Virtua Striker 2

Virtually unplayable

Sega Dreamcast
Released in 2000 by Sega
Grade: D-

This “fun-focused” take on soccer isn’t much fun at all.

Where it falls in the series

Virtua Striker is primarily an arcade series, started in 1994. This is the first console edition, followed by Virtua Striker 3 on GameCube in 2002. A port of the original was made available as a download game for PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2013.

Gripes

You know it’s a bad sign when you can’t even use the analog stick. That’s right, this game uses the D-pad only.

Other controls are also dumbed down. On offense, you can short pass, long pass, and shoot. On defense, you can slide tackle. That’s it. There’s no “change player” button. The game does it for you automatically, which constantly screws you up.

The view is way too zoomed in. You can’t see who you’re passing to or who is chasing you down until it’s too late. I often found myself passing to the area where I thought one of my teammates might be.

This is particularly troublesome because this game moves extremely fast. You need to be quick on the trigger, yet you can’t see your teammates, so you don’t know what to do. Whenever I was able to move the ball up the field, it felt like luck. Passes seem to sneak through or get stopped at random.

You know those people who say they don’t use any drugs because they feel like they’re on drugs already? That’s what this game is like. It’s on drugs without needing to use drugs.

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NFL 2K1

Sega Dreamcast
Released in 2000 by Sega
Grade: C+

NFL 2K1 is more realistic and user-friendly than NFL 2K, but it’s held back by annoying quirks and limited football logic.

Where it falls in the series

I consider the 2K brand of Sega’s sports games its own series, but Sega released plenty of football games before, starting with Joe Montana Football on Genesis. 2K1 is the second of three on Dreamcast. The series peaked with the beloved ESPN NFL 2K5 on PS2 and Xbox, then EA Sports took the NFL license for themselves. It took three years for 2K to release another football game, All-Pro Football 2K8, a great but low-selling game, before hanging up their football cleats.

Praises

Compared to NFL 2K, this game is wide open and realistic. Passing is more fluid. When you scan the field and make a good decision, you usually get a good result. Receivers automatically make an effort to catch the pass, although they often come back to the ball so far that they lose a few yards.

Defenders can still dive far for unrealistic tackles, but it’s not nearly as pronounced as in 2K. Playing defense feels fairly intuitive.

The speed burst control is dynamic and easy to use. You can tap the button rapidly to sprint, or you can hold the button, which charges up your power and makes your next move (stiff arm, juke, or sprint) stronger. It’s a solid innovation that stuck around throughout the series.

The graphics were impressive when the game came out, and they hold up well enough today. The sound is also high quality.

Gripes

Offense, as much as it’s improved, is still filled with frustration. Passes are knocked down by linemen too often. The QB control feels a bit clunky. You’ll take more sacks than it seems like you should. Running the ball still results in a lot of 1-yard gains.

The playbooks aren’t up to par for a 2001 game. You’ll re-run plays often. I’m not a fan of the playcall screen. Strategic adjustments are very limited.

In general, this game is sort of between categories. It’s challenging like a simulation, but it’s simple like an arcade. Put more critically, it’s dumbed down without being extra fun. It lacks the depth of its competitor, Madden NFL 2001, and it’s not blazing fast or over-the-top like NFL Blitz. These days, you’ll probably only want to play it if you have a case of Dreamcast nostalgia.

NBA 2K1

Sega Dreamcast
Released in 2000 by Sega
Grade: C+

This second iteration of 2K basketball is pretty much the same as the first, so you may as well read my review of NBA 2K for details on the gameplay. The short version is this: It looks good and it’s easy to control, but physical contact is awkward and the basketball logic comes up way short.

Where it falls in the series

It’s the second of three Dreamcast games in the series. The series improved as it moved to the PS2/Xbox generation, and really hit its stride with NBA 2K11 on PS3/Xbox 360. 2K dominated EA’s NBA Live series and is the definitive king of simulation basketball today in 2017.

