Friday, September 28, 2012

The 100 Greatest Sega Dreamcast Games of All Time! PART FIVE - #020-001

The 100 Greatest Sega Dreamcast Games of All-Time!
Counting Down #020 to #001...


HEY! The previous installments in the countdown can be found below:

PART ONE

PART TWO

PART THREE

PART FOUR

It’s been 13 years to the month since the Sega Dreamcast was released in North America, and to commemorate the console’s birthday, I decided to embark upon a journey to quantify and rank the 100 greatest titles the system had to offer. It was a gargantuan assignment, obviously, but it was also an absolute blast to take such an all-encompassing trip (really, more of an extended vacation) down memory lane; if you have half as much fun reading it as I had writing it, than I know I’ve made Dr. Eggman and Knuckles the Echidna proud.

At this point, what more can be said about the Dreamcast? It was the Kurt Cobain of gaming consoles, that amazing, stellar vision that arrived, changed the industry forever, and then faded away long before its time. It was radical, it was revolutionary, it was, for lack of a better term, freaking awesome, and believe you me - narrowing the list down to just 100 games was a challenge in and of itself.

Before we get down to business, a few notes about the countdown:

1. To make things less complicated, I tried to list ONLY Sega Dreamcast games that were given North American releases WHILE the console was still in production. So, if you’re wondering why games like “Napple Tale” and “Fighting Vipers 2" didn’t make the list…that’s why.

2. There’s no real set criteria for my rankings. Simply put, I just weighed the overall quality of the games with their influence on my youth, and arranged the countdown accordingly. Your list, most certainly, would differ.

3. Note that this is a list of the GREATEST Dreamcast games ever and NOT the best  (which, by the way, is not an interchangeable term for “favorite,” either.) You may think some of my selections are weak, and that’s totally cool. If you disagree, feel free to drop a comment or two. Just try to be civil about it, OK!

4. And lastly, why haven't these been mass produced yet? Well, I mean besides the fact that they kind of violate INTERPOL copyright law and stuff...

And with the fine print out of the way, who is ready to party like it’s 9/9/99?


#020
Seaman


The Dreamcast was home to a ton of bizarre games, but there was clearly no weirder a title to be found on Sega’s last home console than “Seaman.”

The name alone would be enough to vaunt it into the upper echelon of strange-ass video games, but the premise of the title - and especially, the presentation - makes this an all-time contender for most unusual video game ever released. And the truly amazing thing about the game? Not only is it one of the most unique experiences to be found on the Dreamcast, it actually is one of the most enjoyable games one can “play” on the system. No, seriously.

OK, so the initial part of the game - raising the fish monster people - is a little time-consuming, and having to constantly clean the tank and adjust the water temperature is a bit boring, but once the “fruits” of your labor start talking back to you, you will quickly realize that you’re on the verge of a truly incomparable gaming experience. Yeah, we’ve shot aliens and karate chopped the hell out of each other for twenty years, but when was the last time you had an existential chat with a humanoid guppy about religion, politics and even your own sex life? More so than any game I can think of, “Seaman” is the epitome of “post modern gaming” - as long as you can keep crafting “identities” for yourself, it’s easy to assume that you could play the game for an eternity and STILL get different responses and conversational fodder from your aquatic friends. From the Leonard Nimoy voiceovers to the myriad self-reflexive Easter eggs (try asking your fish buddy what he thinks about “Nintendo” and “Sony” sometime) to the almost sorrowful final farewell at the “end” of the game, there is just so much to love about this game…and without question, you will never get an opportunity to play a title quite like it ever again.

#019
Sonic Adventure


For all the criticisms you heard about the game - the occasionally wonky framerate, the very occasionally clumsy camera and the inclusion of extra characters, that, to some, was superfluous to the gameplay - I still consider “Sonic Adventure” a mini-triumph of 3D platforming, for a multitude of reasons.

For starters, the fact that we were even GETTING a 3D Sonic the Hedgehog game was, in and of itself, something of a tiny miracle, seeing as how the abject failure of “Sonic Xtreme” left us without a proper Sonic game for more than console generation. As Sega’s response to “Super Mario 64,” it’s safe to say that “Sonic Adventure” didn’t have as vast an impact on the gaming world, but there’s no denying that the game was - and in many ways, still is - pretty damn impressive, regardless.

The visuals and audio were downright fantastic, and the fact that the game had an actual storyline - albeit, one that was just a tad convoluted - made the title feel way more polished and immersive. While some have argued that the multi-character gameplay  hook bogged the title down, I think it made the game infinitely more enjoyable and replayable, as it gave the game six very distinct modes of play, complete with plenty of unlockables. All in all, there was just so much variety to the game that I find it preposterous that anyone can consider it underwhelming - hyper-speed platforming, Zelda-esque adventuring, fishing, snowboarding AND a hidden “virtual pet” mini-game, in one launch title? If you can’t get behind that, I’m not sure if this whole “video gaming” business is for you, amigo.

#018
NBA 2K1


NBA 2K1” isn’t just the best basketball game on the Dreamcast, it’s easily one of the greatest hoops video games ever made. It was the first NBA game I played online, and for me, it struck the absolute perfect balance between strategic simulation and arcade fun.

You have to give the guys at Visual Concepts all the credit in the world here, because there’s pretty much something in the game for everybody, whether or not you’re a through-and-through NBA fanatic. For starters, there’s the street ball mode, which I spent a ridiculous amount of time playing - call me crazy, but I thought it was, overall, a more enjoyable experience than the first two “NBA Street” games. And then, there’s the franchise mode, which is so ridiculously intricate and in-depth that I don’t think you’ll ever find yourself truly “finishing” the game. Coupled with a sublime multiplayer mode, this is one sports game that is sure to thrill pretty much everybody that sticks it into their console.

The presentation is fantastic, the graphics still hold up very well and the audio - especially the commentary - is outstanding. The absolute best thing about the game, of course, is the stellar gameplay, which is both technically sound and strategically exhilarating - in other words, it’s everything you could possibly want in a basketball game, and then some.

#017
NFL 2K


NFL 2K” was pretty much everything you could want out of a launch title. Its graphics were amazing, the gameplay was outstanding, it showed off the amazing capabilities of the new hardware (being able to pick plays on the VMU, to this day, remains one of the most mind-blowing experiences of my gaming career) and a good goddamn, was it addictive. I picked the game up at launch, and played the thing for at least a year straight. By the time January 2000 rolled around, I had already led the Raiders to three undefeated Super Bowl runs, and had “NFL 2K1” not been released, I’d probably have ended up playing the franchise mode until CD-ROM went kaput.

“NFL 2K” wasn’t just a great football game, it was a mini-revolution in gaming. It may not have been as technical as the “Madden” series, but there’s no denying that the “2K” games were way, way more enjoyable and immersive than any of the PS1/N64 football games on the market, and in many ways, even superior to EA’s games up until the end of the sixth console generation. Not only did the game look like something out of the future, it’s presentation pretty much WAS the future - in short, it makes every football game released before it look downright primitive by comparison.

It’s really hard to express just how innovative this game was when it was first released. All of the things that are pretty much customary in sim sports titles - on-field referees, dynamic crowd audio, player physics, in-depth customization modes, etc. - were all  either pioneered in this game or greatly improved by “NFL 2K.” It’s not only one of the best sports games ever made, it really is one of the most influential games in history - and as a true testament to its greatness, it’s still an immensely fun game to play today.

#016
Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves


This game was one of the absolute best produced by SNK, and in many ways, one of the greatest technical fighting games in history. It’s an astoundingly deep game with well-tuned, extremely-balanced characters and an extremely satisfying combat system - in addition to being beautiful and an audio delight, too.

While the gameplay isn’t quite “Virtua Fighter” levels of realistic, it’s a pretty intricate fighting system for a 2D fighter. Every character plays differently, and each move set seems to gel quite nicely against other move sets - as a result, no one character has an advantage over the other, and the bouts can get very, very competitive. The character design deserves applause, as well - as should be any game that has a Freddy Krueger-inspired fighter with moves named after Morbid Angel songs AND a dude named “Khushnood Butt.”

SNK made so many great moves with this one, starting with the “Tactical Offense Position” bar, which allows characters to unleash super-powerful projectile and grab-attacks - a variable that makes one-on-one matches very strategic and cerebral. Also brilliant is the inclusion of “defense” bonuses, which allows players to recover health by successfully blocking attacks - such a small addition that makes the game that much more competitive and riveting. Simply put -  if you’re a fighting game fan, this is one Dreamcast selection you better have in your library.

#015
Quake III Arena


Quake III Arena” was the game that proved, once and for all, that online shooters could “work” on home consoles. While plenty of great FPS games had made their rounds to home systems prior to this Dreamcast release, “Quake III Arena” was the very first to offer an online, multiplayer experience that was on par with what you would experience on a PC. All of the big time franchises, from “Call of Duty” to “Halo,” owe more than a bit of gratitude to this title, don’t you think?

For all of you whippersnappers that don’t know what “Doom” was, this game was pretty much the competitive, online multiplayer shooter of the early 1990s (and probably, the industry’s best until “Counter Strike” came along.) The action was fast, frenzied, chaotic and an absolute blast to experience - and believe you me, the online play in this one was as addictive as crack-fueled “Tetris” binges.

