Top Nine Arcade to Dreamcast Dream Ports
October 12th, 2022
Posted in Features
Thinking back it feels like the Dreamcast was particularly prolific in arcade porting; Soul Calibur, Crazy Taxi, all of those CAPCOM titles… one could argue the Dreamcast’s best games started in the arcade. After doing a very quick count though, only about 8% of the Dreamcast’s library are arcade ports (I counted 77). That sounds strangely small in number. Maybe it only felt like we were getting so many arcade games with the barrage of new game announcements that were happening.
At any rate, when the shocking announcement of the Dreamcast’s plug getting pulled reached us, all of those awesome games Eric and I had heard about in magazines were now canceled; many of which were arcade games.
Alas, here is a retrospective list of the top nine arcade games I would have loved to play on the Dreamcast all those years ago; and now I can only dream of.
Side notes: The recent efforts put forth by individuals in porting the Atomiswave arcade games to Dreamcast has been very cool and something I could have seen happening officially had the Dreamcast survived longer. I will be omitting them from this list since technically you can play them on a Dreamcast (unofficially) as of the date of this article. The titles listed here are still yet unplayable using Dreamcast hardware.
Also please allow some imagination in the quality / feasibility of these theoretical ports. I tried not to go too crazy and have Virtua Cop 3 in this list as it would require a significant downgrade in fidelity. However, some of these games were built to run on hardware more powerful than the Dreamcast which I will expand upon herein.
9. The Ocean Hunter: The Seven Seas Adventure (Model 3 | 1998)
I actually only found out about this game a few weeks ago and asked Brandon if he had heard of it. He said “I was not aware of it… this would have been awesome for Dreamcast”. He’s absolutely right, and the reason I started putting together this article.
Developed by legendary AM1, The Ocean Hunter: The Seven Seas Adventure swallows the player into the depths of a monstrous, teeth-y horror realm scripted as an undersea exploration tale. Curl topped “hunters” blast sea sharks and swim through this ruined and wonderful world in the pursuit of seven creatures found in the titular seven seas. Looking a lot like the rock-steady, algae-laced textures and illuminated veils of SEGA Bass Fishing and SEGA Marine Fishing’s environments; the Ocean Hunter would have sung bubbly opera running on the Dreamcast.
Perfect for two-player lightgun action; the beauty of this one would have begged for multiple playthroughs and with the unique undersea universe, given the Dreamcast another one-of-a-kind experience. Interestingly, the composer for this game, Masanori Takeuchi, was also the producer of both Otogi games and most recently Dark Souls II.
8. SEGA Airline Pilots (NAOMI | 1999)
Another game that flew by me unawarely or unashamedly I completely forgot about – which is easy, SEGA of this vintage was so proliferant it was difficult to keep up.
SEGA Airline Pilots is part of the six-part “Real Life Career Series” that potential part-time taxi drivers, firefighters, truckers, EMT’s or safari wranglers could have partaken in at an arcade in the early 2000’s. SEGA has always been king of the sky(boxes) and here we have another cumulous candied treat for the eyes. So the asphalt texture and buildings are fairly weak (worsened by the fact much of the maneuvering is done at low altitudes), come sunrise or sunset however, and the spilling of orange changes things dramatically. Most of all the rippling water surface shimmers like a freshly frozen forest. The cloak of night time is perhaps where this world truly shines; dotting the horizon with sprinkles of lights and atmospheric perspective I can’t help but breathe in. AM1 masterfully recreated the cockpit of a Boeing 777; the gauges and sensation of depth perception are unrivaled in this era.
My reasons for singling this game out of the collection residing at #6 in this list is so; 1, we could have had this shipped with an arcade-like flight deck controller complete with thrust lever, control wheel, flap and landing gear switches etc. for the complete experience; 2, since this ran on a whopping four SEGA NAOMI boards I feel like the port would require a lot of extra work to get running on the single Dreamcast processor much like Ferrari F355 Challenge which also shared the multi-screen, NAOMI arcade cabinet. Apparently Masanori Takeuchi composed for quite a few SEGA games in the “good SEGA” era, add this to the list and its older brother, Sky Target.