Praises and gripes

The improvements in 2K1 are mainly in the graphics and features.

The players look a little more smoothed out, although there really isn’t much improvement in their animations. The default camera is still effective but tilts up and down on certain shots, which is unnecessary.

For features, you’ve now got a few “legends” teams, and there are streetball courts where you can play 2-on-2, 3-on-3, 4-on-4, or 5-on-5.

There are a few gameplay tweaks, but they don’t address the main problems. You’ve got a more effective juke button, but you’ll still find yourself stopping abruptly when it looks like you should be able to step past your defender.

Shooting off the dribble is still useless, and putbacks happen too often.

The “call for pick” command is actually worse than before, as your AI teammate is rarely in the right spot to screen your defender.

Head fakes no longer make defenders leap in the air every time like they did in 2K, which is a good thing.

Overall, if you just want to play some Dreamcast B-ball and it’s between 2K and 2K1, you should go with 2K1 (I haven’t played 2K2 yet), but I don’t think you’ll have a whole lot of fun with either.

NBA 2K

Sega Dreamcast
Released in 1999 by Sega
Grade: C+

This game set a new standard for basketball graphics at the time, and it established a lot of elements that helped make later 2K games great. Gameplay-wise, it’s a mishmash of arcade and simulation that’s limited and you’ll tire of it eventually.

Where it falls in the series

Although Sega released basketball games prior to this, the new 2K brand brought a whole new type of game, so I’m calling this the original. It’s the first of three on Dreamcast. 2K was a strong competitor to EA’s Live series for years after this, and eventually passed it up, to the point that EA no-showed basketball for 2011 through 2013. Today in 2017, 2K dominates the competition in basketball video games. My current favorite in the series is NBA 2K13, but I still haven’t played anything after 2K15.

Praises

The gameplay is fast, and the control is crisp as a potato chip. You’re free to make your player zip around in unhuman ways. This is both good and bad: good because it makes the game easy to control, bad because the end result feels mechanical.

This game established some important gameplay elements that helped make the later versions so great.

The vertical camera has just the right angle of the action. It moves smoothly and shows you a big portion of the court.

AI teammates will cut to the basket when there’s an opening. This is an important addition, because it’s an incentive to stretch the defense and pass the ball inside, which is important to making simulation basketball fun. (See NBA Live 96 for Genesis.)

The shoulder buttons control your players’ speed and stance, and it works well. R is for sprinting. L is for a defensive stance or posting up. This simple setup gives you a sense of control, and it stuck throughout the series. On the downside, since Dreamcast only has two shoulder buttons, icon passing is on the Y face button, which isn’t intuitive.

You’ve got four set plays and a “call for pick” command. The plays develop so quickly they look artificial, but they’re crucial to good offensive strategy.

The graphics were stunning in 1999. For the first time, it’s pretty easy to tell each player apart, which is important when you’re playing basketball and your players have such different abilities.

Gripes

The game feels unbalanced and un-basketball-ish. Certain strategies work better or worse than they should. Head fakes work too well. Shooting off the dribble doesn’t work well enough. Putbacks are way too common.

When players make contact, it doesn’t look right and it doesn’t have a fair impact on the game. Players are constantly stopping on a dime. Playing good defense for a whole game is an unpleasant test of patience.

The crossover and spin move feel unnatural. Blocking certain shots and stealing the ball are usually a futile endeavor.

The jumpshot animation doesn’t have the grace seen in later 2K games, and so it’s tricky to time your release. Luckily, there’s a simple practice mode where you can get it down.

The free throw mechanic is awful. You need to feather the shoulder buttons in unison, and it’s needlessly frustrating.

Passes get deflected and take odd bounces. Sometimes they’re mysteriously thrown out of bounds. These are so awkward at times that you’ll think they are actual glitches.

NFL 2K

Now, just relax.

