September 9th, 1999: a day which lives in infamy not only for the release of Sega’s next-gen Dreamcast console, but also the launch of what would become EA Sports’ largest rival throughout the years.
Due to EA’s reluctance to publish on Sega’s new console, the latter sought out a developer to create their own football franchise. Coincidentally, the developer which Sega settled on, Visual Concepts, was tapped by EA to create the first Madden football game on Sony’s PlayStation.
Instead, the game saw tons of delays and was ultimately canceled – which opened the doors for Sony’s in-house NFL Gameday to gain record sales with EA unable to release a Madden title on that console until the following year – and without Visual Concepts as the developer.
Visual Concepts bounced to Sega and provided the Dreamcast with its own exclusive pro football game, NFL 2K. It quickly became the chief competitor to Madden until EA later acquired exclusive rights to the NFL license.
But until then, the 2K football games gave Madden a run for its money – and it shined early on with the first edition.
Returning to this game years later, I can really appreciate how advanced it was for its time. Some of the things I took for granted in the PS2 era of Madden games is included with 2K: the player’s association branding with names for most of the roster, real-time stats and instant replays, every team and stadium (incredibly detailed down to player names on the jerseys) and even seamless commentary that makes sense (mostly) for what you’re watching on-screen.
There’s audibles, a decent-sized playbook, penalties (with referees drawn and rendered making the relevant calls) and just so much more, its no wonder this game was a hit – and reliving some of the classic teams and rosters as of this review in 2021, I found myself glued to the game still.
I’m looking forward to reviewing more football games, but in the annals of classics and hits, NFL 2K earned, and deserves, its reputation. For the budding Dreamcast retro scene, this is still a must-play.
I’ll never forgot the golden age of working in a video rental store. My high time there was the period when VHS was transitioning to the brand-new DVD discs, as well as video games moving into a new generation.
The Sony PlayStation and Nintendo 64 were king at first, but our shelves started to stock the next generation Sega Dreamcast, which had an infamous launch date of 9/9/1999.
However, Hollywood Video, my employer back then, had obtained exclusive sneak-peak rights to the console:
On July 15, Hollywood Video will begin renting Sega Dreamcast, the superconsole with a built-in 56K modem that brings the most realistic and advanced game play ever achieved in a consumer videogame system, at more than 1,000 of its 1,390 stores nationwide, raising awareness among a potential consumer audience of approximately 40 million.
Sega Dreamcast officially launches in the United States on Sept. 9, 1999, at a retail price of $199 with a launch library of 16 titles. (And I had a chance to play it a lot upon launch!)
One of those 16 launch titles was Soulcalibur, which at the time (and even looking back on it now) was unlike anything before it.
The sequel to Soul Edge (and known as Soul Blade on the PSX) had an arcade version that was out earlier and simply rocked. But how would it stack up on Sega’s new hardware, especially after the flops that were the 32X and Saturn?
Tremendously I would say.
I recall my first time with Soulcalibur like it were yesterday. I couldn’t believe how great the graphics were – actually superior to the arcade version – buttery smooth as the framerate clipped along with gameplay reminiscent of watching a Bruce Lee movie.
The latter was especially true of the weapons-based combat inherent to the Soulcalibur series.
Namco and its development team took extra care for finer details which made for an incredible next-gen experience. Executing an attack, your character had more animations which may swing nunchakus a few more times while the next input for an attack (or defense) awaited.
As such, the “buffer” used in this game, that is executing button presses for each move, made combos chain together smoothly with a result akin to watching a movie rather than playing a game.
Unlike its predecessor, Soulcalibur also allows for true 8-way movement, expanding the previous combat – which also expanded on your defense capabilities.
This took raised the bar of the fighting genre, as other “3D” games didn’t chain combos as smoothly – probably my biggest gripe with the 3D Mortal Kombat series also is how jerky each of the moves felt when executed. Due to the buffer, combos, defense, animations, and 8-way movement, Soulcalibur felt like a real fight and upped the ante for tense, strategy-based battles. (Though your novice, like myself, could also button mash their way around as necessary, so the game was fairly accessible to noobs and seasoned pros.)
Most of the original characters returned from the first game, along with ten new fighters, increasing the depth of the game (albeit some tended to be redundant in ways).
I haven’t even gotten to the plot, which by this time, is really an afterthought excuse to have a fighting tournament – retrieving the Soul Edge from the main boss Nightmare, in a strangely woven storyline that again, isn’t all that important to the gameplay.
The Dreamcast version also sported the original’s boss, Cervantes, as well as a bunch of extra modes including Team Battle, Survival, and Training Mode, plus other unlockable content.
Soulcalibur is widely regarded as one of the best Dreamcast titles, is the second highest rated video game of all time, behind The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time with a 97% score on GameRankings, 98 on Metacritic, and won the majority of Game of the Year awards in its respective year and is often cited as arguably one of the greatest fighting games, as well as one of the greatest video games ever, topping numerous best video game lists over the years.
Yeah, I wasn’t going to retype all of that from Wikipedia – I think you get the hint. If you have never dipped your toe into this series, find a way to jump in on Soulcalibur – either on the Dreamcast or via Xbox Live Arcade.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games
At my household we decided to dust off an old relic of an accessory known as the Wii Balance Board. In doing so, we started looking up games which supported this century’s version of the NES Power Pad… and in doing so, we found a game that was a blast to play, with or without the accessory!
