaman eggs.

With the apparent incoherency aside, you raise a wise-talking tadpole with the voice of a toddler into a fish-like thing with the face of Gilbert Godfried and the attitude of your favorite Kliq members. What’s more, you actually talk to the thing via the Dreamcast Mic which came packaged with it, and it gets to know you based on your responses- it’s kind of like the witty social worker you’ve never met. Not only that, but you raise the thing too- from tadpole, to fish, to frog, to a… oh- and it’s all narrated by the immortal Leonard Nimoy?! Yeah!

Prior to it’s release, and quite frankly unprecedented aside from Hey You, Pikachu!, the experience of breeding Seaman from innocent tadpole to smart-ass frog ‘thing’ and beyond is unmatched. Sure, you’ve gotta manage your food pellets and not overfeed him. Sure, you’ve got to keep the oxygen level nice and high. And yes, you can feed him the spider, but he’ll feel bad in the short term. After a while, you develop a certain kind of rapport with the thing. Actually, it’s almost scary typing about it, because… oh, come on! It’s a synthetic ‘thing!’

But that’s the ultimate kicker about Seaman. For all the effort you put into the relationship, Seaman will reciprocate, as he is designed to churn out as much dynamic banter as possible, and will throw out anything he sees fit to suit what he perceives. He rewards honesty. He exhibits tough love. He will be your friend. And yes, he will even insult you. The back of the jewel case has his take on ‘being weird’: ‘Sorry I’m a little bit different, Valley Girl.’ I swear- I know people with less personality than this fish/frog/random-thing.

It’s evident that the basic premise of the ‘game’ really supercedes every aspect of it’s being- to the brink of nullifying any reasonable discussion or remark about things like graphics, sound, or gameplay. However, when you jump into the game and experience it firsthand, you begin to appreciate all of the little subtleties those crazy cats at Sega tossed in. For instance- you’ll fall in love with the presentation by Nimoy every time you turn on the system to ‘check up’ on Seaman, as he’ll clue you in on what to do next. The noises that surround the aquarium come across really well, as every little toss and turn will be sent to the proper speaker and every little bubble will be popped in that same audio brilliance. The graphics itself are simplistic as far as the environments are concerned, but Seaman’s facial animations are indeed up to the task. Gameplay is as simple as raising Seaman himself, which means you’ll actually have to think about what you’re gonna do next.

Anyways, just listen. Rather, bring your face closer to the screen and read this sentence more attentively: YOU NEED TO EXPERIENCE THE GREATNESS THAT IS SEAMAN. You can snag one on eBay for around 5-15 dollars, find the mic for even less, and have a Sega VMU ready (not a memory card)- because the game will use the screen to help you communicate with Seaman, as well as save your progress. It’s a whole mess of hardware to put together, but the reward is immense- I assure you.

No matter how hard I try to squeeze out an adequate summary or a parallel experience to Seaman, I would just belittle the project to the point of embarrassment. However, just do what the bold text says. Find it. Enjoy it. Live it. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more fulfilling and unique experience on any other system.

Frederick Badlissi


SAMBA DE AMIGO

A music game produced by Sega’s Sonic Team, and one with an incredibly unique twist. I mean, who else would even THINK of using MARACAS as controllers? In anyways, using maracas and special sensors on the floor, you need to shake the maracas at the right time in either high, mid, or low positions. Latin music fits the bill quite nicely, including licensed tracks such as Take On Me, Samba De Janeiro, El Ritmo Tropical, and La Bamba. If you were connected to the Internet, you could also download an executable that allowed you to play Sega classics like Open Your Heart. Add in a special mission mode that helps teach you the game, and you’re all set for some mind-numbing Latin dancing!

Alex Williams



Dreamcast: Sega’s Last Scream

VIRTUAL ON: ORATORIO TANGRAM

God bless Activision. God bless every one of them. God bless their children. God bless their dogs, cats, ostriches… God bless any Chia Pets they may own. God bless any nose goblins they’re breeding underneath their desks. God bless them all from sea to shining sea, by the power invested in me from the Chaos Emeralds, with liberty and justice for all.

Bless them because they brought me my Virtual On.

