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  • A Look at How Well the Vita Works as a Portable Dreamcast

    April 8th, 2018GamespotUncategorized

    This is the first in a series of articles where I look at the Vita's success in providing a portable version of classic consoles. I'll look at what games are available on the handheld from the chosen platform (including PS1 & PSP versions through backwards compatibility), as well as what titles are missing that were re-released on other platforms or that were never updated beyond the original hardware. I'll be including straight ports of titles and emulated versions, as well as sequels to popular series and, in some cases, spiritual successors.

    I'd been mulling over the idea of running a series of articles looking at how the Vita is as a home for games from classic platforms for a while and, in doing research for the first one, I stumbled upon a brilliant piece by 'The Dreamcast Junkyard' looking this very subject, focused on SEGA's beloved failed console. While I'm going to be covering a lot of the same ground here, I've still decided to start off by looking at this topic - Dreamcast games available on Vita. It's a platform that suffered a similar fate to Sony's handheld - ignored by the masses but home to a niche and dedicated audience who love it like nothing else.


    Vita-Native Games

    The Dreamcast was largely remembered for its library of bright, colourful, inventive games that featured big, vibrant worlds - the majority of which were developed by SEGA itself. No title really represented this mantra better than Jet Set Radio, which was ported over to Vita with skill by Blitworks in 2012.

    Adding trophy support, HD visuals, as well as second-analogue camera control, the conversion was well handled and made a great transition to the handheld. The bright, lively spirit of the original game was represented brilliantly on the Vita's OLED screen.

    In a similar vein, SEGA's crossover racing game Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed captured the colourful and vibrant nature of the Dreamcast era well while featuring an array of mascot characters from that console. While not a direct port nor a sequel to any title from that time, it feels like a spiritual successor to a Dreamcast release and absolutely channels the vibe from that time, providing a great addition to the Vita's library as a solid kart racer - something that was sorely missing from SEGA's home console itself. Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz also somewhat falls into the camp of 'spiritual successor to Dreamcast title', but that may be stretching it.

    One of the biggest breakthroughs the Dreamcast made in the gaming industry was the introduction of proper, home-console online play, which was shown off in style with the release of Phantasy Star Online. This release revived the classic IP with a new focus on co-operative online gameplay. Nearly 12 years after the original release, a sequel arrived for PC, which eventually made its way to Vita in Japan as Phantasy Star Online 2providing the same gameplay hooks as the original but with plenty of modern bells and whistles. Multiple new episodes were released, all of which landed on the handheld (unlike the Dreamcast version of the original, which missed out on the final update).

    Despite SEGA promising the game would arrive on western shores, it never did, nor did the single player spin-off Phantasy Star Nova, which was at least an easier import than the locked-to-foreign IPs Online 2. It provided a way to relive the brilliance of the Dreamcast original on the go when it released in 2014, featuring enjoyable action-RPG gameplay in a sci-fi setting, even if it wasn't quite the same.

    While it wasn't one of the major IPs in the Dreamcast's lineup, Cyber Troopers Virtual-On Oratorio Tangram provided a sequel to one of the Saturn's most nichely beloved franchises, albeit with slightly wonky controls. In Japan, a new title in the series - a crossover with A Certain Magical Index entitled A Certain Magical Virtual-On - released on PS4 & Vita in February of 2018. It's the first time the series has surfaced since 2010 and is reminiscent of the era when SEGA was at the top of its game producing arcade titles with home console conversions.

    Speaking of which, another game which successfully made the jump from arcades to home consoles was the original Virtua Tennis in 2000, with a beautiful release on the Dreamcast proving to be a key pillar in SEGA's strategy to produce sports games for the console after a fall-out between the company and EA. Multiple sequels released in later years - the majority of which were ported to PSP - but it was 2011's Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition that appeared on Vita. This became an early release in the console's life which showed what it was capable of while maintaining the same fast-paced gameplay fans were expecting, making it a key release in the Vita's library just as it had been on the Dreamcast.

    Despite the fact that it only stayed on the market for just over two years, the Dreamcast wasn't merely defined by SEGA's own efforts. Third parties often bought their A-game with ports of arcade titles such as Dead or Alive 2 or Guilty Gear X, which were often fantastic conversions. While the Vita didn't receive these titles directly, iterative sequels are available in the form of Dead or Alive 5 Plus and Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R, both of which are fantastic handheld versions in their respective series but suitably evolved from the Dreamcast days.