While you could play the game with the standard VMU controller, you also had the option/blessing to play the game with the Sega keyboard and mouse peripheral…meaning that not only was the game playable with a PC setup, it was, for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from the PC version of the game. Even now, I’m kind of surprised that more console shooters don’t give you the same set-up options that this game gave you - which, summarily, describes why it’s a game worth going out of your way to experience, too.

#014
Marvel vs. Capcom 2


The anarchic arcade-classic made its console debut on the Dreamcast in 2000 - and to this day, many hardcore fighting fans consider this iteration to be the ONLY way to play the game, outside of owning a full-sized, first-run coin-op.

By now, you have assuredly heard of the game, and its “hook” - you choose three characters from a massive pantheon of Marvel and Capcom characters - and then, things get INSANE. What the game lacks in strategic depth, it makes up for in excellent animation, ridiculously fantastic special attacks (complete with triple digit combos!) and some of the most intense button-mashing action in the history of video games. The multiplayer was - and still is legendary - but a lot of people tend to overlook how addictive the single-player mode on this one was, as well. Hell, I spent an entire summer joyfully unlocking the 60 plus characters in the game, even if that ultimate battle against Abyss always made my thumbs bleed (and probably gave me delayed carpal-tunnel-syndrome in the process. But damn it, it was worth it to unlock that Sentinel, I still attest.)

There’s not too much to say about the game, which is probably why it remains such a ridiculously fun title today. This game is just awesome, button-melting fighting action, with arguably the greatest cast in the genre’s history - honestly, I don’t know if I would want to live in a world where a game doesn’t exist in which players can have Mega Man, Jill Valentine and a Doctor Strange B-villain duke it out against Strider, Marrow and a giant eyeball squid. Oh, and in case you’re wondering who made Team Jimbo’s final cut? Cable, Iceman and Venom, bitches.

#013
Rayman 2: The Great Escape


While the game’s lasting impact has been tarnished a bit over the years (thanks in no small part to the million-billion watered-down ports that seem to get re-released every time a new handheld is launched), “Rayman 2” remains one of the absolute greatest 3D platforming games of all-time, and one that, in terms of contemporary influence, has had a greater significance to the genre than even “Super Mario 64.”

All modern platforming games owe a bit of gratitude to this one. In fact, the platformers of the present tend to borrow so heavily from this game that I guess you could consider it the touchstone of the genre. Without this game, would we have had “Jak,” “Ratchet,” or “Sly Cooper?” Probably, but without a superlative title like this to ape, they probably would’ve been worlds suckier as final products.

Stylistically, the game was breathtaking. The visuals were smooth and vibrant, and the minimalist soundtrack provided the perfect venue for the game’s outstanding sound effects to shine. That, and the controls and game play were absolutely phenomenal, providing gamers with a platforming experience so solid and enjoyable that it’s practically impossible to go back to the early “Spyro” or “Crash Bandicoot” games after you’ve played this one. “Rayman 2” is one of the most beloved games ever, and for very good reason - and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a better iteration of the title than this Dreamcast release.

#012
Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike


It’s arguably the greatest installment in arguably the greatest 2D fighting series of all-time. Not only is “Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike” one of the best fighting games ever, it’s also one of the most cerebral multiplayer games you’ll ever get your hands on.

Simply put, this game has the best defensive controls I’ve ever experienced in a fighting title. The addition of guard parrying turned what was already a deep, strategic game into an incomparably thought-provoking experience: once you factor in all of the air parries, throws and leap attacks (all of which can be countered), the game begins to resemble a heated chess battle more than it does a button-masher. The inclusion of a “judgment system” - an in-game scorekeeper of sorts that ranks players on offensive and defensive technique - proves just how hardcore Capcom was about making this a thinking man’s fighter.

The 20 player cast is outstanding, and each character plays completely differently than the next. All in all, it might just be the most diversified setlist in gaming, with characters like Ryu and Necro playing like figures from two totally separate fighting games. Even so, the game is exquisitely balanced, and it seems like competitive, technical bouts arise no matter which two characters are duking it out. Practically every thing about this game is pitch perfect, from the animation to the voice acting to the console-exclusive (at the time) add-ins, including entirely different endings and music for each character - and if that’s not enough, they even brought back the car-smashing mini-game! “Street Fighter III 3rd Strike” is a fighting game fan’s fighting game - and one of the best reasons to own a Dreamcast that I can think of.

#011
The Last Blade 2: Heart of the Samurai


For my money, “The Last Blade 2” may not only be the best game SNK ever made (itself, a gargantuan accolade), but quite possibly the greatest 2D fighting game of all-time. It’s a massive honor to heap upon a game that so few people ever played, but for anybody that actually has experienced the title…they know it’s praise much deserved.

“The Last Blade 2” plays out a lot like “Samurai Shodown,” although I think it’s more accurate to describe it as a 2D “Soul Calibur.” The weapons-based combat is smooth and technical, and playing defensively is every bit as fun as playing on offense. I really liked the slower tempo of the game, which made it feel more like “Fatal Fury” than “Guilty Gear” - a kinetic brawler, this may not be, but if you are in pursuit of a cerebral, rewarding and intellectual fighter, you’re probably not going to find a better title on ANY console.

The graphics - in particular, the sprite animations - are among the best you will see in a 2D game, and the title has one of the best scores in the history of the medium. Every character feels and plays differently, although the fighters are all expertly balanced. Pulling off combos isn’t too difficult, and the inclusion of “Super Desperation” moves - basically, fatality attacks - adds an element of unpredictability alongside the combat system’s strategic depth. All in all, “The Last Blade 2” is one of gaming’s greatest triumphs - and an oft-overlooked title that is long overdue for industry-wide celebration.

#010
Power Stone 2


If you were to ask me what was the best multiplayer experience on the Dreamcast was, there’s no denying that this game would be at the top of the list. “Power Stone 2” is an exceptional, ridiculously fun four-way brawler with outstanding visuals, fantastic music and downright sublime game play. It’s everything that made the already-great original so terrific, only multiplied by a thousand.

One of the things I really like is the emphasis on the single-player experience. While it is fun to endlessly pound you and three of your amigos into 2D paste over and over again, the “adventure” mode in “Power Stone 2” also give solo players an incentive to play through the title a few times, since it allows you to unlock a number of items and weapons. And the weaponry list in this game, I might add, is downright phenomenal, as you’ll be able to mow down adversaries with flamethrowers, katanas, roller blades, chairs and even cacti!

The stage interaction is what really separates “Power Stone 2” from the pack. Pretty much everything in the foreground and background can be used by the player, either as a melee weapon or an attack multiplier. And then, there are the environmental effects, which puts just about everything in the “Super Smash Bros.” series to shame…completely firebombed stages, an absolutely awesome battle atop a moving submarine and at one point, even the giant boulder from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” makes a guest appearance. This is the kind of game that made the Dreamcast one of the most beloved consoles in history…and if you haven’t gotten around to playing it, what the hell are you waiting for?

#009
Jet Grind Radio


Yes, “Jet Grind Radio” is the game that kicked off the short-lived cel-shaded graphics revolution, but it’s overall legacy has meant so much more to gaming. “JGR” stands out as one of the most original, refreshing and innovative games of the last two decades - a daring, stylistically unheard-of mishmash of rhythm action, extreme sports, platforming and yes, even a little bit of arts appreciation.

In many ways, “JGR” is an old-school styled arcade experience. You have a finite amount of time to accomplish a set list of tasks - in this case, tagging some billboards while avoiding a platoon of bumbling bad guys. The awesome thing here is just how cinematic the mechanics of the game are - while you are spray painting, the camera zooms out to show you a squadron of corporate drones homing in on you. In the hands of most developers, this would have been a laborious, repetitive experience, but the pioneers at SmileBit knew how to turn the tried and true into something dazzling new and incredibly enjoyable.

The character design is outstanding, the visuals are top-notch, the controls are spot-on, the soundtrack is absolutely fantastic (I STILL bump “Bout the City” every now and then while I’m working on articles) and although a lot of people overlook it, the story in “JGR” is actually one of the better you’ll find on the Dreamcast. This is the kind of game that they just don’t make anymore…and yet another reason why the DC remains one of the most beloved consoles of all-time.


#008
Phantasy Star Online


Way before “Everquest,” way before “World of Warcraft,” and way before all of Square-Enix’s hilariously awful attempts at creating online “Final Fantasy” games, there was “Phantasy Star Online.” To this day, it remains the only MMORPG I’ve ever played…and I don’t think it will be losing its mantle as greatest console MMO ever anytime soon, either.

Yes, “PSO” is a bit simple compared to today’s gigantic RPGs like “Skyrim” and “Mass Effect 3,” but in the game’s simplicity lies its charm (and hyper addictive drawing power.) While your character choices are limited to permutations of six (a robot, a human, or an elf of each gender), the game gives you plenty of “professional” options, as playing as a hunter, ranger or force completely changes the dynamic of your online (and offline) adventures.