In 1995 there was only one 3-D fighting game that mattered to young Bebito other than Virtua Fighter 2… Cybertroopers Virtual On: Operation Moongate. Affectionately known as VOOM by fans in the gaming community, it was the first in Sega’s Virtual On series, and wow… just wow, it was amazing. VOOM, for the uninitiated, is essentially a one-on-one fighting game featuring anime-style giant robots. Its smooth 3D movement and unique gameplay highlighted it; especially unique for the time it was released. I remember sitting in the arcade cabinet for the first time, grasping those twin sticks, marveling over the graphics, selecting Temjin, and instinctively beating the bloody pulp out of Cypher, watching the combat go into slow motion as my Virtuaroid sliced through him like the butter that he was for the final blow. That’s all it took. I fell in love. As did thousands other Virtual On players. When the Saturn version dropped courtesy of Sega I picked it up immediately. And to amazement it was faithful to AM3’s arcade monster, helped even further by the fact Sega had it playable online for its ill-fated netlink service (I’m not even going to get started on how sweet playing Virtual On and Saturn Bomberman across a Saturn netlink are.).

Wondering what the big deal was? It was just a mech fighting game right? WRONG. What separated this game from others of its era was its third-person-from-behind perspective and movement in all THREE dimensions. Yes, kids. This is the original. As with most things, Sega did it first. Virtual On is the precursor to the Armored Cores and Zone of Enders of our day.

And it wasn’t for button mashers either. Virtual On made you THINK. You had to perfect strafing, hiding, mid-air dashing, deciding whether to you use your ranged arsenal or to go in with your melee weapons for the kill. This was true tactical real-time 3D fighting. Which also explained why it only obtained cult popularity in the US, because it took actual planning and strategy to win.

But VOOM was just the appetizer. Merely the blueprint for the REAL deal. 1998, Sega dropped the bomb that was Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram (VOOT) in Japanese arcades blowing everything away and giving the harder core of the hardcore among us heart attacks. I was awed by the original, but using Yu Suzuki’s powerful and ludicrously expensive Model 3 hardware VOOT took the series to a new level graphically that remains impressive even today, years after its original release. Truly a thing of beauty. But my fellow US gamers and I marveled over this beauty in screenshot printed page form only. You see, finding a VOOT cabinet in an American arcade was nearly IMPOSSIBLE. The arcade scene was just beginning to die. And Sega didn’t bring it over. Importing + Model 3 games costing two kidneys and your first-born son to purchase = No North American arcade VOOT. Feh.

But there was still hope. Two more versions of the game were released, the first being Version 5.45 that tweaked a few balance issues in gameplay. Still no arcade US release, but it was this more polished version that was brought home to the Sega Dreamcast! HOORAY! Not only that, but Sega sweetened the deal by adding online play over the DC’s built in modem! DOUBLE HOORAY! Not only that, but Sega decided to not bring it over from Japan to Region 1. TRIPLE HOO.. wha? That’s right. Sega outright refused to bring it over. Originally they did have plans to publish the game in the US, mulling over making it playable for their upcoming North American SegaNet online service. But alas, that wouldn’t be ready for another year into late 2000. So in typical Sega of America fashion, rather than deal with the decision of releasing it early without online play, or extremely late with online play, they said ‘screw it’ and didn’t bring it over at all. DIDN’T BRING IT OVER AT ALL! How could you market the Dreamcast at hardcore gamers, and LEAVE Virtual On in Japan, Sega?! HOW?! WHY?! What the bloody hell were you thinking??

Ahh. But that’s when the heavens opened up, the doves flew forth, and Activision descended down riding upon the holy publishing cloud of happiness, blessing us all. That’s when they saw a good thing and jumped on it faster than Michael Jackson jumped on Macaulay Culkin. That’s when Activision published VOOT for the North American Dreamcast and pleased every single hardcore Virtual On player in the United States. And representing them all, I would personally just like to thank them. Sure I would have imported if they didn’t bring it over, but there’s nothing like owning a game in your native language. There’s nothing like simply plopping the game in your system and enjoying instead of dealing with expensive pricing and import boot discs. So, thank you Activision. Thank you from the bottom of my V-Crystal loving heart.

Ok. So, I finally had it. After a roller coaster ride of emotion, I finally had it. How was it? Magnificent. Absolutely mind-blowing. Mind-blowing as in the first time you saw Soul Calibur running on your Dreamcast mind-blowing. The screenshots didn’t do it justice. The screens you see on this page now, don’t do it justice. How they got what was essentially a Naomi board in a little white box to pull off those Model 3 graphics is beyond me, but dear god if they didn’t do it! It was the best Model 3 conversion ever done. Better than Virtua Fighter 3, better than Sega Rally 2. When they say ‘pixel-perfect’ conversion, they’re talking about VOOT. The game never suffers from any sort of slowdown and cruises along at a glistening 60 frames per second at all times. Every background is rendered in full 3D. Special effects from explosions, to light-sourcing, to crystal-clear transparencies and shadows surround at every turn. And an impressive opening CG sequence gets you amped up for some Virtuaroid melee in ways I can’t convey with words. This is the graphical crown jewel of the system right next to Shenmue, folks.