Sega Dreamcast
Released in 1999 by Sega
Grade: C

I’m well aware of how much some people love this game. It’s amazing for its time. Graphically, it put every other football video game to shame. I know this. But I’m not reviewing what it was like to play this game in 1999. I’m reviewing what it’s like to play it today.

Where it falls in the series

Although Sega made plenty of football games prior, the 2K series felt like a whole different thing on a much more powerful system. Two more installments followed on Dreamcast, and the series really hit its stride on the PS2 and Xbox with the beloved ESPN NFL 2K5 before EA snatched the NFL license away.

Praises

I guess I gotta start with graphics on this one. They’re great. The players are animated well, and they fit in with the field environment harmoniously. The over-the-top animations look cool and are stitched together well. The visuals make it clear what’s happening as you play. Nothing else at the time came close in this regard.

The sound is also top notch for its time and still holds up. The crowd makes a lot of noise, the collisions sound as crisp as they look, and the announcers fit in really well.

The action unfolds like football in many regards. Linemen play a lot like actual linemen. On passing plays, you see the pocket forming in a realistic way. Defensive AI is tenacious, especially on the highest of three difficulty levels. You’ve got to watch the defense and make the right throw.

Gripes

The fun is stunted by a slow passing system and overpowered tacklers. People call this game arcade … but when I think arcade, I think high-scoring. When I think NFL 2K, I think, “It’s third and twelve, Peter. They’re O for five on third downs today.”

Passes soar slowly though the air, which forces you to anticipate a receiver being open, AND you need to switch control to your receiver and time the catch. The rest of the gameplay moves so fast that it feels odd that the passes are so slow.

Here’s my dorky rant about passing systems: NFL 2K uses a slower passing system that requires you to take control of the receiver, similar to EA’s 16-bit titles, especially Bill Walsh College Football 95. One year later, when Madden 2001 leaped into the PS2/Xbox era, it used a faster system that didn’t require you to take control of a receiver. If it was a good pass, he’d catch it. The faster passing allowed you to play more like a real quarterback, zipping a pass into the tiniest gap. It’s a better passing system, in my opinion, and 2K agreed with me because they switched to it eventually. 2K certainly beat EA to the graphics party, but I think EA was first to the gameplay party.

So not only do you have floating passes, you’ve got defenders flying around the field like monsters, routinely knocking down passes and tackling with ease. Receivers often run questionable routes and they drop some easy passes.

Your offensive line will betray you on running plays, which are almost useless in this game.

The advantage is way in favor of the defense. Playing against the CPU on the highest difficulty, I find it challenging to score but easy to play D.

The play calling is stuck in the 90s. There aren’t a ton of plays, and some of them don’t function how they look on the playcall screen. Adjustments at the line of scrimmage are limited: you’ve got 3 audibles and can put a man in motion. The game doesn’t let you get much of an advantage before the snap.

This game broke ground and laid a strong foundation for 2K to build on in later releases, and it gave Madden a new competitor for football prominence. In a vacuum, though, it’s just okay. Don’t listen to other reviewers on this one. I’ve seen this game at the very top of a “greatest football games ever” list. That’s nonsense. That’s nostalgia talking.

 

NHL 2K2

“Are we there yet?”
“No! We just left!”

Sega Dreamcast
Released in 2001 by Sega
Grade: C

NHL 2K2 is a better effort than NHL 2K, but it’s still missing a lot of the little things.

Where it falls in the series

It’s the second hockey game on Dreamcast. Damn! Did Dreamcast only have two hockey games?!

It follows NHL 2K. Sega no-showed hockey in 2K1. That’s very un-hockey like, to wuss out like that. So, anyway, this game is two years in the making. The series had better days after moving up to PS2, Xbox, PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii. The series finished with NHL 2K11 on Wii.

Praises

Well, the game looks a lot better than its predecessor. There are a lot of little details, but most important is that the player animations look more natural. And the “3/4 overhead” camera is nice and steady, a vast improvement over 2K.

