There was something about the Sega Dreamcast that just felt a bit off when it launched in 1999. It felt like Sega rushed it to market to meet the 9-9-99 launch date, which admittedly caused a lot of buzz, launching a solid six months before there was any new competition by the way of the Sony PlayStation 2 and two years before Microsoft’s Xbox. At the time, gamers were firmly dug into their roots of either being a N64 gamer or a PlayStation (PSX) gamer, with Sega’s last console of the Sega Saturn being a cult success at best. Sega was taking a big risk by launching before the competition with a system that would be powerful, but not quite as powerful as the upcoming systems, but have the backing of their first party titles to boot.
Contrary to revisionist history, the Dreamcast launch was a pretty big deal, with major news coverage and people making a pretty big deal about it. It was the next step up from the N64 and PlayStation systems and it was going to be incredible. The system sold out of pre-orders early on and moved a ton of systems and games early on, but then things began to get dire when Sony officially announced the PlayStation 2. It was all downhill from there for Sega’s fledgling system, as fans loved the exclusive and unique titles, but the PlayStation 2 had easily eclipsed the Dreamcast, which pushed Sega out of the hardware market entirely.
If this story is starting to sound familiar to you, it should. If not, then think hard. The Wii U launched early, well before the competition had even announced their upcoming consoles. Initial buzz was strong and when it launched there were a ton of news stories and coverage of how big of a deal the console was. Sales started out strong, with pre-orders supposedly selling out and there being brief shortages of the Wii U after launch. Then things started to slow down for the Wii U as third-party titles were slow to trickle out and the big first party titles have really yet to launch yet. There have been some really fantastic, unique games on the Wii U, with more to come, but the announcement of the upcoming PlayStation 4 and pending announcement of the Xbox 720 have put Nintendo on the back burner.
In a way, it is unfathomable, as Nintendo has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to home gaming consoles. Even if they have been historically underpowered, the delightful first party titles and interesting third party titles that they attract that other consoles don’t have always been a strong selling point for Nintendo. Something has changed, though, and the Western market seems less-and-less hungry for what Nintendo is selling in the Wii U, which has put Nintendo’s back against the wall. It is eerily reminiscent of what happened to Sega with the Dreamcast.
I still look back at the Dreamcast with fond memories of it, as it really was a great console that was ahead of its time. It had features that the other guys had to work hard to catch up to and offered some truly awesome games that gamers still opine about to this day. That being said, the early release gamble and unique content didn’t pay off for Sega and could quickly turn around and bite Nintendo in the ass this time around.
There is a good chance that in 10 years we might be looking back at the Wii U much in the same light that gamers look back at the Sega Dreamcast today, which is really a strange idea to fathom. The Wii U could be the end of Nintendo has a home console maker, much like the Dreamcast was the end of Sega’s run.