While the following games all showed up Stateside eventually, they did so on other consoles – and while that was no obstacle to getting them, they were nevertheless games that we pined for when we learned our Dreamcasts wouldn’t be able to play them. Don’t get us wrong – we’re happy to have them readily available, but somehow, it just isn’t the same.
The declining days of the Dreamcast saw the long-anticipated Shenmue II released only in Japan and Europe – which, naturally, drove American gamers into a frenzy. The European version instantly became the Holy Grail of Dreamcast import gaming, and for those who had a chance to play it on the dying system, it was nothing less than a beautiful swan song.
For everyone who picked it up later on the Xbox, however, it was a clunky, hard-to-get-into port whose once-outstanding graphics sort of paled next to everything else on the market at the time. It’s nice that we finally had an easy way to play it, but by then the enthusiasm of all but the most hardcore Shenmue fans – nearly all of whom had already imported it anyway – was dead.
Released in Europe for the Dreamcast and later arriving in North America on the PS2 and Xbox 360, Rez belongs in just about every textbook on radical game design. Built around the idea of “synaesthesia” (which in this case refers to blurring the line between graphics and sound), it’s a linear, Panzer Dragoon-style shooter at its core, with gameplay largely consisting of “painting” multiple targets with a cursor and letting fly with missiles.
Rez is more than just another shooter, however, and its trippy, deceptively minimalist visuals – and the interplay between them and the ever-changing soundtrack – elevate it to the level of art in the eyes of many. It found sizable audiences on the PS2 and Xbox 360, but sadly, Sega held it back when the Dreamcast needed it the most.
Setting a bold example for all the other games that should be made widely available to the world outside Japan, Triggerheart Exelica opened itself up to a whole new audience by showing up on Xbox Live Arcade.
Another fantastic-looking vertical-screen SHMUP, it unsurprisingly has its own cool gimmick to stand out from the crowd: its heroines, the alien Trigger Heart sisters, can grab enemies out of the air and either use them to block shots or hurl them as projectiles.
Space Channel 5 was one of the Dreamcast’s most iconic games, but it wasn’t until 2002 that European fans had a chance to play it on the PS2. American gamers had to wait a full year after that, when it came bundled together with the first game in a PS2 special edition. Regardless of what it was played on, however, the sequel to Space Channel 5 retained the same retro-future style and cheerfully tacky silliness that made the first game so much fun.
At the same time, it also expanded the all-too-basic Simon Says gameplay of the original a little, adding new musical styles, a different scoring system and unlockables for dedicated fans to ferret out and collect. It’s a shame that this didn’t show up on the Dreamcast over here, but – after the first Space Channel 5 reportedly tanked at retail – it’s not exactly surprising, either.
European readers might be surprised to see this on the list, since it originated in their territory, but importing Headhunter was the only way for North American gamers to play the mostly excellent stealth-shooter – until it slinked quietly into a diminished PS2 release in 2002, that is.
Earning comparisons to both Shenmue and Metal Gear Solid when it was released, Headhunter was slightly ahead of its time, incorporating cover-centric third-person shooting and motorcycle racing between levels. It was also, by most accounts, awesome – a quality which it seemed to lose in the transition to the post-Grand Theft Auto III PS2, if the disparity in review scores between the two versions is any indication.
Probably the most-imported shoot ‘em-up in the DC’s impressive library, Ikaruga – a spiritual sequel to the venerated, ultra-collectible Radiant Silvergun – was brilliant enough to have lived on not only as a GameCube port, but also in a sharp-looking HD version on Xbox Live Arcade.
Like every other SHMUP on this list, Ikaruga had a cool gimmick up its sleeve: your ship could switch between light and dark polarity, which then turned enemy bullets of the corresponding polarity into power-ups for your special weapon. However, the enemies all carried a polarity, too, and switching to dark to kill a light enemy would enable you to deal out tons of damage – but with the trade-off that their bullets were much more likely to kill you. Unlike certain other games that survived on other systems, Ikaruga holds up remarkably well no matter which console you’re playing it on.
While this online-enabled Darkstalkers/Vampire compilation eventually came to the US, it was in the form of the PSP-exclusive launch game, Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower, so it doesn’t entirely count.
A mail-order-only item even in Japan, Vampire Chronicle enabled fans of the monster-filled fighting series to play all three Darkstalkers games in one single, no-corners-cut edition that featured the best version of Darkstalkers 3/Vampire Savior, brilliant animation intact.
Had it made it out of Japan in time, Guilty Gear X could have been the crown jewel of the Dreamcast’s unmatched fighter library. But sadly, non-import-savvy gamers had to wait until its PS2 release to play it for themselves – not that it was any less impressive when it finally showed up with its smooth animation and over-the-top metal sensibilities intact, of course.
Had it showed up on the Dreamcast, Guilty Gear X would have been in excellent company, joining luminaries like Street Fighter III, Mark of the Wolves and Power Stone on a system that’s since been all but canonized by fighting fans. Instead, it found a much wider audience and spawned a series of relatively successful sequels. Sad for the Dreamcast, but good for everyone else.
Sep 10, 2009
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