For an online game released in 2000, the game’s MMO mechanics are shockingly robust, with three separate game modes to monkey around with - including two supremely addictive challenge and versus modes. A lot of people tend to sleep on the game’s single player, offline mode, but it’s actually a damn good RPG in its own right, too. And you have to give Sega mad props for the excellent communication system here - with the SegaNet keyboard in tow, this game plays almost equivalent to “Diablo II” on a PC. Factor in the great graphics, sublime audio and ultra-satisfying game play, and you definitely have yourself one of the decade’s absolute best RPG experiences.

#007
Skies of Arcadia


Skies of Arcadia” was the Dreamcast’s answer to “Final Fantasy VII,” and while the game didn’t achieve quite as much critical and commercial acclaim as Square’s offering, there’s no denying that Overworks’ title is one of the console’s greatest traditional RPG experiences…if not the best overall role playing game the Dreamcast has to offer.

As far as dungeon crawlers go, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better one on ANY console from the timeframe. The battle system in “Skies” was really well-structured, providing users a simple interface that still had enough wiggle room for some strategy in more ferocious battles later on in the game. Additionally, I really liked the use of the “flying” mechanism as a way of mapping the over world together; while a lot of people may not have liked the random battles that popped up, I thought the ship-based combat was one of the most fun aspects of the title. And hey, what about that “hidden” RPG that you can play on the system’s VMU screen?

Aesthetically, the game is downright astounding, a visually immersive and aurally outstanding offering with one of the more detailed and engrossing storylines to be found in any RPG from the era. The characters are fleshed out, the weaponry is fun, and just exploring the game’s many, many dungeons is a hoot and a half. And then there’s the exquisite soundtrack composed by Yutaka Minobe and Tatsuyuki Maeda…needless to say, this game is worth playing though just for the audio-visual kick. The fact that it’s one of the most enjoyable and gripping games on the Dreamcast certainly doesn’t hurt, either, I suppose…

#006
Sonic Adventure 2


The last truly great “Sonic the Hedgehog” game we’ll ever get to play? While Sega’s forays with its cash cow franchise have produced less than sterling results since the Dreamcast’s demise, we can at least hold our heads up high knowing that the franchise’s finale (on a Sega-produced console, anyway) was a worthy, fitting conclusion for the company’s flagship series.

The Internet consensus seems to be that this is the game “Sonic Adventure” really should have been. Although I really enjoyed both games, I have to go with the mainstream here and agree that “Sonic Adventure 2” is a far superior title to the Dreamcast launch game. As a hybrid action-adventure-platforming game, there’s something here to please gamers of all walks of life…although, admittedly, I kinda’ wish the would have brought “Big the Cat” back for this one, but whatever.

There is just SO MUCH to do in this game. To get 100 percent, you’re going to have to complete the title using 6 different characters, collect 180 emblems and scour the game world for collectible “chao” creatures. And then there’s the two player mode, which is actually way more fun and addictive than you’d think. While the camera is STILL an issue, it’s nowhere near as bad as it was in the first game, and all of the new additions to the game…not to mention the improved audio and visuals…more than make up for whatever brief moments of frustration you’ll have trying to make the occasional wonky jump. This is the kind of game that puts a smile on my face every time I boot it up - now excuse me for a bit, I have to complete the “City Escape” stage just ONE more time this evening…

#005
Test Drive Le Mans


The best racing game on one of the best consoles for racing games ever. Not only is this a game on par with the second and third “Gran Turismo” games, after a decade of play, I think this one might be an even better title than those two much-revered simulation titles. Believe the hype, kids…this game IS that good.

For starters, the game looks absolutely amazing. Even though the game came out in 2000, it looks glossier than most PS2 racing games, and at first glance, you might even mistake it for a first generation 360 game. Visually, this game is an absolute masterpiece, but it’s not until you get in the gameplay that this criminally overlooked sim racer truly shines.

Where to begin here? Although the game may lack a lot of manufacturer licenses, it makes up for it with some excellently designed autos and giving you a plethora of tuning and tweaking options. On top of that, you are given an astounding array of game modes, including your basic GTs, a number of arcade races, and of course, the signature endurance mode, which replicates the 24 hour Le Mans marathon. In my opinion, that mode is one of the most amazing Dreamcast moments of my life, displaying the extraordinary technical capabilities of the hardware (trust me, watching the game time lapse from day to night to day again is STILL a remarkable sight to behold.) The audio is among the best I have ever heard in a racing game, and the cockpit mode is arguably the best in any game up until “PGR3” on the 360. The controls are outstanding, the racing gets extremely competitive and exciting and the 10 tracks (including some of the best recreations of the Suzuka and Donington circuits you’ll ever see in a video game) are extremely fun and challenging. All in all, this might very well be the single most underrated game on a console legendary for its unheralded classics; and if you’re even the teensiest racing game fan, this title alone is well worth tracking down a Dreamcast for.

#004
NFL 2K1


The first online football game on a home console (unless you want to get all technical and drudge up the ill-fated X-Band add-on), and to this day, one of the finest 3D sports games I’ve ever experienced.

To non-football fans, it’s going to be difficult to explain what made this game so great. Empirically, I suppose, one really wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between this game and “NFL 2K” by a screenshot alone, but after you played this game as long as I did…well, you begin to note the differences, and there are many. For one, the graphics are much improved, the audio is was better than it was in the first title and the physics are utterly remarkable. You can look at the tackling animations in this game, and compare them to the latest “Madden,” and there really isn’t a marked improvement in that particular category at all. If “Tecmo Super Bowl” laid out the template for a truly great 2D football title, than “NFL 2K1” is the touchstone for modern, ass-kicking, three-dimensional pigskin action.

Online play nowadays is old hat, but at the time, the appeal of being able to play a New York Jets fans while you were sitting in Iowa was absolutely flooring. Indeed, I spent DAYS defending the honor of my beloved 2000-2001 Oakland Raiders squad, accepting challenges from just about ever Denver Bronco or San Diego Charger fan that had a steady Internet connection. Factoring in the franchise mode, I probably spent at LEAST 200 hours playing this one over the course of a year; I think there was a steady three month window in the summer of 2001 where this title NEVER left the disc spinner of my console. When you talk about fundamental gameplay, I don’t think there was a game on the Dreamcast that had better, pound-for-pound quality than “NFL 2K1” - if I was stuck in a deserted island with only a DC unit and a power generator and I could bring only ONE game with me, I seriously doubt there are any other options to choose from other than this outstanding gridiron classic from Visual Concepts.

#003
Soul Calibur 


The “killer app” that sold thousands of arcade-dwellers on the prospect of a Dreamcast, and THE title that proved we weren’t going to get “Saturn-ed” this time around by Sega. It’s regarded as one of the most important launch titles in history and a complete paradigm shift for the industry of console gaming - and atop all of that, did I forget to tell you that it’s one of the most awesome fighting games ever made?

“Soul Calibur,” in the eyes of a lot of people, was the game that effectively “killed” the arcade market in the U.S. For the first time ever, a console port of an arcade game could truly be called “arcade-perfect” - in fact, with all of the new additions to the game, “Soul Calibur” on the DC was easily “better-than-arcade-perfect” in my eyes. The visuals were polygonal candy, the audio was outstanding, the combat system was sublime, the multiplayer was tits, and the quest mode? Absolutely friggin’ riveting. You really couldn’t ask for a better day one title for a new console - and 13 years later, it still plays as awesome as it did during the heyday of Lou Bega.

It’s debatable whether or not “Soul Calibur” is the absolute greatest 3D fighter ever (for me, it’s a toss-up between this one and “Virtua Fighter 4”), but there’s NO DENYING that it’s the best 3D fighter on the Dreamcast. There are so many characters to choose from, and the controls are so smooth and flexible that it feels like the VMU pad just melts away and you’re controlling the characters by telepathy or something. It’s one of the best-feeling games ever, and a game that ALWAYS produces some outstanding one-on-one battles. While it’s easy to dismiss the hype on most games, I’m certain that every great thing you’ve heard about this game still holds weight; and if you ask me, a grueling marathon on ultra-hard mode with Nightmare is about as close as one can get to sheer video game nirvana.

#002
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2


The “Tony Hawk” series has become a pale, pale shadow of itself over the last decade and a half - thanks in no small part to Activision’s perpetual milking of the cash cow, not to mention some downright HORRIBLE attempts to turn the series into a more “casual” experience. As a result, we tend to overlook just how spectacular those early “THPS” games were - and to me, there is no better “Tony Hawk” experience to be found ANYWHERE than when you have this game wedged in your DC.

The first “Tony Hawk” game was a remarkable, innovative title that created its own genre of gameplay. As good as that game was, it still had a few missteps here and there, and just about EVERY problem that was around in the first game was not only remedied in “THPS 2,” but pretty much perfected as a game mechanic. The inclusion of the manual alone - which allowed players to link combos together, conceivably until your Dreamcast just exploded - turned “THPS 2” into an absolute cultural sensation - there wasn’t an eighth-grader alive back in 2000 that didn’t adore this title, and the game probably got more kids into skating than the X-Games, Bart Simpson and those CKY videos COMBINED.