7. Magical Truck Adventure (Model 3 | 1998)
I’m beginning to wonder if I even play SEGA games at this point; here is one more that I didn’t know existed. Thanks to this article I have even more games I wish were ported to Dreamcast.
And that is a big wish, this game isn’t only Magical; it’s Radical, Fantastical, and Electrical. Seven seconds into the attract mode is all I needed; that field of flowing flowers and sugary sweet saturation of colors lights me up. SEGA can always add the most necessary detail in such filtered realism that the world comes alive. Growing up stuff like those cow assets grazing in the grass would have brought me to smile; now I respect the care it takes to place them in a scene accurately with the heft and posture of a sun bathing heavyweight. There is seriously too much to go into with this game graphically; the polygonal work alone is remarkable and then add in the diverse destinations for this two person pump trolley and you have a literal “best of” list for everything from water to world design.
For as short in length this game is, it is as long in spectacle; the sense of adventure is astounding and could easily carry a home release. I think the triggers could have simulated the pumping action required (especially two-player in tandem!) as the main gameplay gimmick and the VMU speaker could have been used for the beeping warning to add a bit of the arcade feel. AM3 was consistently creating jaw-dropping titles at this time proving their merit in the industry would remain timeless.
6. 3-in1 Real Life Career Collection: Brave Firefighters (Hikaru | 1999) Emergency Call Ambulance (Model 3 | 1999) Jambo! Safari (Sega Naomi | 1999)
Now these three games I could not wait to play at home, and were part of the bludgeoning of despairing thorns I felt when they announced the death of the Dreamcast.
Talk about a wide range in careers, do you want to go animal lassoing or dowsing some flames? Maybe you want to be the ambulance driver if either of those two goes horribly wrong. Either way, these three games have you covered, and I would like where I’m standing. The three origin arcade hardware here definitely would have shown the age for Jambo! Safari; being a direct Naomi port we’d have had seen an arcade perfect translation but that isn’t incredibly impressive with the barren landscapes and low resolution textures of the original. The game is still wonderfully addictive and laugh-out-loud fun though especially if two player mode made it through. Thankfully, we eventually got a home port of this on the Nintendo Wii (which I may in the future make an argument for being the “Dreamcast 2’) and with its motion controls brought a more rounded-out arcade experience.
Brave Firefighters would have benefited from motion controls as well, but no way would I have preferred the Wii’s semi-blurry antialiasing and filter instead of the Dreamcast’s razor sharp, 720×480 progressive scan VGA imaging output. Those fires need to be shredding the screen so brightly you’ll be afraid of burn-in. The way the flames and smoke creep across walls and ceilings begets a fear not unlike an encroaching zombie horde, the details in every room make being trapped not so bad. A standout effect is the way the water streams across the ground like tiny oceanic waves and cascades down steps like a slinky. Dreamcast lightgun games perform with precision and having a suitable alternative to the only 6 total on the console would have made that Light Blaster purchase more justified.
Every Model 3 “vehicle game” really should have been ported, the game engine(s?) emitted such a believably authentic real-world aura I never get tired of seeing the shadows, reflections and color palettes in these worlds. Emergency Call Ambulance utilized some pretty awesome water reflection and smoke effects along with one of the more interesting city layouts compared to its brethren in this era of SEGA. A slower-paced Crazy Taxi isn’t so bad when you have the high tension connection of a dying or injured person to worry about.
To really make you feel bad, this compilation technically isn’t even a dream, as it once existed as a scheduled release so far as being officially revealed in the Official UK Dreamcast Magazine at the time. Could they have pulled off porting all three games onto one disc? Probably, maybe. Would Brave Firefighters have been able to replicate its then pioneering Phong shading technique that wouldn’t be seen on a home console until the Xbox 360? Maybe, not.
