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SEGA's forgotten era

When you mention the game developer/publisher SEGA, depending on who you ask, you'll get one of three immediate responses. Those who associate anything SEGA with the Mega Drive, those who associate SEGA with Sonic the Hedgehog, and those elitist gamers that proclaim the Dreamcast to be the best thing since sliced bread. It's widely acknowledged that SEGA's creative peak was either during their Mega Drive heyday, or when they were going gung-ho during the Dreamcast's shortlived last hurrah for the Japanese console developer. In 2001, SEGA went third-party and have shown no signs of changing their position - if anything, their reputation for excellent, arcade thrills has waned over the past decade and a half. The decline of the arcade along with their style of colourful, unique experiences becoming somewhat "niche" in the current console climate, I thought it would be worth reminding readers of the classics SEGA were churning out during the early 2000s; games that could have been Dreamcast exclusives but ended up on former rival's consoles.

Crazy Taxi 3 [2003]

Everybody has played Crazy Taxi, right? It's the perfect arcade game that summed up much of the SEGA Dreamcast's early output in 1999 - impressive arcade conversions that lacked longevity. Just like the console, short bursts of gaming euphoria appeared in the form of Virtua Tennis, House of the Dead 2, F355 Challenge and of course, Crazy Taxi. It's sequel was one of the most underrated games ever made, expanding on the original by introducing two key features: being able to collect multiple fares at once (up to four passengers) and the jump feature. Bear in mind this was 2001 and Dr. Dre's "Still D.R.E." was all over the radios, so old Cadillacs with obscene suspension-shifting functionalities was recognised as something cool rather than a completely pointless feature bound to fail your M.O.T.. Critics didn't exactly pan the game, but saw the jump feature as a cheap way of avoiding traffic. Personally, I loved it and it made its way in to the third game, an Xbox-exclusive (outside of the arcade, although it saw a PC release too). Crazy Taxi 3: High Roller moved the setting to the lavishly lit Las Vegas, and included the San Francisco and New York levels of the first two games too. It's often forgotten these days as it lacks the Offspring soundtrack that gave the original game a lot of its character, and was on a console that quickly became the choice of FPS fans, so a renowned arcade (read: cheap thrills) game wasn't going to appeal. 

 Crazy Taxi. The only game that accurately reflects London taxi fares.

Crazy Taxi. The only game that accurately reflects London taxi fares.

 

Jet Set Radio Future [2002]

If ever one game needed a HD-remaster, it's this one. Often overlooked in favour of its wildly unique predecessor (which was re-released in HD on Xbox 360/PS3), Jet Set Radio Future is what Pikmin 2 is to Pikmin. Bigger, better and free of time restrictions, cel-shaded rollerblading has never been so much fun. If the stop-start, joystick-waggling needed to "tag" a wall in Jet Set Radio was a huge pain in the butt (and it was), the simple one-button press you use in Future keeps the action moving along as rapidly as the techno/J-Rock soundtrack. Incidentally, the soundtrack, just as it did in the first game, massively enhances the experience of zipping through the vibrant, built-up landscape of a futuristic Tokyo - it truly is a unique gaming experience. Whoever decided to make this a launch title for the Xbox clearly overlooked the type of gamers buying PS2s, or even the more open-minded Gamecube owners craving something unique. 

 Still images don't do this game justice. It has to seen AND heard.

Still images don't do this game justice. It has to seen AND heard.

 

Outrun 2 [2004]

SEGA have been at the forefront of arcade racing thrills for three decades, so it's a shame to see the 2010s have seen little that can compete with what came previously. The 1980s saw Outrun and Hang-On, the 1990s welcomed block-tacular graphics in with SEGA Rally and Daytona USA, while the 2000s saw the beautifully smooth experiences that were F-Zero AX and Outrun 2. The latter in particular remains my favourite arcade of all time - nothing compares to slamming the hefty brake pedal to initiate a drift and then pumping the accelerator to string together multiple drifts through a hairpin. Just as the Gamecube conversion of F-Zero AX (renamed GX) blew me away with its dazzling track design and typically tight gameplay, Sumo Digital's conversion of Outrun 2 on the original Xbox lost some of the arcade game's charm but none of the addicting gameplay. Drifting was already a formality in games such as Burnout, and the Ridge Racer series had been doing it for years, but never like this. You would drift and lose no speed whatsoever, overtaking traffic around bends whilst you are sideways, because that's what blonde chicks are in to (apparently). Amongst the regular Tom Clancy games and countless sports titles, Outrun 2 was quite literally a breath of fresh air with its beaches and winding coastal drives. The "feel" of the car and the brilliant Heart Attack mode ensured it rarely stayed out of my Xbox, and while it received a semi-sequel (the deluxe version of the various arcade incarnations of Outrun 2: Outrun 2006: Coast to Coast) and a temporary next-gen update (Outrun Online Arcade which was only around until 2011 when SEGA's Ferrari license expired), Outrun 3 would be more than welcome on current-gen systems considering there's no in-between game to bridge the chaos of Mario Kart 8 and the more serious Forza series.

