Sega on Xbox retrospective
Not long after Sega decided to exit the console business and concentrate on software, Microsoft launched their first console in the shape of the Xbox. This late sixth generation release was filling the gap left by Sega and picked up the mantle as a fresh-faced newcomer vying for players attention amongst Sony and Nintendo who had released the PlayStation 2 and GameCube respectively.
Although Sega had fallen on hard times due to the lack of Dreamcast sales, they picked themselves up quickly and effortlessly streamlined their teams into third party outfits capable of producing, distributing and developing software across all their former rivals platforms. Within months of the announcement they had transitioned into a third party developer and distributor and Sega released their first game. Sakura Taisen GB2, for the Game Boy Colour, marked the end of an era and the start of a new direction for the company that had once been a legitimate alternative to Nintendo’s dominance during the 1980’s and early 1990’s.
Sega went on all fronts and had a clearly devised strategy that would allow them to target individual releases at the user-base of certain consoles. They identified Nintendo’s GameCube and Game Boy Advance as the best platform to focus their best selling Sonic franchise and started to release a large number of Sonic games for both of these platforms. PlayStation 2 saw action titles, many previously destined for the Dreamcast, released in a steady stream that meant all the work would not be lost. These would lead to Sega releasing many ports of its classic arcade games in the form of the Sega Ages 2500 series along a strong action line up.
Sega, who had been succeeded by Microsoft in the console wars, made special plans for the Xbox. They clearly targeted the newcomer as the best platform to produce and distribute their best titles. They went as far to create a special two-game disc featuring Jet Set Radio Future and Sega GT 2002 which was bundled in with Xboxs after an agreement was reached with Microsoft. This partnership would be fruitful for both companies and allow Sega to reach their ever suffering fans with some of their best releases. We are going to take a look at some of these Xbox exclusive Sega games, the highs and lows, the gems and classics.
Sega GT 2002 is the follow up to the Dreamcast exclusive Sega GT and was originally scheduled to be released on Sega’s console. Development switched to the Xbox and the accomplished racer saw release late in 2002. Cited as Sega’s answer to Sony’s Gran Tursimo 3, features such as gaining licenses and car damage calculated between races certainly put Sega GT 2002 on a good footing in a genre that had become bloated in the sixth generation. Games such as Gran Turismo 3 and Bizarre Creations Project Gotham Racing had set new standards in not only the aesthetic of racing games but the feel of realism and immersion that were amazing racing fans at the time.
While it would be difficult to compare Sega GT 2002 to the great racing games of the era it does look the part and there is a large range of cars to drive. The improvements over the original Sega GT are very evident with greater controls, a slick interface and extra classic cars to unlock and buy. A must for racing fans looking for a grand touring romp on the Xbox with some unique twists, just do not expect the same level of immersion of Sony’s giant, Gran Turismo. There was an update released the following year, Sega GT Online, adding online play and some additional cars.
While some of Sega’s more traditional action games, such as Virtua Fighter and Shinobi, were making their way to the PlayStation 2, there was a decent run of action exclusives that made their way to Microsoft’s black behemoth. Sega clearly wanted to launch some new franchises and teamed up with From Software, famous for the recent Dark Souls series, to release Otogi: Myth of Demons.
Set in an alternative feudal Japan, the antagonist, Raikoh Minamoto, has unleashed demons onto the Earth after he stole his ancestral sword. The story is fairly basic but the best part of this great title is its slick presentation, and this really adds value to a game that may otherwise be a little bland. The overall action is fine but will do little to separate it from other action games from the time, it is the amazing visuals and award winning sound in Otogi that really helps it stand out from the crowd.
This is a must have for Xbox owners who enjoy tight action with enough challenge to not get frustrated. Everything with Otogi just blends so well and you do find yourself looking around the levels at the beautifully crafted world or listening to the background music that really aids in bringing the game to life. It was followed up by a sequel that is more of the same and also worth checking out if you become a fan of the original.
Another third person action title that had originally be destined for the Dreamcast was Gun Valkyrie. The developers did not utilise the additional analogue of the new host hardware in the best way and knowing the game was designed with the Dreamcast controller in mind, Gun Valkyrie is not one for casual players.
Visually and audibly the game is quite a treat. The colourful planets that make up the different levels are appealing and the game certainly has the staple Sega style that would have felt at home on the Dreamcast. It is not that the controls are terrible, but they do feel very strange, especially in an era where players were used to the left analogue being used for movement and the right for camera control. There are times when you are left pondering why your character is suddenly facing away from the enemy and the quasi-auto aim system just does not work at times. These failings are a shame in what would otherwise be a good game.
It is not all bad for this 2002 release, the basic level up system and stage grading create longevity and some depth. The levels are varied and there is platforming sections that make the most of the jet-pack gimmick that helps the game stand out a little. If you are looking for a Sega-stamped third person shooter you will find it in Gun Valkyrie, however, unless you wish to put the time into learning a bizarre control system this one may become more frustration than fun.
The theme of Sega porting over half finished Dreamcast games to the Xbox is strong through the early years of the systems life. This is not particularly surprising given the snap decision to discontinue the Dreamcast and having many games that were close enough to being finished to take the risk of converting them to the new, more powerful, hardware.
The third game on our list to fall into this category is Toejam & Earl III, a game that divides opinion but is definitely the most Sega-looking of the picks here. The sighs of Sega fans on hearing the Dreamcast was no longer going to be supported was not heard more than from the ToeJam & Earl contingent. They were left disappointed by the lack of a Saturn title and at the time it seemed the Dreamcast game would be cancelled. There was a short lived joy for these Sega die-hards on the announcement the project had been resurrected and would be ported to the Xbox. The final product did not shoot these funky dudes back to the limelight but did bring the series back to its over-world exploring roots that the Mega Drive sequel had veered away from.
Graphically this game would seem to fit the Dreamcast, as does the sound. As an Xbox release, it is not unfair to say this lacks the kind of detail more befitting of a new super console. Toejam & Earl III is not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination but it is stuck at the end of the 1990’s and seems basic when compared to other Xbox platform adventures such as Blinx. Maybe Sega were trying hard to please their fans with this game but it feels outdated and out of place. It was a real shame this never made it to the Dreamcast as it would have fitted well with the colourful Sega lineup including the Jet Sets and Sonics that make up the systems overall feel. However good or bad the actual game may be this title is a lasting symbol of the Sega style and also an example of why the Dreamcast did not sell well.
The last of our highlighted Xbox exclusives is arguably Sega’s best game for the console and certainly one that did not get the praise it deserved. The whole series is one that suffers from a lack off attention but one that most players who get to experience it know they are playing something special.
Panzer Dragoon Orta was released at a time when Sega had to show the world they were still a force on the video game landscape. Utilising the additional power that Microsoft’s console offered, Sega brought back many of the developers from the disbanded Team Andromeda who were responsible for creating the first three entries in the series. This game would release to critical acclaim and helped Sega win back fans who may have lost interest after their troubles. Everything about Orta works so well, the traditional rail-shooter action form the original Dragoon games is back as is the variety of dragons you use to get through the levels. The story is deep and compelling, you want to know what will happen next and the dialogue is accomplished for a video game from 2003.
Controlling your dragon is a breeze and this classic fits well in the mould of being able to provide a quick blast and send players to an immersive world for hours on end. The game includes unlockables, including a port of one of the Saturn games, and lots of longevity due to the grading system that screams Sega and means you will want to replay levels to improve your result. There is not much wrong with this game, perhaps the gameplay lacks some originality, but overall this is one of the generations, let alone Xbox’s best games.