    In fact, fighting games proved to be somewhat of a forte for the Dreamcast, and the Vita very much stepped into these shoes in the handheld market years later. SNK support was solid across both platforms, with them sharing releases of Garou: Mark of the Wolves and The Last Blade 2, although the Vita versions were updated to include online play and leaderboards. Speaking of fighters, the Dreamcast was also home to the 2D crossover title Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes, while the Vita landed a port of its sequel Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, which retained the fast-paced technical fighting seen in the original.

    Aside from this, series like Daisenryaku (which received two entries on SEGA's home console) have flourished on Sony's handheld with multiple new entries in Japan, while Key's visual novel Air received a port to Vita years after it had initially been ported to Dreamcast. Speaking of visual novels, the cult classic Ever 17: Out of Infinity released for Dreamcast in 2002 and its spiritual-successor series Zero Escape found a home on Vita with all three games in the trilogy hitting the console by the end of 2017.


    Backwards-Compatible PSP Games

    If there's one other title that exemplifies the bright, colourful, arcade-y feel that Dreamcast titles really nailed other than Jet Set Radio, it would be Crazy Taxi. The high-score chasing racer that had you picking up passengers around the city and delivering them to their destinations as quickly as possible received two entries on SEGA's console (the first of which sold nearly 1m copies in the USA) and both came across to PSP via the port Crazy Taxi: Fare Wars in 2007. This is available on Vita via backwards-compatibility.

    Aside from the fact that some of the more iconic licenced music tracks had been removed (although the addition of custom soundtracks off-set this somewhat), the title was a faithful port that brought all the frantic action the series was known for to the handheld format. It fit it like a glove.

    Of course, the main showcase for the Dreamcast when it released was the first fully 3D entry in the Sonic the Hedgehog series, entitled Sonic Adventure, which was followed by a sequel shortly after. While the PSP wasn't able to get these titles, it did get a bespoke Sonic game of its own - Sonic Rivals - which does manage to somewhat capture the bright, fast-paced nature of the series. Unfortunately the gameplay was somewhat different to Adventure and (as I covered in my review) was quite disappointing. Just like SEGA's home console, it also received a sequel shortly afterwards that refined some of the mechanics.

    This wasn't the only way that Sonic was playable on Dreamcast, however - through the retro compilation SEGA Smash Pack Volume 1 a number of classic titles became available for the console (including the original Sonic the Hedgehog, as well as Altered Beast, Golden Axe, and Phantasy Star II). A similar - yet much more meaty - collection of Mega Drive classics was also available in the SEGA Mega Drive Collection, which hit the PSP in 2006, including all of the above titles as well as various sequels for each series. Thankfully, the emulation for these titles was much better than it was for the SEGA Smash Pack, making this a great way to play the company's catalogue of retro games on the go.

    It wasn't just SEGA that managed to produce the vibrant, unique worlds that the Dreamcast became known for, though - third parties were more than capable of this too. No other franchise really exemplified this like Power Stone, Capcom's bonkers arena fighter that made its way to PSP in 2006, bundled with the second game as Power Stone Collection. The port is currently the only way to play the titles outside of SEGA's console and fits well with the handheld format, making it a great addition to any Vita library.

    One of the platform's best-selling third-party games was the critically beloved Soul Calibur (which cleared more than 500k copies in the USA). It arrived in the form of a port that was technically superior to the arcade versions at the time, making it one of the definitive games on the console. While Vita doesn't have access to this specific title, through backwards compatibility the PSP sequel Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny fills much the same role as a fun, weapons-based fighter that looks absolutely gorgeous.


    Backwards-Compatible PS1 Games

    The Dreamcast released at the tail end of the fifth generation of consoles and the start of the sixth, meaning it managed to get an interesting mix of titles from both eras ported to it directly, but notably some of the biggest third-party games in the PS1's library came to the console with expanded releases, making the Vita a natural handheld successor thanks to its access to PS1 classics.

    If there's one series which exemplified this more than any other it was Tomb Raider. The franchise's publisher, Eidos Interactive, decided that SEGA's new console would be a brilliant home for Lara Croft and bought the fourth entry (Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation) as well as the fifth title (Tomb Raider: Chronicles) to the Dreamcast, shortly after the release of the PS1 versions. Adding a whole host of technical improvements due to the console's additional power, including higher rendering resolution and additional effects, these efforts seemed to be rewarded with decent sales, with The Last Revelation clearing 300k in the USA and both games being well received. The titles were added to PSN and in 2012 were made playable on Vita through PS1 classics, meaning gamers could take Lara's later adventures on the go with them, albeit not the Dreamcast versions directly (but all in-game content was kept the same).

