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A tribute to the Dreamcast VMU

More than just a memory card, but not quite a TI-89 - the Dreamcast Visual Memory Unit is an icon of Sega’s marvelous creative peak. Sure they’re a little bulkier than your average memory device, and they devour batteries like starving robotic beggars, but damn if they aren’t cool - being able to see your saved games right on your memory device in 1999, well, that was like, the future and stuff. And VMUs don’t just store save games - they’re proper, if tiny, gaming devices. Apparently Sega heard that we liked games so they put some games in our games so we could play games while we gamed. What Dreamcast celebration would be complete without a tribute to the coolest memory card on the data block?


Above: Let’s cuddle up and enjoy some extremely simplistic games! 


IT’S A MEMORY CARD

The VMU’s primary function is data storage, and it does the job superbly. The screen isn’t just a gimmick when you have six devices and need to remember which contains what, and they’re impressively reliable (if a little short on storage) compared to other memory devices of the day.

The only notable complaint with VMUs is their battery life - not in the sense that you’ll lose your saves (as in old-school cartridge batteries), but in that the screen only works if the device is inserted into a controller, or you keep it satiated with two CR2032 watch batteries. CR2032s are no more expensive than any other battery, but anyone who used their VMUs often knows that battery replacements were common.


Above: Those little flat suckers add up after a while 

Nevertheless, playing minigames and browsing saved data independent of the console is a luxury, and few luxuries are free. VMUs still function as perfectly adequate storage devices sans the mobility.

Bonus Trivia! Sony made its own attempt at the same device with the PocketStation, but it was only released in Japan, and, like the VMU, didn’t make a lasting impact on memory device design. One feature it had over the VMU was infrared communication for sharing saved data or multiplayer mini-gaming. Typical Sony one-upmanship!


Above: Sega’s VMU and Sony’s PocketStation side-by-side (not to scale) 


IT’S A SECOND SCREEN

When plugged into a controller, the VMU acts as a second screen – kind of like the DS’s, though obviously much less sophisticated. It was used to display supplementary information, or whatever developer’s felt like. Unfortunately, too few utilized it as an informational display, and instead opted for a super-deformed character or other amusing-but-useless application.


Above: Soul Calibur displayed super-deformed versions of the fighters in various battle stances – cute, but nothing worth glancing away from the screen for 

It seems odd that such an interesting concept hasn’t been retested, despite the technology to make it at least half-a-billion times cooler (sure it would be expensive, but imagine a 360 or PS3 controller with a screen that acted as a HUD replacement - I know I would be passively amused by it for a while).

25 comments

  • Makk_Mizzy - September 9, 2009 9:52 p.m.

    I owned 3 of them and they kicked ass, it was so diabolical watching and looking at animations of the games I played and the little avatars to represent those games. Xbox 360 is the same except for the avatars are on the systems hard drive displayed thru the homepage vs. a MC. I love my 360, HARDCORE, woooooooooooooohoooooooooo!!!!!
  • Cyberninja - September 9, 2009 8:29 p.m.

    i miss my dead dreamcast but i never knew i could see my charactors on soulcalibar and i played that game alot
  • JohnDD - September 9, 2009 4:01 p.m.

    I was convinced by the Game shop assistants to get a Dreamcast over a PS2. I'm glad they did! No regrets!
  • forza - September 9, 2009 4:22 a.m.

    I hate this crap with type the words! I had a nice history of the Dreamcast written out and hit post comment. Only to have it not show because I did't type the stupid words to post a comment. I don't feel like typing it all out again and I forgot to copy it so your lost. Please get rid of this stupid feature! It sucks! Oopps I will hit the words this time.............
  • solidsnake_5552000 - September 9, 2009 3:35 a.m.

    I remember that I played the falco power stone mini game on my VMU. It was very primitive. Then I decided to buy a gameboy color.
  • Romination - September 9, 2009 12:55 a.m.

    I love my VMU simply because of the soul calibur thing. Really, I never EVER had batteries for it (even when it was new) so I never did any of the minigames that were only going to be available on one game I have (sonic adventure). You know what else i miss? Pokemon Pikachus.
  • WonsAuto - September 8, 2009 10:46 p.m.

    Man, those guys at the Dreamcast Junkyard take themselves a little too seriously. Fun article, though I was never cool enough to have an games loaded on my VMUs. :(
  • cart00n - September 8, 2009 10:15 p.m.

    @pheonix_wings: There wasn't a Chocobo World on the VMU, but there was something similar which tied in to Sonic Adventure.
  • Rattlehead - September 8, 2009 9:35 p.m.

    I never had a memory card for my Dreamcast. Being poor sucked
  • DoctorFruitbat - September 13, 2009 9:54 p.m.

    If anyone can revisit the idea of the VMU it's Sony - PS3/PSP link up? No contest. I'm genuinely perplexed as to why they haven't bothered, given how much people still love the Dreamcast/VMU.
  • crumbdunky - September 10, 2009 1:35 p.m.

    I used to lose VMUs like noones business-must have had about ten in my DC career! They were under used and, like the DC, overrated AND used more power than anything that size had a right to meaning that even when I could find mine it generally didn't work as the batteries were cying. Honestly, there were some GREAT games fopr the DC but we don't half make it sound like something it wasn't(i.e particularly good)-as in reality it was flawed, overambitious and failed to have nearly enough third party support to even have a fighting chance. I liked my DC and felt the VMY could have been a winner as well but I wish people would stop making the console out as some kind of games console martyr-Sega just messed it all up. Royally. However much we want to pretend we all bought and loved Shenmue it's time to stop it before the number of gamers saying they did gets as ludicrous as those people claiming to have seen The Sex Pistols at MFTH!
  • rxb - September 9, 2009 12:42 p.m.

    I loved my VMU but never bothered replacing the batteries because it was a joke. This article has just reminded me how much I wanted a pocketstation at the time. I neve got one which I think worked out 4 the best.
  • Gahmah - September 9, 2009 12:23 p.m.

    is the playstation symbol on the pocket station a watermark or was it always on the screen, it's faint
  • FamousMortimer - September 9, 2009 8 a.m.

    I remember being excited for all the little things the VMU was touted as being able to do. Then the batteries died. And then I looked stupid using a VMU in any place not inside the controller, where it belonged. And then hard drives became cheaper than curly fries. It did have one cool use though... playing NFL2K in college. It was great for calling your plays away from your opponent's eyes, since obviously it's screen was only viewable by the player using it. However... you did have to memorize play names, since they weren't diagrammed on that tiny screen.
  • iKOemos - September 9, 2009 6:03 a.m.

    This owns the Pocketstation.
  • CaptainHead - September 9, 2009 2:58 a.m.

    I noticed you put some comedy in your comedy, so I laughed while I laughed
  • Red - September 9, 2009 2:54 a.m.

    Truly the Dreamcast was the best system ever created, and anyone that disagrees is wrong. No really. I'll fight you over it.
  • Chrisulloa - September 9, 2009 1 a.m.

    The sonic baby thingies was fun to play with on the VMU, I was looking for my dreamcast but I don't know where I stored it away at. I miss it a ton.
  • bonerachieved - September 9, 2009 12:41 a.m.

    I got 2 of those from Disc Replay YESTERDAY, theyve got all your dreamcast needs!
  • Johnny6Gun - September 9, 2009 12:29 a.m.

    I was commenting about this thing in the 'question of the week' thread. A fitting tribute, indeed!

Showing 1-20 of 25 comments

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