Version tested: Xbox 360
There are two ways to go with re-release compilations. Either you create a Director's Cut and enthusiastically tart up the games, adding never-before-seen content, next-generation sheen and, you know, a widescreen option - or you leave them pretty much exactly as they were and try to make up for it with extremely nice packaging (a la the recent Mario 25 bundle).
Neither of these approaches have been adopted when it comes to the Dreamcast Collection. The four games on the disc – Crazy Taxi, Space Channel 5 Part 2, SEGA Bass Fishing and Sonic Adventure – are unchanged since their original releases a decade or so ago, and largely unoptimised.
The box looks like should house the unwanted multi-game disc in an Xbox 360 bundle circa 2007. The menu screen, such as it is, is a static background with four low-res logos on it, accompanied by the appallingly mixed, unequalised theme music from each.
With such starkly functional packaging and a conspicuous lack of cosmetic improvements, it's down to the games themselves to make Dreamcast Collection worth the money. Sadly, of this unfortunate quartet, one of them was terrible to begin with, one hasn't aged well and one is lacking a fairly crucial peripheral.
The other one's still brilliant. But all of them suffer from severe porting issues which make you really resent playing them in this form.
There are a few consistent problems across all the ports and the sound is foremost among them. Some games are inexplicably louder than others and there are strange problems with the mixing. The sound effects and voices are bizarrely quiet in Crazy Taxi, but overly loud in Sonic Adventure. The sound quality is also universally dreadful – which, considering that Space Channel 5 Part 2 is a rhythm-action game, is more than just a superficial problem.
But the worst tragedy is Crazy Taxi's soundtrack. Due to licensing issues, The Offspring are gone. Instead you're driving around to stand-in punk that does nothing to reawaken the context-sensitive nostalgia that every re-release compilation relies upon.
Crazy Taxi's concept is evergreen and still addictive, but the game itself hasn't aged at all well. The steering is twitchy, without any sense of weight, and everything on the streets looks and acts as if it's made of plastic. It makes you wish that someone would have a go at remaking it with ludicrously amped-up modern crash physics. Perhaps Criterion would do a good job of it.
Its punishing and slightly random nature also reminds you of an essential truth about Crazy Taxi: deep down, this not a game designed to entertain you. It is a game designed to squeeze you for every last pound coin you've got in the arcade.
It's not a structure that ever translated all that well to a home console – and it relied heavily on the sense of speed, destruction and spectacle (and that music), none of which survive 11 years on. You'll come away from it feeling slightly sad.
At least you won't be infuriated to the point of self-harm, though, which is the feeling that Sonic Adventure leaves you with. It's telling that the best bits of Sonic Adventure are the moments where you have no control at all, where Sonic spins around loop-de-loops and across narrow winding platforms by himself and all you have to do hold forward and jump from time to time.
At any other point – particularly when visiting the ill-conceived "hub" sections that break up the flow between action stages by forcing you to search around for the next level – he stops and starts horrendously, building momentum at an unintuitive pace and getting stuck on invisible snags in the scenery.
It doesn't look too bad by today's standards – that colourful style has protected it from the worst effects of technology's onward march – but the whole game remains in 4:3, which immediately dates it horribly. But I've a sneaking suspicion that this game's problems run deeper than a shoddy port.
The harsh truth, I'm afraid, is that Sonic Adventure wasn't ever very good. Evidently the speed and graphical sheen were enough to fool many of us back in the day, along with the sheer thrill of seeing Sonic in 3D, but the controls are dreadful, the camera likes to torture you for fun, the level design is wilfully convoluted and the cast is deeply uninspiring. And the voice acting is hateful. Not even funny-bad. Just hateful.
This should have been the series' Mario 64 moment, but instead it was the first of a great many failures to successfully translate the Sonic formula out of its original 16-bit language. It's just horrible to play – the experience of controlling Sonic and his far-fetched acquaintances is in itself infuriating. If you've still got fond memories of this, please do yourself a favour and never play it again.
SEGA Bass Fishing is a bit of a surprise hit. It's intended to be played with a fishing rod peripheral, of course, but in the absence of one, you use the left stick to direct the rod and the right to reel in the line.
Everything you need to know about the game is in the title, really – you head out onto lakes and catch fish for points, making use of various different lures to tempt the biggest bass out of the depths.
There's a series of tournaments outside the straightforward Arcade mode but you have to learn how the lures work before you enter. Each requires a different method of control – reel and stop, twitching the rod, slow but constant reeling, and so on – but during tournaments, no helpful explanation is offered.
Like Crazy Taxi, though, SEGA Bass Fishing was an arcade title, and as such it's really only good for one or two tries. When you can just press Start to Continue and get to the top of the scoreboard, a lot of these games' appeal is lost.
Really, it's all about Space Channel 5 Part 2. It's one of the most delightfully mad games ever made, and my love for it is almost limitless. If you've never played it before you probably already know that it's a fairly simple Simon Says rhythm-action game developed under the direction of Tetsuya Mizuguchi. But it's also so much more.
"Oh no! The Space Bird Mistress is being forced to dance!" exclaims a TV announcer, as Ulala bursts into a room with a troupe of liberated dancers to save the world with cheesy choreography and a laser gun. Later, Michael Jackson joins you on your quest to save the Space President, complete with signature moves.
Helpful explanatory captions say things like "Space Cheerleaders, Dancing Unwillingly", and the voice acting often has a wonderful Engrish touch. (As the famous refrain goes, "Go Go Go Go Space Channeru 5! Let's Dancing! Let's Shooting! Sexy, Ulala, YEAH!")
Nothing about it has aged badly – especially not the outfits, which now look like something you might see in Shoreditch. If anything, it's gotten better, if only because this sort of thing is so rare nowadays.
This is the kind of wonderful Japanese loopiness we're not exposed to much any more in an increasingly Western-dominated games industry. It's hard, though – extremely hard. If you want the Achievements, expect to spend a good few hours trying to get your fingers around trickily syncopated dance rhythms.
It's things like Space Channel 5 – and Shenmue, and Seaman, and Jet Set Radio and Rez – that generate such fondness for the Dreamcast. All that games like Crazy Taxi and Sonic Adventure do now is slap you around the face with the cold, moist fact that the Dreamcast wasn't actually made out of fairy dust and gold sparkles, but was instead a game console like any other, with its fair share of overrated successes.
But it's the quality of the ports as much as the quality of the games that lets this collection down. They aren't just unimproved, they're actively worse. If you absolutely must experience any of these games on your 360 or PS3 in crippled-but-playable form, this bundle is better value than buying each of the games separately – but Sonic Adventure and Crazy Taxi, at least, are better left in the past.
The fact this is the best SEGA can come up with after years of waiting for Dreamcast re-releases does not say much for the publisher's ability to evaluate the worth of its own back catalogue. We can only hope for better in the future.
5 / 10