5. Soul Surfer (Naomi 2 | 2002)
Arcade SEGA loved doing water sports, so many that I can’t keep track. Soul Surfer isn’t a game I was particularly aware of but when I found out Sega Rosso developed it, I dove right in.
Show me radical-looking water and I’ll get mooshy to hear more. Show me that much bodacious variety in sky illumination and I’ll want to take that game for a slow walk on the beach. The waves here really steal the show, though, cresting into a mammoth halfpipe so organically the seas feel alive in this tubular, trick-based tournament. Making a “simple” activity fun and larger than life is what these SEGA games did best, and I don’t know if there is any better way to experience the thrill of surfing than with this.
Simulating the leaning required of the arcade cabinet’s board would work wonderfully with the DC controller’s two triggers; finding the sweet spot in that springy trigger coupled with rumble could feel extremely rewarding navigating those waves. Kind of like a wet Tony Hawk, just with a time limit and sometimes coins to collect. Breaking up time trials or points competitions could be some quirky minigames for good measure. This is the “newest” game on the list being released in 2002 so the most out of the question dream port, especially being on Naomi 2 hardware. But adjusting some polygon models and replacing some textures would have been plenty to see this churning on the old DC with decent results.
4. Harley-Davidson & L.A. Riders (Model 3 | 1998)
If there was one game I would have kicked SEGA for a home port, it would be Harley-Davidson & L.A. Riders. This was the game for our visits to an arcade, the re-creation of a hog with a sense of freedom and the engine blaring ticked every box for teenage me.
Two-wheeled Outrun and the engine of Crazy Taxi revs the tach to a palatable RPM, cruising through a more desirable, light-on-traffic version of Los Angeles. Some of the textures are distractingly bad to look at and much of this city is flat and plain, but if the DC port were to run as smooth as the arcade version; I could give them a pass, literally. The coolest thing at the time was the sense of air and the “flapping” behaviors of the riders’ hair and jackets, bringing life to the assorted cast and their mounts. Much like Crazy Taxi, SEGA AM1 really captured the realistic lighting of cars, asphalt and grass to an artistic level lost now in the higher fidelity generations of graphics.
Throw in a tailored-”Crazy Box”, (maybe “Hog Saddle”) with mini-games or challenges and Harley-Davidson & L.A. Riders’ Dreamcast port could have had enough distance to travel for a home game. The controller would feel perfect and we know the DC could run Model 3 ports exceptionally well. We got several other similar games on DC so it is still perplexing why this one was left garaged in the arcade, and ultimately canceled for a Dreamcast port. Yet again, Masanori Takeuchi was behind the music and really shows his aptitude for guitar-laden tracks that excite.
3. Planet Harriers (Hikaru | 2001)
Not getting a Dreamcast port of Planet Harriers stands as the most hurting-est casualty for me from the Dreamcast dying. Many an afternoon was spent eyeing the three screen grabs in the Official Dreamcast Magazine in their “Coming Soon” section of one issue. Little did I know my patient waiting would end up becoming complacent dreaming.
A sequel to Space Harrier II, thirteen years later brings this updated projectile-dodging, projectile-blasting shooter into a “true” 3D dream world melding NiGHTS and Panzer Dragoon into a phantastic explosion. Each planet for these hyper soldiers is insane, the changing seasons of that dense forest of level 2, the multi-tiered magnitude of level 1, and a few space levels with colors that exude a magical, dampened water-colored gradient effect. Notable mention for one of the most epic (in memory) opening SEGA logo animations at start-up too.
Every other game in the series got a home port, it’s been over 20 years and still no Planet Harriers. Looking at contemporaries, Rez was an amazing game in its own right, but I still prefer this game’s aesthetic and solidified chunkiness. Hikaru hardware was noticeably more powerful than the DC, but this game could have easily been optimized with perhaps fewer textures and draw distance adjustments.
2. Virtua Fighter 4 (Naomi 2 | 2001)
Sure the PlayStation 2 ended up getting this one, but that doesn’t make it any less of a dream port. The animosity and disdain I had garnered towards all things Sony was kind of exemplified when Virtua Fighter 4 was announced for it instead of the by-then-dead Dreamcast.
