Downloadable games from Dreamcast era are good old-school fun

jkegley@herald-leader.comJanuary 3, 2013 

Imagine being a 16-year-old scrubbing fryers at KFC for $5.25 an hour. Your singular goal is to save money for a Sega Dreamcast.

You finally save enough, and all your friends with PlayStations and Nintendo 64s can only marvel at the glory of your superior hardware. But then imagine a few months later, Sega announces the Dreamcast is kaput; they will make games but not consoles.

Your Dreamcast is now a doorstop.

That was my experience. I felt burned at the time, but now the best of the Dreamcast is back, part of Sega's plan, announced in 2010, to focus more on social and downloadable games.

I was worried the move was a death rattle, a sign of the end of Sega as we knew it. Two years later, I realize I was wrong.

In fact, I'm more of a Sega fan now than ever before, thanks entirely to the company's focus on digital downloads. I love me a good, old-school download, and quality Sega titles may be had dirt cheap on consoles, computers, phones and tablets.

The following are a few of my favorites from Sega's most recent releases.

'Jet Set Radio HD'

$9.99 to $14.99 on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. $4.99 on Android. PS Vita version coming soon. Rated T. Manifesto rating: 8.5/10 (PS3). Metacritic rating: 7.5/10 (PS3).

There were so many great Dreamcast-exclusive games that no one had time to play them all. Jet Set Radio, sadly, was one of the games I overlooked.

The game is the same as before, including the bouncy, trip-hop soundtrack and the pioneering cel-shaded graphics. The difference is it looks brilliant thanks to an HD face lift.

For the uninitiated, you play as The GGs, a gang of miscreants trying to take over the fictional city of Tokyoto by roller blading around and spray-painting stuff. You face rival gang members, trigger-happy cops, time limits and strict challenges while you spread your influence via vandalism.

The controls are sometimes imprecise, but the sense of lighthearted fun more than makes up for any shortcomings.

'Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit'

$14.99 on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. Rated T. Manifesto rating: 9/10 (PS3). Metacritic rating: 6.8/10 (PS3)

I wasn't interested in this game at first because it wasn't based on a Sega property I already knew and loved. However, when I got around to playing Hell Yeah, I suddenly had a new favorite downloadable game.

The main character is the Prince of Hell, a bunny skeleton who sets out to destroy everyone who viewed an embarrassing video of the Prince on YouTube. The story is intentionally goofy, harking back to an embarrassing time in gaming when main characters were all animals with attitude.

The game combines platforming and twin-stick shooter mechanics. The goal is to defeat bosses with a wide range of upgradable weapons and a chainsaw-motorcycle-jetpack device. The bosses alternate between easy, hard and all-around ridiculous.

I was caught off guard by Hell Yeah's cartoonish violence and its incredible sense of style. Everything from the music to the sleek 2D graphics makes this tongue-in-cheek game a contender for downloadable game of the year awards.

'NiGHTS Into Dreams HD'

$9.99 to $19.99 on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. Rated E. Manifesto's rating: 7.5/10 (PS3). Metacritic rating: 7.5/10 (PS3).

Another remake, NiGHTS started life as the system seller for the Sega Saturn, the predecessor to the Dreamcast, in 1996.

I never owned a Saturn, but I remember playing NiGHTS at a demo station while my parents shopped for appliances at Best Buy. I was entranced — just not entranced enough to beg my parents for a Saturn. (I was holding out for a PlayStation.)

Describing the story of NiGHTS would be like describing a dream you barely remember, but that's a compliment in this case. NiGHTS takes place in the "dream world," where you fly around as a magic jester collecting orbs and racing against the clock.

NiGHTS has reached cult-classic status — it was a brilliant game that never found an audience because of poor Saturn sales. Nearly two decades later, it finally has a chance to find an audience thanks to the HD remake.

Sadly, it has lost some of its magic. Newer games do the dreamy vibe better, such as Journey for the PS3 or Alan Wake for the Xbox 360 and PC.

Those who will love NiGHTS the most are the few who played it back in the day. Retro touches, such as the ability to switch between standard- and high-definition graphics, complete the package.

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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