And it wasn’t just a big butt and a smile. Gameplay was faster and more complex than it’s predecessor, with weapon and movement combinations now having turbo variants. Aerial movement and close combat were greatly expanded. New virtuaroids were introduced, like the sorceress guising Angelan, while the original 11 older versions were tweaked or redesigned. And the strategy element was just as strong as ever. Arrangement of the environments gave the player tons of fighting options. If you didn’t know how to use your surroundings, you were a dead man. Some were pretty open so you’d have to rely mainly on direct combat skills to survive. But many stages added elevating slopes and large structures to hide behind for cover or to use for height advantage. One of the locales even takes place underwater! YES! And even though we got the shaft with online play, the muli-player aspects certainly weren’t on the light side with horizontal split screen, a vertical split screen, a picture-in-picture split screen, and link-cable capabilities.

Alas, one of the few gripes leveled at VOOT was having to play the game without the tailor made arcade based Dual Stick controller. The standard DC pad didn’t cut the mustard, especially in the Japanese version where the 4 preset button configurations Sega created were pretty useless. But Activision, God bless them again, added two new configurations, which while not perfect, are good enough to clear up the need to shell out all of that cash to get import Dual Sticks for most non-anal VO players. Personally, I’ve never had any problems playing with the pad OR the sticks, as Fei-Yen is unstoppable in my hands either way. Prove me wrong. ;)

Now I’m not going to go off on a cap locks tirade of insanity here. I’m just going to be honest. This is what sold me the Sega Dreamcast.

“Wait, wait, wait.. THIS is what sold you the Dreamcast? But you’re a Sonic The Hedgehog fanboy. What about Sonic Adventure, Bebito?”

Nope. By the time the North American system came out, I had beaten the Japanese version of SA backways and frontways on an import DC. Yes, I absolutely loved it. Yes I picked Sonic up at launch. Yes I loved Soul Calibur and Powestone and all the rest. But it was the prospect of getting what is the greatest, most pure mech fighting game of all-time on a home console months before it was even announced in my region that sold me. Graphics that put some PS2 titles to shame. Gameplay that puts nearly every other game of it’s kind up till then to shame. Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram was AM3’s labor of love. Hitmaker released the competent Virtual On Marz for the PS2, and while it contains the same basic formula, the response and speed still pale in comparison to the simplicity of this Dreamcast classic. So I’m telling you now. You need this game. You need it like a man needs to not drop his soap on his first day in the penitentiary showers. You need it like Kid Rock needs to put on six condoms every time he walks within 10ft of Pam Anderson. This is among the preeminent of its class, boys and girls. Buy the system. Then buy Virtual On. If you have one ounce of giant anime robot fighting love in you, then I’m pleading, BUY VIRTUAL ON. You owe it to yourself.

Bebito Jackson


SOUL CALIBUR

The first, last, and only reason a fan of fighters needs to justify purchasing a Dreamcast. It’s that simple. Soul Calibur is the first, and only, game to fully capture the ease of control, balance, and addictive quality of a 2-D fighter in 3-D. In spite of what Samurai Spirits fans will tell you, the best weapons fighter on Earth, is Soul Calibur. From the epic soundtrack and voice over work, to the classically designed characters, to the beautifully rendered intro movie, to the elegant combo system. Soul Calibur is the incarnation of the fighting spirit. Is that enough sucking up? Beyond the presentation, though, what made Soul Calibur worth the time and energy of all those who played it was the incredibly tight control. Up until then, 3-D fighters had been lacking in the sheer quality of the top 2-D fighters and sold, mainly, due to the gee whiz factor. But in the case of Soul Calibur, the 8-way run, buttery control, and elegant polish on every facet of the game made it stand out from the rest. Seriously, Soul Calibur took a good, but not especially classic, fighting game, Soul Edge, and turned it into a solid and infinitely replayable piece of gaming gold. It may not have been the reason I bought the Dreamcast, but it kept my system warm during the Christmas of 2000 and is still close at hand, even now. It has Voldo, for god’s sake. What else do you need? I can hardly name a better fighting game, 2-D or not. That is an accomplishment. Now just do us all a favor and forget the sequel. Please.

