Sega Dreamcast: A Review - Page 2

The Software
It’s hard to tell how powerful the machine really is unless you look at the software, and I only have two titles.

"... it is amazing what experienced tweaking can get out of an old console. Nobody ever thought Nights nor VF2 were possible on the Saturn, just looking at the first batch of Saturn games"

Since these titles were developed by Sega, they should represent the best use of the Dreamcast’s ability to date. I said "to date" because as everyone who has observed console gaming in the last few years, it is amazing what experienced tweaking can get out of an old console. Nobody ever thought Nights nor VF2 were possible on the Saturn, just looking at the first batch of Saturn games (the jerky Daytona USA and the glitchy Virtua Fighter).

And yet, these two titles represent such a mixed bag, as I mentioned earlier.

Both titles were originally Model 3 arcade titles, and yet, the conversions show such a difference in standards.

Virtua Fighter 3 TB
Vf3TB was one of the first titles available for the Dreamcast at launch, and frankly, it was the only reason for getting a Dreamcast then. There was also a puzzle game and a Godzilla game which looked pretty lame to me.

"First of all, the shadows. VF3 Model 3 showed perfect black shadows. In VF3 DC (for Dreamcast), the shadows are somewhat disjointed."

The game was spot on, running at a constant 60fps (seemingly) with no slowdown during fights, and was "almost" arcade perfect. Why "almost"?

Well, before I could afford to buy the Dreamcast, I used to stand outside the stores and gaze longingly at the demo units and sooner or later, you tend to pick up the subtle differences.

First of all, the shadows. VF3 Model 3 showed perfect black shadows. In VF3 DC (for Dreamcast), the shadows are somewhat disjointed. I suppose there were a lot of shortcuts taken. Shadow calculations can be quite CPU-intensive and the result is usually negligible in the heat of the game.

This is usually apparent when the stage you are fighting on is not completely level (which happens a lot in VF3). In Akira’s dojo, or Taka’s (the sumo wrestler) training grounds (both of which are flat), you can hardly see the disjointed shadows at all. But with Pai’s rooftop stage or Kagemaru’s ancient Japanese castle, they become more conspicuous.

"... there are some perceptible slowdowns, when the stage opens and the camera pans around to show the two fighters. The slowdown seems most obvious in Shun Di’s stage which is formed by lots of floating pieces of wood/boats on a river."

Another change made is the way fabric materials are modelled. In the original VF3 Model 3, fabrics, such as those used in Aoi’s traditional Japanese costume or the Taka’s loincloth are brilliantly modelled and displayed natural (swishing?) motion when the characters moved around. The clothes in VF3DC seem a lot more stiff. If you can examine Lau’s stage, you might even notice a flag in the background that moves very, very stiffly, and doesn’t appear realistic at all. =) Yup, I sometimes have waaay too much time on my hands...

Other tradeoffs are also negligible, such as the lack of snow in Aoi’s stage and the plain background in Shun’s stage (it used to look like the Hong Kong skyline).

"Overall, it is an excellent top-notch conversion, and if you’ve played and loved the game in the arcade, the Dreamcast version is as good as it gets."

While the game does move at a smooth 60fps during fights, there are some perceptible slowdowns, when the stage opens and the camera pans around to show the two fighters. The slowdown seems most obvious in Shun Di’s stage which is formed by lots of floating pieces of wood/boats on a river.

However, in the real game itself, the motion is brilliantly smooth. This is almost crucial in a game like VF3 that requires split second timings to pull off incredibly cool moves like Akira’s Stun Palm of Death (SPOD).

So there you have it, the lowdown on VF3DC. Mind you, none of these so called defects are really apparent when you are actually playing the game.

Overall, it is an excellent top-notch conversion, and if you’ve played and loved the game in the arcade, the Dreamcast version is as good as it gets.

"... the motion is brilliantly smooth. This is almost crucial in a game like VF3 that requires split second timings to pull off incredibly cool moves like Akira’s Stun Palm of Death"

There are also additional features. There is a Virtua Fighter History feature, which gives a very well shot FMV sequences showing the evolution of the VF series, from the 30fps flat shaded Model 1 Virtua Fighter to the texture mapped 60fps Model 2, Virtua Fighter 2, and to Virtua Fighter 3. They have also digitised movies of the VF3 demos originally shown to showcase the Model 3 technology at tradeshows.

When you complete the game, you are also presented with a special Endings FMV. I don’t know how many of you remember the VF3 movie that you could download either as a 13MB Quicktime or in segments which showed off each character in turn (Jeffrey fighting a shark, Pai and Lau training on top of a mountain, etc.), but I sure do (I even downloaded it then). Anyway, the whole video is here in full screen full motion glory, available as a bonus when you complete the game! =) The MPEG codec used (so it says on the CD) is quite amazing.