I’m always hesitant to describe anything as flawless, but I really can’t think of a single thing in this game that could have been improved. The skating system was perfect, and the expansive levels were the best mix of realistic and fantastical I’ve ever experienced in an “extreme” sports game. I spent DAYS just messing around in free skate mode, and with the inclusion of both a create-a-player AND a create-a-park mode, this game was more addictive then playing Tetris while high on crack-cocaine. The soundtrack was superb, the graphics were outstanding and the bonus content is among the best unlockable stuff you’ll find in any video game. Skating around a vacant school, while dressed as Spider-Man, jamming out to Lagwagon and Bad Religion - this game really is one of my most cherished teenage memories, and I’m not being even remotely sarcastic about it, either.


And now, the moment we’ve ALL been waiting for. For the last month, we’ve explored, relived and replayed 99 of the absolute best games Sega’s last home console had to offer. We’ve shed tears of nostalgia, tears of joy, and sometimes, tears of frustration. We’ve laughed, we’ve remembered and we’ve rejoiced. And as we come to the number one Dreamcast game EVER, I’d just like to thank the guys at Sega and all of the third party publishers that are responsible for giving us these games. A lot of these developers and publishers are long-extinct, and we’ll probably never see a console dedicated to such innovative, quality games ever again. Your efforts are not to be forgotten guys, and me -and the millions of retro game fans the world over - appreciate what you’ve done for us, and we’ll never forget your hard work and devotion to entertaining us.

With that said, I think it’s pretty obvious what my pick for the best Dreamcast game of all-time is. In fact, there’s only one title that I think deserves such an honor, and it’s the game - for better, or for worse - that came to define not only the Dreamcast, but Sega as a video game company. Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen…the greatest Sega Dreamcast game, of all-time:

#001
Shenmue


While the Sega Dreamcast's time on this earth was not long, there is NO denying the impact it had on the world of video gaming while it was here. In many ways, it was the last true console for dedicated, hardcore gamers, a place you could go when you wanted heavy arcade action and innovative genre-blenders as opposed to shovelware casual games and rehashed rehashes. It gave us amazing 128-bit graphics and wacky peripherals and online play and games that were so ahead of their time, it was ridiculous. Although we're all mourning the prospects of would could've (or in the eyes of many, should've) been, we should all feel fortunate that we got as much time with the system as we did - and the 100 games listed on this countdown are true testaments to the greatness of Sega's last(?) foray into home gaming. 

You're gone, but not forgotten, my beloved orange-lighted, noisy-ass-internal-fan-embedded beauty. And reflecting upon the 100 CD-ROM discs that made up this countdown, one thing is certainly clear; this is one dream that's going to live on and on for a long time to come...


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

JIMBO GOES TO THE MOVIES: "Samsara" Review

Arguably the most beautiful movie ever filmed?


Samsara (2011)
Director: Ron Fricke

Way back in 1992, this guy named Ron Fricke directed a movie called “Baraka,” and it was awesome (despite, unfortunately, having nothing to do with the “Mortal Kombat” character of the same name.) Roger Ebert hailed it as the “most beautiful” movie he’d ever seen, and after checking it out for myself, it’s a notion that’s pretty hard to argue against.

Admittedly, I’m a sucker for non-narrative features. Anybody can string together a couple of images and imbue them with literary worth via dialogue, but what about the expertise it takes to tell a grand thematic WITHOUT a structured, decipherable plotline or symbolic cues in the form of language? A lot of people have tried, and pretty much most of them all falter. Taking on a project so challenging requires the hand of someone extremely sure about what he or she wants to do with the cinematic art form…and when it comes to non-narrative, non-language features, I really don’t think there’s anybody on this planet that does it better than Mr. Fricke.

“Samsara” is the film it took Fricke 20 years to make. Technically, it only took him four years to assemble all of the footage you find in his latest flick, but you can just tell that the stuff you see in this movie had to have been marinating in his mind for the last two decades, at least. Alike “Baraka,” “Samsara” is a beautiful, visually captivating motion picture that you experience more than you watch…and being able to see it, in full, digital 70mm film makes me feel like an extraordinarily lucky individual.

There’s no real “storyline” in “Samsara,” and the only message you’ll find is the one you string together yourself. Granted, one may be able to piece together some sort of greater statement within the film by examining the juxtaposition of images in the movie, but at the end of the day, Fricke’s latest film is precisely what you make out of it…and in that, there’s no way any two people will have the exact same explanation of the film’s ambitions and intent.

The film begins with a bunch of Indian kids doing this wide-eyed interpretive dance, before transitioning to a shot of Buddhist monks working on a gorgeous sand painting. The camera zooms in up close, as we can see every painted granule of sand tumbling out of their makeshift tools. And from there, we transition to massive panorama of sand dunes - an oceanic wave, really - rippling across the desert. That’s our cue to check out an exploding volcano in Hawaii, which quickly cuts into footage of mummified remains and pristine, European churches.

It’s pretty pointless to do a scene-by-scene recap of the movie, so I’ll just touch upon a few segments from the film that I thought were particularly outstanding:

- There’s an absolutely amazing montage that begins with a young African man being buried in a coffin shaped like a handgun. The film then cuts to a firearms factory, where the frames of the weapons are cast and assembled. This segues into images of artillery shills being dropped into boxes and other manufacturing containers, which then transitions to a shot of an American family - a dad and his two children - holding miscellaneous guns. The “sequence” concludes with footage from a national cemetery, where a severely burned veteran gazes into the camera. More footage of sparkling and twinkling bullets follows, which neatly transitions to a brief scene displaying military marching procedures from across the globe.

- There’s a really fascinating sequence that shows a bunch of Chinese workers filing into their manufacturing plant - all wearing matching regalia - as the assembly line workers begin piecing together parts of an iron…an object which will no doubt find itself in the home of some American oblivious to where all of that stuff he or she owns “comes” from. This leads to a really great sequence in which chickens are harvested in this massive combine (think, a lawnmower, if it were made by the tribe of Australian dog-people in “Beyond Thunderdome”) which leads to a scene where we see pigs suckling on these bloated hogs, which are then seen halved on meat hooks and being processed through another assembly line, somewhere on the east coast of China. From there, we see footage of overweight Americans dining at Burger King, which is capped by footage of a morbidly obese man being marked up for a liposuction procedure.

- A majority of the footage of America centered around time lapse footage of motorists passing through what appears to be the Los Angeles area. The entire nighttime cityscape - with its blinking, glistening features - resembles the motherboard of a computer, and perhaps not coincidentally, one of the next images we see are a bunch of poor, third-world workers rummaging through the plastic hulls of discarded, CRT monitors on a mountainous junk heap.

- The juxtaposition between the “Western World” and the “Third World” is handled excellently, as we see images of sulfur mine workers (one of whom has discolored and scarred shoulders) and Asian seaboard dwellers living atop what is, essentially, manmade islands of garbage. This is merged with footage of what appears to be telecommunication workers, all bored out of their skulls, typing away on their laptops.

- Although the film is mostly a straight-up photojournalistic essay, that’s not to say that it doesn’t have some truly excellent WTF moments in it - such as the scene in which a lugubrious “suit” begins caking his face in mud and straw and starts stabbing himself in the mouth with an ink pen (trust me, it makes more sense in motion than it does as a written description) and ESPECIALLY this one sequence where prisoners at some southeast Asian prison partake of this incredible, thousand-man dance that’s better choreographed than most Black Eyed Peas videos.

- Five story golf courses in Japan, and indoor skiing slopes in California are contrasted with images of the Grand Canyon and the African hillside. The message there, I guess, is that we’re totally oblivious to the irony that we’re destroying nature in order to better replicate nature itself. And just wait until you see all of the apartment buildings - all glutted with satellite dishes - standing in front of the pyramids of Egypt.

- This movie contains some of the most beautiful destruction you will ever see on film. Yes, the time lapse footage of cars and boats getting smashed will bring out your inner Beavis, but the way the camera is able to capture a sense of “beauty” from people picking rubbish out of massive garbage heaps is just utterly amazing. The movie also contains footage of devastated housing in the wake of Hurricane Katrina - as weird as it is to imagine, there’s something hauntingly peaceful and pretty about seeing the mud-caked churches and completely devastated Dollar Tree buildings, as if nature and human nature have once again reconnected - albeit, on less than harmonious terms.

- After watching this movie, I REALLY want to visit Dubai in person. There’s some time lapse footage of the Burj Khalifa being constructed, which is partnered with footage of housing being built upon the sandy, tentacle like beach real estate that was literally terra-formed around the building. It’s amazing to see what humans can do when the have all of the money in the world, and absolutely no ambitions of doing anything truly fruitful with it.

- There’s a really detailed sequence examining some extremely creepy Japanese “robots,” which is linked up with images from a factory that produces blow-up dolls. This is then teamed with footage from a tranny strip club somewhere in Asia, where the bulging wing-wongs of Thai lady boys beat against neon pink bikinis…in crystal-clear, digital quality, no less!

- The juxtaposition of Judeo-Christian imagery with Muslim imagery in the film is utterly fascinating. All of the Christian images are scenes of empty, European cathedrals, while a majority of the Islamic imagery is vibrant, colorful and extremely vivid. We see the “wall” that separates the Jews from Muslims in Jerusalem, which is capped off by an absolutely riveting, time-lapse scene in which thousands upon thousands of travelers revolve around the Kaaba at the Masjid al-Harim.