Chuck Platt



Dreamcast: Sega’s Last Scream

SEGAGAGA

This is it people. This is Sega’s swan song. The finale. The finale hurrah. The last great truly incredible game they ever had. And fitting it was a way to say ‘f*ck you’ to Sony and ‘Thank you’ to the true Sega fanatics that stood by them through everything. Not a game since has equaled the originality, beauty, and outright psychotic nature of this game. Super Monkey Ball? Meh. Sonic Heroes? Bleah. Billy Hatcher? Snicker. Panzer Dragoon Orta? Sorry people. All great games, but this. THIS. This game truly is the defining moment of Sega as a company, corporation, and provider of entertainment and happiness to countless gamers. It never was to be translated into English. It even had to be edited after it first debuted in Japan because it was that screwed up. Yes, that’s right. JAPAN CENSORED THIS GAME.

And Sega had every right to make this game. It wasn’t for the average gamer. It wasn’t for the people who think 3D gaming is superior to 2D gaming. Or that near naked women in a game should be a major selling factor. Or any of the other crap we have had to put up with since casual gaming came up. It’s for people that loved Sega games and systems. People who own Burning Rangers or all three scenarios of Shining Force 3. People who own the 32X and still USE it. People who still whip out the master system for a game of Space Harrier or Alex Kidd in Shinobi World. People who hug the Saturn after a good game of Dragon Force or Guardian Heroes or hook up the Sega CD for just ONE MORE game of Dracula Unleashed before bed. This is for those that truly loved Sega. Believed in Sega. Stood by them through the 16 and 32 bit wars and trusted them enough for the 128 bit Dreamcast. This was Sega’s way of saying good-bye, thank you and we’re sorry. It was the ultimate middle finger and apology all at the same time. And it was beautiful beyond words.

The year is 2025. Sega is near bankrupt. It has only 5% of the market share. The rest of the video game industry is controlled by the DOGMA Corporation who has ruined the purity of video gaming by deciding graphics are more important than gameplay, that 2D gaming isn’t as profitable, and that selling to the lowest common denominator works. That’s right. Dogma is a thinly veiled attack on Sony Corp. God bless you Hitmaker for being as evil as you could to Sony.

Sega needs helps. They have an estimated three years before bankruptcy. And so they initiate the SGGG program. You and another person (a girl) are hired by Sega to turn the company around and save video gaming from the idiocy that are casual gamers and DOGMA. Notice the all caps there people. It means HEEEEEEEEEL.

What begins is an amazing Business Simulation crossed with an RPG. Remember Wall Street Kid for the NES? Or EWR for the PC? Imagine those crossed with Dragon Quest or Valkyrie Profile. BA-BAM! You’ve got SGGG.

The interface is hilarious and addicting beyond words. The idea is you must develop games. Typical video game company stuff, right? But first you’ve got to get developERS. And in order to do that you’ve got to go to the R&D Lab and recruit them. It’s amusing because the R&D lab is a Dungeon and the developers are monsters by RPG standards. Negotiating is done via a Quiz/Dating Sim style segment and is a lot of fun. Unless you don’t know Japanese. Then it’s guess and pray.

There are so many wacky things that occur. Dealing with the VG press, salary negotiations, retarded executives, pissed off fans when you have to delay the game release thanks to unexpected errors. You are living what it is like to be a video game developer here people. And you will learn to despise video game fans after playing this game a few times. Oh yes. You will. But more importantly, you will learn to appreciate companies for making games and all that they do. Including the fighting ‘monsters’ part. Who ever knew that the industry was that violent? I assumed it was just the Kliq and their randomly inserting things into Widro’s anus after drugging him with massive amounts of codine and PCP that was the exception to the norm. But Segagaga teaches you that in fact, all people in the video game industry are violent perverts.

This game is Sega’s death rattle people. The end of the Sega we all knew and loved. But in typical Sega fashion they don’t go down in a blaze of glory or morbidly lamenting their demise. They go out having fun, making fun of themselves and their situation. They give fans the one last true Sega hurrah. And then start making games for consoles and companies that don’t deserve to have that Blue and white logo flash on a screen connected to their hardware.

This is hands down the greatest thing Hitmaker ever put out. No video game will ever come close to the emotion, passion and madness inherent to this one game. It’s also the rarest of the rare in terms of getting the original uncut first collector’s release. 4 versions of this game exist, and of course, the first is the best.

I know when most people think of the DC they think of 9.9.99. But not me. I think of 3.29.01: The release date of SGGG. The purest moment in all of Sega’s storied history. And the day a game was released where a company proved it had a soul.

If you know Japanese and own a Dreamcast you owe it to yourself and Sega to get this. To devour it. To savour every moment and line and joke and tribute and memory put into this game. Segagaga is an experience. A revelation. A annul in video gaming that should be revered as much for its obscurity as for its honesty.

SEGA!

Alex Lucard


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