"The Windows CE platform could be a double-edged sword. It allows most developers to port their games easily to the Dreamcast, but it might also be a resource hog, which fails to give games that extra edge."

You also have a pretty decent training mode, but this is nowhere near the exhaustive version found in Fighting Vipers (Saturn) or Fighters Megamix, that listed most of each characters moves.

You also get a second disc which tells you more about Project Berkley which is something Yu Suzuki is working on next, and is touted as a bigger-than-real-life RPG game. I don’t understand Japanese so I have no idea what he is talking about. The whole disc appears to be one long FMV, with an interview with Yu Suzuki and traces the games he’s worked on since Hang On, Outrun, Space Harrier (in the 2D days) to VF3.

Sega Rally 2
Unlike VF3, Sega Rally 2 was a little disappointing.

The game seemed to run in low resolution, compared to VF3, which was in crisp hires. This could be because of the textures, but I am not sure. Everything just seemed, well, for the lack of a better word, grainy.

The framerate was also a huge disappointment, failing to run at a constant rate. I wasn’t really not hoping for 60fps (like in VF3), but I was expecting at least a constant 30fps, but even that was not so. In many cases, it felt sluggish... especially when another car was in the horizon.

"Everything just seemed, well, for the lack of a better word, grainy."

The other problems I encountered were "draw in" or "pop up" where 3D objects in the horizon suddenly appear. I can’t help but wonder if this is the fault of Windows CE, whose logo appears (along with Sega’s) when you first boot up Rally. =) Surprisingly enough, the Windows CE logo doesn’t appear when VF3 boots up.

Still, the gameplay is all there, something which I have never faulted Sega for. The controls are great, and the game fun to play, but a little difficult, even in Easy mode.

You also have the ability to play multiplayer linkup if you have a modem, but sadly, I did not so I was unable to test this feature out.

I was unable to enjoy Rally 2 as much as I did VF3, but then again, I was never much of a Rally player, even in the arcades, preferring Scud Race or Daytona USA. Scud Race, especially, had excellent track designs. It was almost as much fun driving fast as it was to just cruise and enjoy the view.

I would love to see a great port of Scud Race, even if they left out the 911. I had heard that Sony signed an exclusive deal with Porche, so that only Sony could have home console games that featured Porche cars.

Conclusion
The Dreamcast shows lots of promise, especially when you play VF3.

The Windows CE platform could be a double-edged sword. It allows most developers to port their games easily to the Dreamcast, but it might also be a resource hog, which fails to give games that extra edge. I am basing this on the hypothesis that VF3 did not use WinCE, but I could be wrong.

The ability to port over titles from the arcade Naomi machines easily should be an added boost for Dreamcast. The short lag time between the launch of House of the Dead 2 in the arcades and on the Dreamcast, seems to testify to this fact.

"The Windows CE platform could be a double-edged sword. It allows most developers to port their games easily to the Dreamcast, but it might also be a resource hog, which fails to give games that extra edge."

The other hope I have for the Dreamcast is Sega’s huge array of older arcade titles that can finally be ported – literally "arcade perfect". Just as Saturn delivered arcade perfect translations of Outrun and the rest, I believe an arcade perfect VF2 and Daytona USA is also possible.

Now, my only gripes are: where are the adapters? =) I hope some Hong Kong/Taiwanese entrepreneur can come up with adapters that would allow me to use my existing array of controllers on the Dreamcast! At last count, I have

  • 8 Guns
    1. 2 GunCons,
    2. 2 Saturn guns
    3. 2 Jolt/Recoil guns for Saturn/PSX,
    4. 1 Konami Justifier for PSX and
    5. 1 Judge Dredd gun for both PSX/Saturn)
  • 4 Steering Wheels
    1. Thrustmaster Formula T2 for the PC
    2. Logitech Wingman Formula Force for the PC
    3. Mad Katz for the PSX and
    4. Taiwanese wheel for N64/PSX/Saturn)
  • 9 Gamepads
    1. 2 for the PC (Sidewinder Freestyle Pro USB, Creative Cobra USB)
    2. 4 for the PSX (2 digital, 2 analog dual shock)
    3. 3 for the Saturn (2 digital)
  • 2 Programmable Arcade Sticks for the PSX/Saturn

So if they made a USB-Dreamcast adapter, I would be happy. Or a Saturn-Dreamcast adapter... or...

OK I have taken long enough on this review... back to VF3!

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