And while there isn’t as much as a single spoken word in the entire film, you can just sense that the movie is touching upon a multitude of issues facing 21st century humanity. Pollution, technology, consumption, religion and even the philosophical question of what is human - clearly, the makers of the film are saying something about all of these issues within “Samsara,” but it’s up to us - as individual viewers - to make heads or tails of what that central message really is.

If you’re wondering if there is a truly central message behind the film, perhaps the title is our biggest indicator of what that statement may or may not be. “Samsara” is a Sanskrit word meaning, loosely, “continuous flow,” which in a number of Asian religions, symbolizes the never-ending cycle of birth, life, death and renewal. The concluding image of the film is a throwback to the Buddhist monks from earlier, who, upon completing their “wheel of life” painting, sweep it off the floor and empty it into a bowl of swirled, multi-colored sand. And what’s the absolute final image  of the film before the credits roll?

A lengthy shot of that oceanic sand mass, sweeping endlessly across the planet. I suppose it’s up to you to determine whether that spells out “life” or “death” in this, our modern era of humans, being

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Rocktagon Recap of UFC 152: Jones vs. Belfort!


Featuring An Indecipherable Brit That Bashes the U.S. Military (Literally), Undersized Fighters Going Really, Really Fast and A Good Five Second Stretch of Time Where It Actually Looked Like Vitor Belfort Was Going to Submit Jon Jones!


It’s been a while since we’ve had a UFC PPV worth shilling out money to witness, and for those of you that have been out of the loop since early July, things have basically gone as insane as you could possibly imagine them at the Zuffa front offices.

Things began getting a little anarchic as soon as Dan Henderson pulled out of his bout with Jon Jones at UFC 151. Here’s the Cliff Notes version of the insanity that followed shortly thereafter. My guess is that one morning, the staggering number of fighter injuries that have shot practically every card in the foot all year long finally pushed Dana White beyond the tipping point, turning his millionaire eccentricity into full-blown cartoon villain madness. As a result, we have a slate of PPV shows that were seemingly arranged Mad Libs style, meaning that we, as a paying audience, get to dole out 55 bucks to watch Anderson Silva fight STEPHAN FREAKING BONNAR in the main event of a real life card, in the year 2012, next month. I’m still not sure whether this is the greatest thing that could possibly happen during a spate of fighter injuries, or the virtual death knell for the sport of mixed martial arts.

Tonight’s show is headlined by what, on paper, at least, sounds like the least fair fight since Jesus took on the Romans. Jon Jones is the sport’s most electrifying young talent - a kid that’s slew pretty much the entire Light Heavyweight division before being old enough to rent a car - while his adversary, Vitor Belfort, is a dude that’s been hanging out since the UFC was numbering its events in the teens. And also, he’s moving up a full weight class, on short notice. Using good old fashioned horse sense, that would seem to mean that this is the last night Belfort’s family will be able to recognize his face, but as we all know, once the cage locks shut, pretty much anything can happen…except for Vitor Belfort winning tonight, which there is no way in hell he will.

That considered, there actually ARE reasons to tune in tonight beyond watching Vitor Belfort get Mortal Kombat’ed this evening, beginning with the crowning of the FIRST EVER Flyweight Champion in UFC history, as Joseph Benavidez throws down with Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson in what very well could be a fight of the year contender. And if that wasn’t enough, we also have Michael Bisping taking on Brian Stann, in a fight that, just maybe, could give us the next challenger in line for Anderson Silva’s Middleweight strap (pending Bisping wins, of course.)

Tonight begins a new era in the UFC…for better, or for worse. And when I mean “worse,” I mean A LOT WORSE. That said, welcome one and all, to the ROCKTAGON RECAP of UFC 152: JONES VS. BELFORT! 

We are coming to you LIVE from Toronto, Canada, while I’m calling this shindig from the quiet and cozy Bailey’s in wherever I am. Our hosts, as expected, suck.

So, for the first time ever, I have decided to actually order food at this place, which I’ve been frequenting, on and off, for the last four years now. All I’m saying is, if these so-called “Ultimate Nachos” aren’t the final word on toasted tortilla chips covered in cheeses and other vegetable products, I am going to be pissed. And hard. Sorta’.

You know what Mike Goldberg’s face looks like in high def? That’s right, terror itself.

Featherweight Bout
Cub Swanson vs. Charles Oliveira

Cub Swanson is a generic white guy with a lot of tattoos, while Oliveira is a generic Brazilian guy, because lord knows, the UFC just doesn’t have enough of both. Oliveira has a three inch height advantage, which probably means he has a considerable reach advantage, too. Oliveira with a takedown, and he’s smothering Swanson. Both are back up, and we’ve got some swinging going on. And Oliveira gets popped, throws his hands up like a woman, and falls down like three seconds later. Well, that was weird as all hell. Swanson wins it by first round knockout.

Luke Rockhold and Daniel Cormier are in the house. And if you know who those people are, congrats on being an MMA nerd.

Light Heavyweight Bout
Matt Hamill vs. Roger Hollett 

Hollett is a local boy (sorta’) from Nova Scotia, while Hamill is that one deaf guy that is the only person to hold a win over Jon Jones (by disqualification, of course) that was retired for like three months. Hollett’s nickname is “The Hulk,” which makes him one of approximately 88 people in the organization with said moniker.

Hamill gets several bonus points for coming out to “Working Man” by Rush, which means that the person on the roster WITHOUT a working cochlea probably has the best taste in music of anybody fighting this evening.

Hollett kinda’ looks like a dehydrated Shane Carwin, while Hamill reminds me of Jim Carrey’s “Fire Marshall Bill” character from “In Living Color,” if he got all buff and stuff. A standing battle for most of the first round, with Hamill doing most of the pushing. I like how Hamill opens his arms every five seconds, like he’s a pterodactyl or something. Hamill with an easy takedown, and he’s teeing off on Hollett’s bald spot. Hamill literally pounds Hollett’s face for the next two minutes until the bell sounds.

Hamill with a takedown to start off the second, and Hollett is just barely hanging in there. Things get vertical, and Hamill has some blood trickling down his nose. Both guys looking pretty gassed at this point. Hamill throwing some pillow-soft punches now, and as soon as I type that, he hits Hollett with a modified Rock Bottom. That’s his THIRD takedown of this fight. I’ve got it 20-18 for Hamill heading into the final round.

Hamill with takedown number 4, and he’s got Hollett’s back. Hollett with two minutes to score the knockout. And cue takedown #5. Minute left in the fight, and Hamill gets takedown numero six-o. Gotta’ be 30-27 for “The Hammer.” And Matt gets a unanimous decision, even though one judge, somehow, scored it a 29-28.

Ronda Rousey is in the crowd, sitting next to Royce Gracie, of all people. Cue some military propaganda, which gives me a convenient excuse to hop into these nachos of the “ultimate” variety.

Middleweight Bout
Michael Bisping vs. Brian Stann

A little ironic that Stann is an American war hero that, technically, is a citizen of Japan, no? Bisping out to “Song 2” by Blur, and you got to think he’s next in line for the Middleweight belt, pending he’s able to get past Stann tonight.

Remember kids: Corn Nuts are the only corn nuts that are corn to the core.

Bisping has Stann bullied against the cage early. Stann is definitely looking for the knockout as soon as he can get it. Bisping tries for a takedown, but Stann ain’t budging. Timeout, as Stann tries to uncover his testicles again.  Twice, actually. Bisping looking for another takedown, and Stann clips him. A very, very even round.

Not for nothing, but these two dudes have practically identical haircuts. Bisping goes for a takedown, and this time he lands it. Bisping in side control, and Stann powers his way into Bisping’s guard. Stann now controlling this one from the top. Bisping looking to lock in a triangle. Bisping powers out, and we’re standing again. Bisping getting surgical with his jabs now. Bisping with another takedown, with about thirty seconds left in the round. Definitely Bisping’s round. 20-18 for the Brit, but that first round really could be score either way.

And in case you’re wondering? These nachos are excellent, surprisingly. Bisping begins round three with another takedown. Three minutes to go, and this one is all Bisping. Stann stuffs another takedown attempt. Stann has less than 90 seconds to make the miracle comeback. And that’s takedown number four for “The Count.” Got to be Bisping’s fight here. A 29-28 call for Bisping, across the board.

Here’s a verbatim transcript of Bisping’s post-fight interview: “ImmahemmhummagaogCanadaahbajibbabibba.”

Up next, we’ve got the first ever Flyweight Championship Bout in UFC history. The comedy here is that the championship belt probably weighs more than both competitors combined.

UFC Flyweight Championship Bout
Demetrious Johnson vs. Joseph Benavidez 

According to Mike Goldberg, Matt Hughes thinks that Johnson is one of only two dudes that’s trained under him that should give up their day jobs, because he though they were going to be World Champions some day. He’s brought that up about seven times tonight, and yes…he doesn’t tell us who that enigmatic other student was, either.

Benavidez comes out to “Stranglehold” by Ted Nugent, which is probably best known for being in that one scene in “Rock Star” where everybody’s making out and being high on drugs and stuff. My favorite thing about “Mighty Mouse” Johnson is that, if you squint, he kinda’ looks like the alien from “Mac and Me” a little.