Virtua Fighter 4 would have been a showpiece of a game, right alongside its fighting game cousins Dead or Alive 2 and Soul Calibur to further cement the DC as “the best fighting game machine”. Ridiculously tight controls at a speed much more satisfying than Virtua Fighter 3 Team Battle previously, VF4 was the next gen Virtua Fighter 2 in every possible way. Each stage feels like its own little world, teasing me to want to explore. Aside from Outrun 2, after the release of VF4 this is pretty much where SEGA AM2 ceased to be the ultimate, untouchable game development studio it once had been.
Had the DC been more successful, early planning (and possibly development based on the Japan only “Virtua Fighter 4: Passport” marketing GD ROM which saw release with Shenmue II plus an interview with Yu Suzuki at the time) would have continued, instead the PlayStation 2 port smacked Virtua Fighter 4 in the groin with its sub-par rendering of this gorgeous game. The same lighting, texture mapping and background downgrades in the PS2 port would have sufficed to run this on DC yet had this been a DC port; we would have gotten crispier, deliciously richer colors in the visuals instead of the blurry, desaturated and anti-aliased mess PS2 games are plagued with. Maybe they even could have gotten it online with a shared VF.net arcade network, or at the very least leaderboards.
1. Scud Race (Model 3 | 1996)
This is the game. The game we all thought we’d be playing on our Dreamcast, without a doubt. Why we are here today only dreaming of its existence leads us to answers nobody really wants to hear. Coming to grips with the DC dying so young, as well as, Scud Race being arcade only, were the two hardest realizations of owning a SEGA Dreamcast.
Daytona USA, but full throttled and spoiler’d with candy coated tracks erupting with detailed attractions on every lap. Toshihiro Nagoshi and SEGA AM2 tuned their racing expertise into this definitive model; Sport Car Ultimate Drive, or SCUD, Race is just bleeding that SEGA racing feel and look which no longer exists in gaming. Intensely architected levels are adorned with mind-melting skies and underground passages screaming with more vibrancy and character than you think could be represented within shadowy tunnels.
Can you imagine this (sadly, it was announced as one) being a launch title? Adding to the still unmatched lineup SEGA had in 1999, giving us a seventh (and easily best) racing game this would have been a top seller nearly every DC owner would have purchased. Why this game never came out for a home console is a massive mystery. It was released in 1996, even a SEGA Saturn port would have made sense (see: Daytona USA), let alone Dreamcast where it would have been a shining example for graphics on the new console. The only tangible fragment we have of any home port is a very early tech demo from March of 1998.
SEGA Model 2 Collections
SEGA had so many hits at the time (especially its arcade division) we should have gotten way more compilations than we did. It was quite difficult narrowing down this list to only nine games so I’m cheating a bit here by adding in what could have been three curated collections containing four games each. I would have loved to see arcade perfect ports of Model 2 games running in a brisk 60fps display of its exclusive, texture mapped and trilinear texture filtered polygons.
I won’t be going into detail on any of these games; these are just the top picks from me. We did manage to get a few of these games arcade perfect at home eventually, many however are still lost to that bygone era. Ideally at this point, a mini Model 2 arcade machine would be the only way to make up for this long of a wait.
Until then, here are my picks for the Model 2 Collections, Dreamcast Dream Ports:
Yu Suzuki defied odds bringing the video game industry so many remarkable advancements. We got (part of, at the time) Shenmue, but as a fan I would have loved to play all of his work at home how he intended. His touch and tenacity for new technology could have been celebrated in these collections (and recouped the $2 million bill it cost to buy the textural mapping chip SEGA had to buy from GE Aerial & Space at the time for the Model 2 hardware) and the Dreamcast could have gotten a plethora of “already made” games for us to consume. SEGA has never really treated their legacy all that well. While in their prime they strived to innovate, I think had they given a look back now and then, we may have ended up with a little more.