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How going retro with the great SEGA Dreamcast has kept me sane during lockdown

Contributed by
May 1, 2020

Video games have always served as an escape from the real world, but they’ve rarely felt as necessary as they do now. As the nation as a whole largely retreats inside due to the coronavirus pandemic, we’re turning to media to keep us entertained and pass the time while we flatten that curve. And, in my case, retro media.

My family has thankfully remained healthy through the first phase of this pandemic, with my wife and I hunkered down and working from home with our two boys. But about two weeks into this first month of self-isolation quarantine, we really started to feel the sameness of it all. Yes, we’d go on neighborhood walks to get fresh air, shoot some daily hoops in the driveway, and help the boys with schoolwork from home. But screen time was becoming a steady stream of bingeing Teen Titans Go! or Dude Perfect videos, and letting the boys play Fortnite in the evenings.

So with the extra downtime, and with my sense of days and weeks fading quickly, it felt like a great opportunity to look back at some games I hadn’t played in years. The world feels like a different place now, and it provides a chance to rediscover the things that gave us joy all those years ago. A chance to do something a bit different than Animal Crossing while we’re all stuck at home. No offense to Animal Crossing intended, because it is crazy fun.

So I looked into what I already had lying around, and thankfully I still had an old SEGA Dreamcast on the shelf and a slew of games in a box. 

A quick refresher if you’re unfamiliar: The Dreamcast was SEGA’s final console before calling it quits and becoming a software company. It came out in 1999 (I still remember waiting in line at EB Games at the local mall to pick one up on 9.9.99) and was a modest hit for a year or so — at least until the PlayStation 2 pretty much obliterated it. Despite the short lifespan, it had a wild and innovative assortment of games. From arguably the first open-world title in Shenmue to slick and innovative experiences like Jet Grind Radio and Seaman to faithful arcade ports — it did a lot of stuff first, and did it really well.

Coming off my own recent, steady diet of PS4 titles like Spider-Man, Madden ’20, and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, firing up the Dreamcast felt like such a weird nostalgia hit — saddled right in that awkward spot between retro and the more modern generation of consoles that we tend to overlook with all those SEGA Genesis and SNES Minis we’ve been plugging in.

Sonic Adventure holds up surprisingly well, and blasting through those loops in 3D is still just as thrilling as it was 20 years ago. The arcade titles like Crazy Taxi and House of the Dead 2 are also just as fun as they were back in the day. You forget about the joy of that pick-up-and-play simplicity that’s shifted more toward mobile gaming these days, and it was a romp to just drop 10 to15 minutes flying through New York City traffic, or mowing down a few zombie-infested hallways.

But along with tickling my brain with some button-mashes I hadn’t done in years, digging back into the Dreamcast’s old library has been a great chance to introduce my kids to one of my favorite consoles, and the one that helped pave the way for the games they know and love today. The cel-shaded graphics on Jet Grind Radio still look fantastic, and my boys are having a blast trying to land the next cool trick. Or trying to master those dance moves in Space Channel 5. The Dreamcast was also famous for its recklessly silly use of periphery controllers, and yeah, we’ve also been doing some digital fishing with the rod controller on SEGA Bass Fishing on the rainy days.

It’s a chance to take a break from the stuff we normally do, the stuff that has become both entertainment and routine while time has essentially slowed to a crawl. There’s something simple and communal about going retro — having to share controllers and split-screen to play together instead of just jumping online for a match.

The Dreamcast is a dusty portal into a bright, weird, and clever world that is a welcome distraction from the burgeoning version of the real-life Last of Us we’re living right now. Give me those Power Stone punches and ChuChu Rocket puzzles, any day.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.

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