Wow, this is like watching two midgets square off. I don’t know who’s going to win this one, but I really hope things don’t end in a no-contest when the ref steps on them.

A very close - and, as expected - fast first round. Mighty Mouse - in his neon green Xbox trunks - tries to Jose Aldo his foe with some leg kicks. A 10-9 round for Johnson.

Johnson with some more leg kicks to begin the second. Benavidez responds by trying to spinning back fist his adversary. Both guys are landing, but nothing’s really done any real damage yet. A much closer round than the first, especially with Benavidez landing a heavy overhand as the round expired. 20-18 for Johnson, but that last one could just as easily be scored in favor of Benavidez.

Benavidez is landing more punches, and Johnson is landing more kicks. Benavidez misses with a high kick that surely would have put Johnson on his ass. Benavidez bleeding from the side of his head. Benavidez with a takedown, but Johnson is right back up. A virtual dead heat as far as significant striking goes. These next two rounds are ultimately going to decide it.

Benavidez drops Johnson and swarms him. Benavidez going for a choke, and he’s almost got it. Somehow, Johnson is holding on. Now Johnson has a leglock. Benavidez out, and he’s on top again. Benavidez in side control. Johnson spins out. Benavidez misses with a spinning elbow. Johnson almost has Benavidez’s back. We’re standing again. Things are almost too fast to call now. Johnson with a takedown, and he’s landing some elbows. A very close round, but I would have to give it to Benavidez.

Johnson takes his foe down with a waistlock. Johnson with another takedown, and he’s in side control. 90 seconds left. Benavidez swinging for the fences. If I were a betting man, I’d say Johnson has this one in the bag.

Benavidez’s face looks like a hooker’s womb. And as predicted, Johnson wins this one by split decision…which is kinda’ weird, actually. And during the post-fight interview, we all find out why this guy is nicknamed “Mighty Mouse" as soon the new champ starts talking...

Cain Velasquez in the house, and I think I still some blood on him from that last fight with “Bigfoot” Silva. And if you ask me, Kevin James still has a better physique than Roy Nelson.

UFC Light Heavyweight Championship
Jon Jones (Champion) vs. Vitor Belfort (Challenger)

Maybe I am being a tad premature, but I think Tom Hanks should be walking behind Vitor Belfort, screaming “Walking the mile! Walking the mile!” over and over again.

Jon Jones, now sporting an Abe Lincoln beard, comes out to a chorus of boos. He gets hugs and kisses from his brother and mama in the crowd, though.

Jones has a 10.5 inch reach advantage, which means that if you gave Belfort a rake, he still wouldn’t be able to hit his opponent first. Jones with a takedown. And oh dear lord, Belfort has an armbar. Folks, we could be on the verge of a repeat of the Werdum/Fedor fight from 2010. Jones is up, and basically pile driving his foe over and over again. Jones escapes, mounts a takedown, and is raining elbows.

Belfort’s face is ROYALLY messed up after the first round. The cage side doctor gives him the A-OK, and this fight continues. Jones keeps doing this one thing where he front kicks Belfort in the knee. The defending champ starts throwing some high kicks, and Belfort looks out of it. Jones with a takedown, and Belfort pulls guard to conclude the round. 20-18 for Jones at this point.

Jones comes out with some kicks to begin the third, and Belfort pulls guard again. Jones in the full mount, and dropping some heavy shots while Belfort looks for a sub opening. And Belfort pulls guard one last time as the round ends. 30-27 fight for Jones.

Belfort flops to his back to begin the fourth, and Jones lands in side control. And now, Belfort is totally effed as the defending champ starts elbowing him from the side mount. Eventually, Jones gets bored and decides to lock in a kimura instead. Belfort taps instantly.

SO, WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Since Jones said his arm was “messed up” after his fight with Belfort, we may see him on the shelf for a couple of months. During the wait, that gives us ample time to see who emerges from the Light Heavyweight fold as the next challenger to the 205 strap, which, at this juncture, is just too cluttered to determine. The same cannot be said for the newly crowned 125 champ Demetrious Johnson, who will definitely be meeting the winner of the Jon Dodson/ Jussier da Silva fight at UFC on FX 5. Michael Bisping looked for promising in his win tonight, although I’m still not 100 percent sure it was “enough” to get him in line to face Anderson Silva. If I were a betting man, I’d say that Bisping’s next bout would be a true number one contender’s bout, against the winner of this December’s Chris Weidman/Alan Belcher contest, sometime in early 2013.

SHOW HIGHLIGHT: The first round of the Jones/Belfort fight was just CRAZY, as was the fourth round of the Benavidez/Johnson bout.

SHOW LOWLIGHT: One could argue that the Hamill/Hollett fight was pretty underwhelming.

ROGAN-ISM OF THE NIGHT: “That’s STUPID!” - on Demetrious Johnson’s speed.

FIVE THINGS I LEARNED FROM TONIGHT’S SHOW:

- If a guy is nicknamed “The Hulk,” that probably means he fights like shit.

- It’s actually a lot easier to get out of an armbar than it appears.

- Having a heart rate that rests somewhere in the low 40s makes you an outstanding striker (unless you’re fighting some dude named “Hendo,” of course.)

- Leg strikes to the body are worth more to judges than straight jabs to the face.

- A Brazilian dude that just had his face smashed for sixteen minutes straight is somehow a good role model for your son and daughter.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for you this week. Crank up “Reunited” by Wu-Tang and “10 Crack Commandments” by Biggie, and I’ll be seeing you in a few.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The 100 Greatest Sega Dreamcast Games of All-Time! PART FOUR - #040-021

The 100 Greatest Sega Dreamcast Games of All-Time! Counting Down #040 to #021...


HEY! If you're looking for the previous installments in this series, check out the following links below:

PART ONE 

PART TWO 

PART THREE 

It’s been 13 years to the month since the Sega Dreamcast was released in North America, and to commemorate the console’s birthday, I decided to embark upon a journey to quantify and rank the 100 greatest titles the system had to offer. It was a gargantuan assignment, obviously, but it was also an absolute blast to take such an all-encompassing trip (really, more of an extended vacation) down memory lane; if you have half as much fun reading it as I had writing it, than I know I’ve made Dan Stevens and Peter O'Keefe proud. 

At this point, what more can be said about the Dreamcast? It was the Kurt Cobain of gaming consoles, that amazing, stellar vision that arrived, changed the industry forever, and then faded away long before its time. It was radical, it was revolutionary, it was, for lack of a better term, freaking awesome, and believe you me - narrowing the list down to just 100 games was a challenge in and of itself. 

Before we get down to business, a few notes about the countdown: 

1. To make things less complicated, I tried to list ONLY Sega Dreamcast games that were given North American releases WHILE the console was still in production. So, if you’re wondering why games like “Propeller Arena” and “L.O.L: Lack of Love” didn’t make the list…that’s why. 

2. There’s no real set criteria for my rankings. Simply put, I just weighed the overall quality of the games with their influence on my youth, and arranged the countdown accordingly. Your list, most certainly, would differ. 

3. Note that this is a list of the GREATEST Dreamcast games ever and NOT the best  (which, by the way, is not an interchangeable term for “favorite,” either.) You may think some of my selections are weak, and that’s totally cool. If you disagree, feel free to drop a comment or two. Just try to be civil about it, OK!

4. And lastly, what I wouldn't give to be able to go back to 2000 and hook up my Neo Geo Pocket Color to my Dreamcast at least once...it'd be like making a MegaZord out of underappreciated, gone-before-their-time consoles! 

And with the fine print out of the way, who is ready to party like it’s 9/9/99? 

#040
Grand Theft Auto 2


While the GTA series didn’t really become a mainstream sensation until the third installment (and man, can you imagine how history would’ve been different had Sega secured that game as a console exclusive?), the first two titles in the franchise (as well as a little-spoken-of “add-on” for the PS1) were among the most underrated games of the late 1990s.

GTA 2, much like its predecessor, was an awesome top down action game, with a huge sprawling city and tons and tons of real estate to explore. The visuals, while not exactly improved to a large degree, were much more detailed, and the effects - especially the explosions - were much livelier than in the first GTA game.

The game also introduced a gang-based story dynamic, in which “balancing” your relationships with rivaling crime families fluctuated depending on your actions (if this sounds familiar, it’s because Lucas Arts ripped it off for their 2005 game “Mercenaries.”) The soundtrack also kicked plenty of ass, and the exploration-and-mayhem-fueled gameplay resulted in a title that was almost infinitely replayable. Unless your name is “Jack Thompson,” I really can’t see how anyone could be disappointed by this one.

#039
Spider-Man


While there had been several outstanding 2D Spider-Man games over the years (my personal favorite? The Sega-CD version of “The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin"), it wasn’t until this game was released that we had ourselves a truly great 3D Webslinger game.

It was a downright brilliant move on Activision’s part. After all, which studio is better equipped to turn the acrobatic, free-styling super hero into a video game than the “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” crew…you know, guys that pretty much invented the rhythm-action-expressionistic-sport-game genre, all by themselves?