 If I ever win the lottery, this will be my first purchase.

If I ever win the lottery, this will be my first purchase.

 

Panzer Dragoon Orta [2003]

 

A cult classic series on the ill-fated SEGA Saturn, Panzer Dragoon saw a somewhat surprising sequel in 2003. Orta is a beautiful on-rails shooter, with some jaw-dropping FMV visuals on-par with those found in the Xbox remake of Ninja Gaiden. Harking back to the 90s most of all however, is the challenging difficulty that will have you going off the rails (arf!). Another title that was released as this type of game was quickly becoming unfashionable, Panzer Dragoon Orta was effectively a SEGA Saturn title that looked fantastic, which unfortunately meant its appeal was rather limited and it's not surprising this was the last Panzer Dragoon title SEGA released. 

 The original Queen of Dragons. 

The original Queen of Dragons. 

Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution [2003]

There's hardcore fighting games and then there's Virtua Fighter. Slower than most, and initially a clunky (and chunky) experience, Virtua Fighter 4's beauty is in its technical gameplay that rewards learning characters' movesets. The solo campaign is similar to Soul Calibur's Weapon Master mode, but involves the player defeating opponents at various "arcades" in order to unlock costumes and customisable trinkets. What is more rewarding is increasing your fighter's rank, using the Dan system implemented in real martial arts. Evolution includes some extra characters but is similar otherwise, although either game is now available for a couple of quid (which it would cost for five minutes on the arcade machine). 

 "Oh for God's sake Jeffrey, it's snowing out there and you've not got a top on!". "But Mum, I'm a famously tough fighter". "I don't care if you're fucking Yoshimitsu , you're not going out like th-*SMACK*". 

"Oh for God's sake Jeffrey, it's snowing out there and you've not got a top on!". "But Mum, I'm a famously tough fighter". "I don't care if you're fucking Yoshimitsu , you're not going out like th-*SMACK*". 

 

F-Zero GX [2003]

I'm surprised Nintendo haven't handed SEGA one of their long-running franchises for the Wii-U, It's a bit late now, but considering the work (now defunct) Amusement Vision did for Nintendo's F-Zero series by turning a series traditionally viewed as ugly but fast, in to a game that was beautiful but fast was nothing short of remarkable, particularly when the technologically advanced arcade version (AX) was squeezed on to a tiny Gamecube disc. Infamously difficult and featuring a typically camp story mode that made Super Monkey Ball look like Shakespeare, Nintendo have remained tight-lipped over a sequel, perhaps because they know that they will struggle to better this classic. 

 

 Even the arcade machine looked gorgeous.

Even the arcade machine looked gorgeous.

Super Monkey Ball 2 [2003]

Some games take an original concept and just do the same thing again, but increase the content and throw in modes nobody really asked for. It's why I prefer the manic Power Stone 2 over the purity of the original. It's why I prefer the bloated-ness of Perfect Dark to the more ground breaking Goldeneye 007. Expanding a classic game by giving the player harder challenges and additional un-lockable mini-games (including a precursor to Rocket League, with monkeys) resulted in less impressive review scores, but means the second Super Monkey Ball title remains the best value, before the series started shoe-horning in storyline and gimmicky controls.

 Monkey Fight deserved its own spin-off title

Monkey Fight deserved its own spin-off title

 

Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg [2003]

Sonic Team are known for their wacky character designs (just look at Knuckles' shoulders in Sonic Boom), but they must have been popping more pills than usual when the idea for Billy Hatcher was conceived. They simply don't make games like this any more. A boy in a chicken suit, pushing giant eggs around floating 3D worlds, collecting fruit so as to hatch small animals from said giant eggs. It's sheer lunacy, but thankfully it's a wonderful little platformer that remains a better game than anything Sonic appeared in on the Gamecube or otherwise. And I was one of a few who enjoyed Sonic Heroes. 

 "Hand's up, who's had enough of Sonic games?"

"Hand's up, who's had enough of Sonic games?"