Sega's final throw of the hardware dice before it became a third-party publisher, the Dreamcast only sold 9.13 million units worldwide – that's less than the Nintendo Wii U – yet its impact is somehow much greater than that figure would suggest. Today, it is fondly remembered by fans as one of the greatest home consoles of all time thanks to its impressive library of titles and its forward-thinking approach to technology.
While few would argue that Sega really nailed online play with the Dreamcast, it was the first home console to come with a modem as standard, and laid down the foundations for online gaming as we know it today. The Dreamcast was also the first console to utilise PC-style internal components – something that has become commonplace in the modern world of gaming. Finally, it was host to an amazing selection of games, but it is perhaps the arcade ports from Sega which made the system truly shine.
Despite its modest sales figures, it's actually harder than you think to create a list of must-have Dreamcast games, purely because there are so many titles that are worth your time. Below, we've picked a selection of games that we feel offer a taste of what the console was capable of. We've tried to avoid picking multiple games from the same series and have tried to cover as many genres as possible, and it's worth noting that this list isn't in any particular order, either. All of these games are worth your time and attention.
Capcom and SNK were bitter rivals during most of the '90s, so it was quite a shock when the two joined forces to create Capcom vs. SNK: Millennium Fight 2000. A 'Pro' version followed shortly afterwards (both versions received a Dreamcast port), but this sequel is unquestionably the best of the bunch. It pulls together some of the most famous characters in the fighting game arena – Ryu, Ken, Chun Li, Terry Bogard, Haohmaru, Kyo Kusanagi, to name just a few – and mixes things up with a selection of different fighting 'grooves' as well as some fantastic 3D backgrounds and a pumping soundtrack. A Japanese exclusive on Dreamcast, Capcom vs. SNK 2 would eventually get a global release on the PS2, Xbox and GameCube.
The original Power Stone marked the beginning of Capcom's tight relationship with the Dreamcast and was arguably one of the best early releases for the console. It followed it up with a much-improved sequel, which boosted the number of players from two to four, creating a manic party game which is still an absolute blast to play. In Power Stone 2, each player must navigate a 3D arena, using weapons to inflict damage on opponents while also seeking to claim the titular Power Stones; doing so triggers a time-limited transformation which sees your character's offensive power massively increase. While the single-player campaign will keep you busy for a while, Power Stone 2 truly excels as a multiplayer game. Just make sure you have four controllers! A PSP collection arrived a few years later which bundled the two games together, but since then, Capcom has sadly been reluctant to return to the franchise.
Despite the never-ending march of technology, there's a solid argument to say that tennis games haven't actually gotten much better than this. Virtua Tennis and this sequel are both infectiously playable, even by modern standards, purely because they get everything spot-on in terms of mechanics and controls. Granted, the 3D models in Virtua Tennis 2 look a little boxy today, but in motion, the game is silky-smooth and plays like a dream (no pun intended). Known as Power Smash 2 in Japan and Tennis 2K2 in North America, Virtua Tennis 2 also made its way to PlayStation 2.
Compared to rival consoles, the Dreamcast is perhaps a little light on truly amazing JRPGs, but this seminal effort makes up for that to a degree. Set in a world composed of floating islands, Skies of Arcadia calls to mind real-world sea-faring adventures, placing you in the role of a plucky band of pirates as they take on an evil empire. Hours of gameplay, great music and an engaging storyline make this a true classic, while the unique nature of the ship-to-ship engagements helps it stand out from the crowd. Skies of Arcadia was later ported to the GameCube as Skies of Arcadia Legends.
To be fair, both Crazy Taxi games on the Dreamcast are worth your time, but we've picked the second one as it has some new features not present in the original. As before, your goal is to raise as much cash as possible by driving people around a city, but this time around you're able to pick up multiple passengers at once – and you can even jump over things to get to your destination faster. There are also eight drivers to select from here, rather than four. One of the crown jewels in the Dreamcast library, Crazy Taxi 2 is one of those games that literally anyone can pick up and play. Like Capcom's Power Stone titles, Crazy Taxi 1 & 2 were later bundled up for release on Sony PSP in the form of Crazy Taxi: Fare Wars.
Yu Suzuki's magnum opus, Shenmue was billed as the most expensive video game of its time, with a rumoured cost of between $47 and $70 million (this is understood to also have included the cost of the sequel, which is also on Dreamcast). Offering the kind of real-world immersion that simply hadn't been witnessed in 1999, Shenmue mixes the marvellous with the mundane to create a truly groundbreaking experience, infused with a one-of-a-kind ambience that arguably hasn't been replicated since. Many will argue that the aforementioned sequel is superior, but the original game was such a revelation, it must surely go down as the one you need to play first.