This was just a superlative experience, from start to finish, and in my opinion, the first comic-based video game that was truly designed for comic fans. The graphics were sweet, the gameplay was even better, and the storyline - featuring tons of familiar Saturday morning cartoon voices - was way, way better than it had any right to be. After a good decade of crap like “Web of Fire” and “Separation Anxiety,” this game was pretty much a gift from the gaming gods. And for the sequential art purists out there, it’s an especially awesome experience, as the game features cameos from practically the entire Marvel Universe - from Captain America and The Punisher to, if you can believe it, Uatu the goddamned Watcher!

#038
Confidential Mission



Although I’m one of what appears to only be about four or five rail-shooter fans on the planet, I have a hard time believing that anybody WOULDN’T have an absolute blast playing this game.

There’s just so much to like about this game, from the fantastic visuals to the awesome 60s throwback music to the hilarious attempt to “downplay” the similarities with a certain other mass media franchise involving spies and the word “Mission.”

While rail shooters aren’t exactly known for having the most challenging game play and the best replay incentives, “Confidential Mission” is a happy exception to the rule, as it features some pretty clever gameplay AND tons of reasons to revisit the game, including a downright fantastic multiplayer mode. Also, the game implements a lot of gadgets and other kooky devices, which makes it very different, gameplay wise, than most light gun shooters out there. There’s even a minor emphasis on stealth and technique, so no two playthroughs of the game ever unfurl the same way twice. All in all, this is pretty much the best reason to pick up the Madcatz Blaster for the Dreamcast…and don’t be surprised if you find yourself playing through this mini-classic quite a few times, either.

#037
Project Justice


For my money, the “Rival Schools” franchise might just be my favorite fighting series that nobody has ever heard of. It has such an awesome and creative hook: instead of global stereotypes and movie monsters fighting each other, you take control of high school tropes and clich├ęs and hadoken the hell out of each other with baseball bats and violins.

“Project Justice”, the sequel to the first “Rival Schools” game, is one of my absolute favorite fighters on the Dreamcast, and really, one of my all-time favorite guilty please titles ever. Just about everything in the game is perfect, in a very odd sense. There are a ton of characters - from jocks and karate masters to yearbook photographers and even a superintendent - to choose from, and all of them seem to play quite differently (something of a rarity regarding late ‘90s fighting games, of course.)

The team based-gameplay is terrific, and the combat system is super-enjoyable. Multiplayer is a blast, and there are enough story mode diversions around to keep you playing for weeks on end. But perhaps the coolest thing about the game is that it actually has a “Create-Your-Own-Fighter” mode…which means, yes, you can FINALLY exact revenge on all of your high school bullies (albeit, while as an anime character with ten foot tall hair, but still..)

#036
Cannon Spike


Why in the world this game isn’t more popular is just beyond me. Hell, it hasn’t even become a truly revered cult classic yet…really, what the hell is wrong with you people?

Describing “Cannon Spike” is like listing the ingredients for a cocktail of sheer awesomeness. Like some sort of fan fiction crossover gone amuck, the game features an absolutely stellar cast of Capcom icons, including Mega Man, Cammy, Arthur from “Ghosts N Goblins,” and Baby Bonnie Hood from “Darkstalkers,” who are all playable characters alongside some super obscure characters, including Charlie from “Street Fighter,” a character from the all-but-forgotten arcade title “Three Wonders,”  and even a revamped Linn Kurosawa from that awesome “Alien vs. Predator” coin-op from the mid-90s.

But THAT isn’t what makes “Cannon Spike” the juggernaut of coolness that it is. Not only do you get an all-star cast, you get to play as them in what is, essentially a 3D version of “Smash TV.” It’s like “Total Carnage,” but with a British mercenary’s ass cheeks hanging out of her pants, or “Geometry Wars” with Mega Man and gigantic robot enemies. If you can’t see the brilliance in that, you might as well just give up on existence now.

#035
Sega Bass Fishing 2


It’s not really saying all that much, but “Sega Bass Fishing 2” is definitely the best fishing game I have ever played. Whereas the first two games in the series where more arcade-based, Sega decided to get all simulation-oriented up on us for this game, and the result is one of the most unexpectedly great experiences to be found on the Dreamcast.

Pretty much everything about the series has been revamped and improved for this one. There are more characters, more lakes, more fish, more lures, more rods, more reels and a most definitely a greater emphasis on “realistic fishing.” There’s still some corniness to be found (like when the voice over guy yells “THAT’S SUPER BIG” when you hook an eight pound fishy), but overall, the depths (har-har) the developers went to in order to turn this into a full-fledged angling sim is pretty damn impressive.

The animations are much improved, and the gameplay is far more challenging, albeit, way more rewarding in the process. With so much to do, I found myself cruising around Cormorant Cove for hours…although it may not seem like it at first glance, this is assuredly one of the most immersive - and technically astounding - titles to be found on Sega’s console swan song.

#034
NHL 2K2


NHL 2K2” was the last major, first party release from Sega on the Dreamcast, so it’s always been a bittersweet title for me. That said, it’s easily the best hockey game to be found on the system, and quite possibly one of the best hockey sims EVER made.

The developers took a full year off to fine-tune the game, and the end results certainly demonstrate all of that hard work. The game looks gorgeous, has terrific audio, plays like a dream and has some one of the best season modes you’ll play in a sports game released in the early 2000s. Particularly outstanding is the on-ice mechanics, which makes both offensive and defensive play equally fun and immersive.

Looking for a challenge? The highest difficulty setting on this game is absolutely brutal, and one of the greatest gaming challenges I’ve ever stared down. It took me a full year to finally blast a one-timer past Patrick Roy, and even then, my best efforts resulted in nothing greater than a 1-1 tie. This is just an astounding game from top to bottom, and a total nostalgia trip, too, as every time I take control of Steve Yzerman, I can’t help but feel just a few pangs for the good old days, back when we still had blue lines and goaltenders could hug the crease all they wanted…

#033
Grandia II


While the Dreamcast isn’t necessarily known as a haven for fantastic, traditional JRPGS, “Grandia II” stands out as among the system’s finest role playing experiences.

Of course, “Grandia II” is a sprawling, epic RPG, with a better-than-normal storyline. What sets the game apart from the gajillion RPGS of the timeframe, however, was the title’s awesome battle system, which allowed players the ability to run around in real time and slap the hell out of opponents as opposed to taking turns, “Final Fantasy”-style.

If that wasn’t enough, the combat system also allows for quick cancels and even a few combination moves, which can be strengthened via special, collectible items within the game world. The character design here is also noteworthy - all in all, this may very well be the greatest game ever made in which the primary protagonist is smartass assassin with a talking eagle and an acrobatic android as a best friend.

#032
Crazy Taxi


Really…who out there reading this hasn’t played (and loved) this game?

There really isn’t much to say about “Crazy Taxi” at this point. The gameplay is ridiculously simple, but ridiculously addictive and enjoyable, as well. You commandeer a cab, you haul ass around a facsimile of San Francisco, and you rock out to Bad Religion and the Offspring while blatant product placement for Kentucky Fried Chicken and Levi’s flashes by you. It’s arcade hullabaloo at its finest, really.

Just being able to play the arcade version of the game without losing ten dollars over the course of fifteen minutes was, in and of itself, a reason to enjoy this Dreamcast port, but for me, it was the inclusion of console-specific mini-games that really took the title to the next level. Honestly, you don’t know how much shame I feel regarding the absurd amount of time I spent playing the “bowling ball” attraction way back when. You, really, really, don’t.

 #031
The King of Fighters: Evolution


What could possibly be better than an arcade-perfect port of one of the best 2D fighters of all-time? How about an arcade-perfect port of one of the best 2D fighters of all-time with a touch of 3D gloss?

Basically, “Evolution” is a fine-tuned re-iteration of “The King of Fighters ‘99,” only with backgrounds that have been rendered in three dimensions. Granted, it’s a very small change, but that’s exactly what makes this game so utterly awesome: SNK KNEW that they didn’t have to change a damn thing about the gameplay mechanics, and their restraint in issuing unnecessary tweaks for the sake of issuing unnecessary tweaks should be commended.

You really don’t need me to tell you how fantastic the fighting system is, so I won’t tell you what you already know. All you really need to take into consideration here is that the graphics are beautiful, the gameplay is phenomenal and there are a ton of characters to choose from. The minor tweaks to the gameplay - you now have four-man teams, with a designated “striker” character, as well as the inclusion of two new “power-ups,”  a counter and an armor mode - alter the gameplay only slightly, and in my opinion, for the better. All in all, this is one of the absolute best iterations of one of the absolute best 2D fighting games ever…and if you haven’t given this thing a spin in your DC yet, you really don’t know what you’re missing.

#030
Capcom vs. SNK: Millennium Fight 2000


This is a hardcore fighting game fan’s fighting game, and, even now, it remains an absolute blast to play.

Needless to say, the fighting system here is utterly fantastic, and the unique ratio system insures that all throwdowns are relatively competitive. I really like the fact that Capcom allowed players to choose whether they wanted to utilize a “Street Fighter Alpha” style attack meter, or a “King of Fighters ‘98” styled one - a really, really neat touch that shows how serious the developers were about making this a truly deep fighting experience.