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games is something you’d look twice and shake your head at if you were a time traveler from the 1990’s. No one ever envisioned Nintendo’s main mascot pairing up with the face of their competition. Furthermore, I doubt anyone ever saw the duo teaming up on for an Olympic-themed game.
Yet, all of these oddities come together and simply work. Much like Nintendo’s foray into the kart racing genre, Mario & Sonic really clicks with a well-known cast of characters from both series in a number of events that transcend demographics.
I’m the least bit interested in figure skating, for example, but seeing how it works with the motion controls of a Wiimote and/or the balance board, made for quite the experience. In some cases, you could even get a nice workout in playing each of these events.
While some of the events do not use the board, the ones that do don’t always feel like a tacked on gimmick. Snowboarding even has you turn the board vertically, as to stand on an actual snowboard and shift your weight.
There are many events to try out (as seen in the images below) and most of them are well-balanced and play fairly for anyone picking up the game. It’s likely the most accessible Wii game outside of Wii Sports – so yes, even grandma can give freestyle skiing a try!
The graphics are somewhat dated now if you’re playing the SD Wii console on an HDTV/4K TV, but aside from that technical hurdle, Mario and Sonic could be the definitive balance board game for the console. I highly recommend it, especially if you have someone to share laughs with: it makes for a great inclusion on a game night.
Super Mario Bros. Deluxe
Continuing on my quest of playing Mario remakes, this edition of the original game retains the 8-bit style, but also adds a lot of different things to the game. Luigi’s outfit differs from Mario’s, akin to how we know them both know with their red/green costumes.
Various sounds were added to the game, as well as animated water and lava.
An overworld map and the ability to save after each stage were key additions too.
One of the biggest changes is that you can walk backward in the level, so if you pass something up, you can now go back. (Which if I recall, even the All-Stars remakes didn’t allow for that.)
My main gripe with this game is how large items have to be on the screen to fit into the Game Boy environment. If they made it smaller, you wouldn’t be able to see what you’re doing, but making things larger means you often can’t see platforms above or below you, leading to your death (especially if one were not familiar with this game, to begin with).
There are some other cheesy scenes added, and a few would be modes that would appear to be tacked on, but offer replay value (such as You vs. Boo and a hidden red coin mode where you have to locate all of the red coins in each level).
I honestly wouldn’t mind a reboot of this version of the game to fit a traditional screen. As it stands, the extras are fun, and the slight changes modernize the game some, but overall it can be challenging to play with the lack of screen real estate and the added “going backward” mechanic.
Mortal Kombat Gold
I’m aware that this game caught a lot of flack upon its release. For starters, it was on the Dreamcast and looked like an “older game” graphically compared with some of the eye-popping titles like Soul Calibur on that console.
The game also originally released with bugs that didn’t even allow for proper saving to the Dreamcast’s VMU memory cards!
This aside, when benchmarked against its sibling MK4, this is again a definitive version (provided you have the hot/new re-release which corrected the aforementioned bugs). MK Gold added six characters to the MK4 lineup.
Again, MK4/Gold were not my cup of tea. Moving from the 2D plane to the 3D realm to compete with the likes of Soul Calibur, Tekken, DOA, Virtua Fighter and others diminished my interest in this series. The initial appeal was to see how the conversion of motion capture actors to 3D models and how well fatalities would translate in a more “realistic” environment. Instead we got wonky controls that were more akin to the 2D era which didn’t carry over well into the next-generation of console gaming.
Add tacky weapons as an additional in-game gimmick and you can see where the MK series started to derail. It was a nice attempt, but fallout of MK3 and not being able to adapt to the 3D era ultimately hurt the series.
Star Wars Episode I: Racer
I had nearly forgotten about this game if not for a recent re-release of the PC version a couple of months ago.
Keep how you feel about Episode 1 to yourself: this game is not only a great racing game, it’s also a great Star Wars game! Taking advantage of the N64’s RAM pack to expand graphics memory, Episode 1 Racer is a gorgeous game on a platform that otherwise looked blocky and choppy at times. Yes, it can still be a bit of a strain on the eyes, but the nearly 700mph arcade-style racing action makes it feel right.
Admittedly the Dreamcast version looks even better, but this was one of the few N64 titles I actually owned back in the day. That’s because I found it in a bargain bin somewhere and took a chance on the game. If I recall correctly, it was priced at $7 or $8!
And it was well worth the money spent! I played this game for hours as a teenager, trying to master each track. Admittedly, as I do with most racing and fighting games, I don’t replay these to completion: just enough to get the feel for the game and beat one of the competitions. (They get progressively harder… crazy hard actually.)
As for replay value, there’s a lot here. There is a slew of podracers (many of which were barely seen in the movie) that you can play with, each with different style pods. A large assortment of tracks, vehicle upgrades, and some cool cutscenes along with voice acting make the game feel complete and polished.
If you’re a Star Wars and/or arcade racing fan, I highly recommend giving this a go. It’s a fun game that still hasn’t lost its appeal nearly 20 years following its release.