The work of Bizarre Creations, which, up to this point, was most famous for Sony's F1 games, Metropolis Street Racer is the forerunner to Microsoft's Project Gotham series. It has a focus on real-world cars and urban circuits, and the goal is to demonstrate your skilful driving by earning 'Kudos' points. Detailed recreations of London, Tokyo and San Francisco lend the game an authentic feel, and, with over 260 possible track layouts, the game offers staggering replayability. Even by modern standards, Metropolis Street Racer looks great, but it's the tight controls which really set it apart. Richard Jacques' music is also a highlight.
The game that gave the world 'cel-shading', Jet Set Radio (Jet Grind Radio in North America, due to a licencing issue) was one of the games that summed up not just the Dreamcast, but Sega itself. Effortlessly cool, it looks like a cartoon in motion, while the soundtrack – a mix of licenced songs and Hideki Naganuma's original work – has lost none of its potency over the decades (although some of the tracks added to the western version feel curiously at odds with Naganuma's work). While the camera controls are hard to master due to the lack of a second analogue stick on the Dreamcast control pad, Jet Set Radio is a delight to play; it inspired an Xbox sequel in the form of Jet Set Radio Future, which is equally beloved today.
Regarded by many fighting game fans as one of the best video games ever made, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike is the third update of Street Fighter III, and reintroduces fan-favourites like Chun-Li whilst refining the core gameplay. The 'Parry' move – which allows players to counterattack if they get their timing spot-on – is improved here, while the insanely smooth animation, gorgeous visuals and wonderful soundtrack round off the package. 3rd Strike remains popular on the eSports circuit even today, which is a strong indication of its quality. You can play it on modern systems via the excellent Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection.
Produced by Tetsuya Mizuguchi of Sega Rally fame, Rez is a rail shooter which is similar to Sega stablemates Space Harrier and Panzer Dragoon, but with a strong focus on marrying the on-screen action with music. Set within a Tron-style world where you must take on a malevolent AI, Rez is short but undeniably sweet and has earned considerable critical acclaim since its release (thanks in no small part to a HD remaster in 2008 and the expanded, VR-ready Rez Infinite in 2016). A timeless classic.
A relatively late release in the Dreamcast library, Cosmic Smash could arguably sum up exactly what was wrong with Sega's approach to the system; at first glance, it's a pretty bare-bones port of the arcade game of the same name, and doesn't appear to offer much in the way of longevity. However, it soon becomes apparent that there are hidden depths here – multiple routes can be taken through the game, for example – and as a short-burst piece of entertainment, Cosmic Smash certainly does the job. It's a shame that there's no two-player mode, but even so, this is another must-have import release for the Dreamcast – and one that has never been published on any other home platform, making this a true exclusive in every sense of the word.
Could this be Treasure's most famous and acclaimed game? Quite possibly. On the surface, it looks like your typical vertically-scrolling shmup, but the difference here is that you can change the colour (or 'polarity') of your ship, making it invincible against certain bullets. In addition to this, switching to the opposite polarity of an enemy (white vs. black, or vice versa) allows you to inflict more damage. Getting the hang of toggling between the two colours is all part of Ikaruga's intense challenge, and while it's shorter than its spiritual predecessor Radiant Silvergun, it feels like a tighter and more gripping experience overall. A Japanese exclusive on Dreamcast, Ikaruga was quickly ported to the GameCube, and has since been released on modern formats, too.
Namco was instrumental in the early success of the original PlayStation thanks to its range of stunning coin-op ports, so when it was confirmed that the Japanese company was bringing its Soul Blade / Edge sequel Soulcalibur to Dreamcast, many Sega fans assumed the system was about to take over the world. As it turns out, Namco's support for the console waned quickly, but at least it gave us this remarkable one-on-one fighter. Soulcalibur's visuals were a revelation at the time of release, effortlessly rivalling anything the arcade scene could produce (it actually looked better than the arcade version, which was based on the weaker, PlayStation-based Namco System 12 board). However, it's Namco's efforts to expand the home port which make this a classic; there's so much content to unlock you'll be playing this for weeks. Subsequent entries in the series have improved on the formula, but Soulcalibur retains a special place in our hearts.