The cast is excellent, and the brawls - which sometimes entail 4-on-4 mega battles - are absolutely awesome in all regards. And for those of you that have never experienced a Wild Iori vs. Evil Ryu showdown before…well, let’s just say, it’s one of the most awesome multiplayer experiences you’re likely to ever have with a VMU controller in your hands.

#029
Ferrari F355 Challenge


This game is pretty much the pinnacle of arcade racing. There might be kookier and crazier racing games to be found on the Dreamcast, but there probably isn’t an arcade-styled game that’s more in-depth - or this enjoyable.

What the game lacks in models and customizations (the titular vehicle is the only kind of car you can select), it more than makes up for it with absolutely stellar visuals, tight-ass controls and some of the best multiplayer racing you will ever experience. A lot of games strive for that perfect mix of simulation and arcade elements, and this game achieves that balance better than just about any racer I have ever played.

Long, long before tracks like Atlanta Motor Speedway and Laguna-Seca were immortalized in titles like “Forza Motorsport,” you could blast your way around the Suzuka Circuit in this game…and the crazy thing is, the tracks in “Ferrari F355 Challenge” look about as good as they did in “Gran Turismo 4,” if not even better. And just wait until you take your F355 for a lap around the Nurburgring…

#028
Virtua Tennis


This game pretty much came out of nowhere, and once you gave it a try…just one or two games…you were hooked. Whether or not you were a fan of the sport was irrelevant, because this was one of the most addictive, insanely enjoyable games released on the Dreamcast, even if you have no clue who Jim Courier is.

For starters, the visuals were absolutely amazing, and even today, they still look incredibly impressive. The designers threw in a ton of game modes, and the world circuit mode will most likely have you playing for quite a few months. And then there’s the multiplayer, which was just utterly astounding. Some of the most heated virtual battles I ever had on the console were while playing this game - despite what you may think, this game is definitely catered to the “hardcore” demographic.

The replay value in this one is off the charts. Not only does the game take quite awhile to fundamentally “get down” (and “mastering” the title may take you a good year or two), there is just so much to unlock, with a ton of variables that instantly change the entire mechanics of the game. Playing on hard court is different than playing on grass, and doubles mode is totally different from the single affairs. If you’re looking for a game to dominate your life for a couple of months, this is definitely one of the best the system has to offer.

#027
Sega GT


The Dreamcast response to “Gran Turismo” may not have been the “GT Killer” that the suits at Sega had wished for, but there is no denying that “Sega GT” was, and still is, one of the absolute best games to ever make it to the company’s final console.

As you’d expect, the game is absolutely flooded with different modes and options, and the career mode will probably take you a couple of months to (gleefully) slog through. There’s 22 tracks and more than 130 cars to choose from, and prior to “Forza Motorsport,” I think the game had the most realistic handling of any “semi-simulation” game on the console market.

The customization options were just absurdly awesome, and the visuals were downright tremendous. Of course, with racing games, gameplay is really the only thing that matters, and thankfully, “Sega GT” had some of the most enjoyable, intricate racing mechanics of any game at the timeframe. It’s an utterly fantastic title, and one you’d be wise to try out if you get the opportunity.

#026
MDK 2


This was a game that really, really deserved so much more attention and praise than it ended up receiving. Even now, it’s a shockingly underappreciated title, perhaps still too obscure to even merit a sizable cult following. And with that in mind, I don’t think I can imagine a greater virtual crime.

A BioWare produced game that was given a Wii-make last year, the original “MDK 2” is just a bundle of awesome so astounding, you’ll have a hard time believing all of it was molded into a single CD-ROM. Half silver-age comic and half sci-fi satire, it’s like playing the bastard amalgam of “The Silver Surfer” and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” And if that doesn’t have you at least a little intrigued by “MDK 2,” you might as well stop reading this thing right now.

At heart, “MDK 2” is a really polished, fine-tuned third person shooter (think along the lines of “Advent Rising,” only actually worth a shit this time around), with outstanding boss fights and killer multiplayer. Additionally, the quirky storyline here is actually really well-developed, and the character design is one of the best you’ll find on the system. It’s a self-referential, quasi-intellectual deconstruction of video games, sci-fi camp at its finest and in some ways, a really intelligent social satire. But above all, however, it’s just a tremendously enjoyable single player and multiplayer experience - if you haven’t played it, you really don’t know what you’re missing out on.

#025
Ultimate Fighting Championship


I’ve been a huge fan of MMA since the days of Keith Hackney and Tank Abbott, so this game was an absolute dream come true for me. Even if you don’t know the difference between Royce Grace and a Rolls Royce, however, you can still enjoy the game - in fact, it might just be the system’s greatest, unheralded 3D fighter.

The fighting engine in the game is pretty simplistic, consisting mostly of striking and periodic ground battles that consist primarily of button mashing exercises. Even so, the game is really well-made, and the fight system - as simple as it may be - is one that resulted in some of the most insane fights I’ve ever had on the Dreamcast.

The visuals were pretty good, and the customization options were quite nice. The multiplayer, however, is the real draw of the game, as it’s one of the most unique - and deepest - fighters on the console (sorry, “Virtua Fighter 3tb,” THIS GAME is the best “sim-fighter” to be found on the Dreamcast.) And of course, the cast in the game is downright legendary - in what other game can you have epic throw downs between Ron Waterman and BAS FREAKING RUTTEN, anyway?

#024
Street Fighter Alpha 3


Dear god, THIS GAME.

This title is just 2D sensory overload, and one of the most beautiful games you’ll ever witness. The cast of characters is just mind-blowing (you can have turbo-speed throw downs between “Final Bison” and Sodom from “Final Fight,” for crying out loud!), and the gameplay itself? Absolutely sublime.

If you’re looking for a fighting game that will keep you playing for months and months, this is one fighter you need to pick up ASAP. You get three different styles to choose from (patterned after the first and second “Alpha” games AND “Super Street Fighter II Turbo”) - so if you want some SUPER COMBOS, you got yourself some goddamn SUPER COMBOS in “Alpha 3.” You don’t need me to tell you how fantastic the audio and visuals are, and words fail to adequately describe how sweet the fighting system really is. And if you haven’t tried out this game’s “World Tour” mode before,  you ought to be ashamed to call yourself a gamer.

#023
Resident Evil: Code Veronica


Prior to “Resident Evil 4,” this game was pretty much the crowning achievement of the “RE” franchise. Even now, it’s quite possibly the greatest “old-school” survival horror game ever made - yes, even with the “tank” controls and occasionally crappy camera angles.

For all of the gripes and criticisms that are lobbed at the “RE” series - the laughable voice acting, the melodramatic plots, the (over)emphasis on pre-rendered backgrounds, etc. - the one thing we tend to overlook is that the games from way back when were also extremely fun and engrossing, and there definitely wasn’t a more enjoyable or immersive “RE” game than “Code Veronica.”

The visuals here are fantastic, the audio is better than you’d expect and the gameplay is quite diversified. The puzzles in “Code Veronica” are certainly miles better than the time wasting junk you found in the earlier titles, and the combat system is just pitch-perfect. Hell, even the story isn’t THAT bad - even though I am still quite thankful for the ability to skip over cut scenes, though…

#022
Power Stone


Power Stone,” in a way, was sort of like the Dreamcast’s answer to “Smash Bros.” And while I’m probably in the minority here, I actually liked this anarchic brawler from Capcom WAY more than the original N64 mascot fighter.

The best way to describe the game, I guess, is a FULLY 3D “Smash Bros.”, only with a much more in-depth fighting system. Unlike in “Smash Bros.,” you can actually run around in three dimensions, in full three dimensional fighting arenas - a dynamic that makes the game really, really entertaining and almost always chaotic. And it gets more insane from there, as almost all of the stages have multi-tiered environments to explore and kick-ass in.

Not a lot of people played this one, but those that did reflect on it as one of the greatest console multiplayer games of all-time, a game that is definitely on par with “GoldenEye” and “Mario Kart.” Just how the hell was a game featuring a character named “Wangtang” not any more beloved, anyway?

#021
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater



It’s easy to hate on the series now, but when it was first released, it was a mini-revolution in gaming. This iteration is pretty much celebrated as the absolute best version of one of the best games of the 1990s - and if you’ve never gotten your hands on the game, welcome back from your three decade-long exodus to Mars.

Call the game what you wish - extreme sports, freestyle action, whatever - the game brought rhythm and technique back into the industry, creating a subgenre of gaming where the emphasis wasn’t on high speed thrills or cockamamie scenarios, but simply mastering (and having a ton of fun with) a simplistic, but absurdly addictive and in-depth, gameplay mechanic.

I really can’t tell you the hours I spent just cruising around in free skate mode - if my total play time with the game didn’t exceed 100 hours, I would be downright shocked. Even today, it’s still a solid title that holds up way better than you might expect - and thanks to “THPS,” it’s quite likely we’ll never have Primus or that one song about “Superman” out of our heads, EVER.


And that folks, is our update for this week. Be sure to tune in next Friday for the final installment of the countdown, where we will countdown #020 all the way down to the single GREATEST Dreamcast game of all-time! Until then, don’t forget: it’s still thinking