    This wasn't the only game Eidos had lined up for Dreamcast which also appeared on PS1 - the company also brought its gothic adventure Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver to Sony's console in 1999 and SEGA's in 2000. The same was also true of the overlooked open-world adventure Urban Chaos. Both became available on PSN in 2011 (alongside the Tomb Raider titles), providing a nice dose of genre variety for the handheld just as they did for Dreamcast.

    Aside from housing gaming's leading lady, the Dreamcast also had a surprise supporter in Capcom, which brought a number of its key franchises to the console. Most notable was Resident Evil, which received an exclusive entry in Code Veronica, but the company also committed to porting Resident Evil 2 and 3 across from the PS1. While the Dreamcast versions were derided for blurry backgrounds, lessening the impact of the horror, they still proved key additions to the console's lineup - both titles were added to PSN in 2012 along with the very first game, meaning fans were able to take the full trilogy of horror everywhere with them.

    Around this period, Capcom was also experimenting with new ideas and as such Dino Crisis was born, described by many publications at the time as "Resident Evil with dinosaurs". A year after releasing it for PS1, the company brought the game to the Dreamcast, where it received a more muted critical reception but still managed to shift 75k copies in the USA. This wasn't quite successful enough to justify a port of the second title. Another popular horror release, Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare, released on both PS1 & Dreamcast in 2001. Both games were added to PSN as PS1 classics between 2009 and 2012.

    Despite Sonic Adventure undoubtedly being the face of mascot-platformers on Dreamcast, the console received a number of other games in the genre which are now available on Vita. Rayman 2: The Great Escape was one of Ubisoft's most ported titles, first appearing on the N64, then the Dreamcast, and later the PS1. While the version available on Vita is from the PS1, which included re-designed levels and is missing some of the mini-games from the Dreamcast release, it provides the same basic gameplay and challenges as the other versions. As with Rayman, Toy Story 2: Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue! and Buzz Lightyear of Star Command - two licenced releases from Disney - appeared on SEGA's home console in 2000 and are available on Vita through PS1 classics.

    Aside from this, a smattering of other Dreamcast titles are available on Vita - the puzzle classic Bust-A-Move 4, the scrolling fighter Fighting Force 2, Koei-Tecmo's historical simulation Romance of the Three Kingdoms IV, and Ubisoft's first-person shooter Rainbow Six. In addition to its work with Vita-native games, SNK ported King of Fighters '99 to Dreamcast, which was available as a PS1 classic in North America.



    Obviously, short of being an emulator-machine or literal portable Dreamcast from SEGA itself, no console is going to have a perfect line-up of games from the much-loved machine. That said, it's impressive just how many classic games from its library are available on Vita, covering titles in a range of genres and from a variety of publishers.

    Of course, there are some glaring omissions - the fact that Sonic Adventure 2 was ported to PS3 & Xbox 360 in 2012 and managed to skip Vita is a shame, especially since those titles were tentpole releases for the Dreamcast. Similarly Shenmue - one of the most important franchises in the console's history and a saga that has recently been crowdfunded to continue on current gen consoles - is unavailable on Vita and seems unlikely at this point, despite rumors of a possible PS4/XB1 release. Other important franchises - ranging from Virtua Fighter to Sakura Wars to Skies of Arcadia - have received modern-day interpretations but none are available on Vita, which is a crying shame as they'd be a great addition to the console's library.

    Still, as handhelds go, Vita has a fantastic lineup of games ported and adapted from SEGA's console, many of which help capture the fun, experimental feel from that time. Whether it be the bright, colourful worlds of Crazy Taxi, Jet Set Radio, and Power Stone, the skill-based intricacy of fighters like Dead or Alive, Garou, and Marvel vs. Capcom or the brilliant arcade-y feel of games like Soul Calibur, Super Monkey Ball, and Virtual-On. 

    It's just one of the many aspects of the Vita's extensive back-catalog that makes it such an enjoyable handheld - that it has access to so many games from eras gone by in one place and in portable format to boot. I can't help but wish we'd also get some of the remaining missing titles, however it may be a little late in the day for that now. As-is the console does a pretty fantastic job of being a portable Dreamcast.

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