Billed at the time of release as the most accurate simulation of what it's like to drive an actual Ferrari F335 sports car, Yu Suzuki's Ferrari F355 Challenge is based on the arcade game of the same name, which used the Dreamcast-based NAOMI board but offered three separate monitors, giving players a true 'widescreen' perspective of the cockpit (the machine is, in reality, powered by four different NAOMI boards: three for the screens and one syncing them together). The home version lacks this immersive feature but is almost identical in every other respect, offering a racer which neatly straddles the divide between arcade driving and realistic simulation.
The first Marvel vs. Capcom used Capcom's CPS-2 board, and was an early Dreamcast release. This sequel is built on Sega's Dreamcast-based NAOMI tech, which means this home port is essentially arcade perfect. The team-based combat system returns, alongside a dazzling cast of characters from the worlds of Marvel and Capcom. The Japanese version required players to use the arcade version to unlock credits which, via the Dreamcast VMU, could be applied against the home port. Thankfully, this feature was removed for the western versions of the game, as it made it quite difficult to obtain the full roster. Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was later ported to Xbox and PlayStation 2, and would get a HD remaster on Xbox 360 and PS3. It remains a firm favourite on the competitive circuit, despite being a little unbalanced and chaotic in nature.
SNK's King of Fighters series was as popular – if not more so – than Capcom's efforts during part of the 1990s, and King of Fighters '98 is seen as the high point of the entire series by many. Dream Match 1999 is a Dreamcast exclusive and is basically the '98 edition with improved 3D backgrounds and some other extras, such as a lavishly animated introduction by Digimation K.K., which would later merge with Gonzo studio. The Dreamcast would later receive ports of King of Fighters '99, King of Fighters 2000, King of Fighters 2001 and King of Fighters 2002, but this is generally considered to be the best of the bunch.
Based on the Sega Model 3 arcade title of the same name, Cyber Troopers Virtual-On: Oratorio Tangram's home port is another case of the console version being a perfect match for the coin-op. Blistering action, stunning visuals and a great soundtrack all combine to create one of the best arena-based combat titles on any format; it's only the lack of a twin-stick control method that gets in the way, and even then, you still have the option of investing in the dedicated (and expensive) Dreamcast 'Twin Stick' controller, built almost exclusively with this title in mind and released only in Japan.
Notable for being the first online RPG for a console, Phantasy Star Online allows up to four players to join forces over the internet in order to take part in quests and collect loot. Overseen by Yuji Naka's Sonic Team, the game served as a tantalising demonstration of the power of connected gaming, years before online play became the norm on consoles. Based on the JRPG series of the same name but blessed with fast, real-time combat, Phantasy Star Online's impact cannot be understated. While the official servers were closed in 2010, it is still possible to play online using private, fan-run servers. The game was ported to GameCube and Xbox alongside 'Version 2', and sequels have appeared in the years since, the most recent being Phantasy Star Online 2, which arrived in 2012 and is still getting updates as of 2021.
Sega of America was painfully aware that strong sports titles were a must if the Dreamcast was to succeed in North America, and it duly purchased Visual Concepts in 1999 with the objective of creating a stable of games based on popular sports. NFL 2K2 was the final American Football outing on the Dreamcast before Sega shifted to third-party publishing, and was showered with praise upon release thanks to its wonderful visuals and rewarding gameplay. Visual Concepts was purchased by Take-Two Interactive in 2005, and the NFL 2K series would continue on other systems until 2004, when EA signed a deal with the NFL which gave it exclusive rights, preventing any other publisher from using the brand.
Prior to working on Rez, a game that many still consider to be his masterwork, Tetsuya Mizuguchi created the Space Channel 5 series for the Dreamcast. It's a rhythm action game which places the player in the role of space reporter Ulala, who is sent to investigate an alien invasion by copying dance moves. It's gloriously campy in tone and an absolute hoot, as is the sequel, which arrived in 2002 and was ported to PS3. There's even a cameo appearance by the late Michael Jackson, and the game was subject to legal action in 2003, when Deee-Lite singer Kierin Magenta Kirby (AKA Lady Miss Kier) claimed that Sega had approached her to star in the game, and when she refused, they created a character in her likeness regardless. Sega was able to prove that the game was released in Japan the year prior to when Kier stated she was contacted, and that the developers had never heard of her or her music beforehand. In 2006, Kier lost her appeal and was forced to pay Sega's legal fees for the case. A VR instalment was released recently.