The control is improved. It’s easier to make tight turns, and you have much more control with how fast or slow you skate. They added some tricks, like a deke animation and a side-step. They’re not great, but it’s something.

Defense is more intuitive and fun. The controls are easier, it’s easier to tell what’s going on, and the AI is much improved.

The CPU provides a tough gaming challenge on the highest difficulty, which is always nice to have for a solo gaming dork like me … although …

Okay, and now the gripes!

The gameplay is heavier on defense, and goalies are very, very, very, very tough to score on. Now, this isn’t necessarily bad, but consider that offensive players still have the same abilities as they did two years ago, that the game doesn’t arm you with added offensive ability.

The end result is that it’s just hard to score goals in this game. If you go with 5-minute periods, you’ll definitely get a lot of 0-0 games. Even with 10-minute periods I had a lot of 0-0 games. That’s not fun, playing for FORTY MINUTES and it’s a 0-0 tie! What is this, soccer?! I hate to be the wuss who says it’s too hard to score … but it’s too hard to score.

And it’s not just because the goalies are so good … it’s also because you spend a lot of time getting hit, then hitting a guy, then getting hit, then hitting a guy, then getting hit, then hitting a guy, then getting hit, before somehow you get it hell out of there. Does that sound like fun? Well, it isn’t! The puck never seems to squirt away or take a funny bounce, and the AI players are like body checking machines out there, so you get the same sequence of body checks happening all over the ice all the time and it sucks!

And don’t get me started on passing with the goalie. Passing with the goalie is a roll of the dice. For some reason, his piddly attempt at a pass glides like a snail, but your skater has trouble tracking it down! It’s seriously annoying.

The referee gets in the way. I wish I could make this up. The referee gets in the way. The puck hits him twice or three times every game. That’s really, really not the gameplay wrinkle this game needs.

The sound is atrocious! It’s too quiet! It’s like a hockey game is whispering to me! Even a goddamn slapshot hardly makes any sound at all! What the hell?!

Hey, have you noticed that I’ve been yelling in this review? Yeah?! Well, I don’t yell often, I don’t yell at just anything, but I will yell at a SUCKASS HOCKEY VIDEO GAME THAT DOESN’T MAKE A SOUND WHEN YOU TAKE A SLAPSHOT!!!

It’s a downer, because get this … this game actually has one of my favorite features EVER … drumroll … a slider for announcer frequency. Not how loud the announcers are, but how often they talk. Come on, that’s a great little feature. I usually find video game commentary annoying. I almost always turn commentary off on any game I spend time playing, but I still kinda like announcers sometimes. So you tweak the announcer frequency down a bit, it’s like giving the announcer a dose of valium. It’s like saying, “Don’t go away, Mr. Announcer, but don’t wear out your welcome.”

NHL 2K

Sega Dreamcast
Released in 1999 by Sega
Grade: C

A visual breakthrough in its time, NHL 2K is a simple, fast-moving hockey game that’s not quite arcade-style but definitely not a sim. It’s got some good ingredients but its flaws really weigh down the fun.

Where it falls in the series

Sega Sports released a few forgettable hockey titles prior to this — the last of which is NHL All-Star Hockey ’98 on Saturn — but 2K felt like an all new brand synonymous with the Dreamcast launch.

NHL 2K and NHL 2K2 were on Dreamcast (they no-showed 2K1) and the series had some high-quality hockey games on later consoles. NHL 2K11, a Nintendo Wii exclusive, was the last console game in the series.

Praises

The action plays out at a fun pace, players move fluidly, the AI can be tenacious, and the controls are simple.

Skating control, especially in open ice, has a cool “slippery” skating feel. Passing is very intuitive, except for the occasional “Oops, passed it to the wrong guy!” The player abilities, while supercharged, are in balance with each other. I like that the speed burst isn’t too drastic and that the poke check doesn’t work more than it should.

The graphics dazzled the eye back in 1999, and they still look okay today. Games often go needlessly out of their way to show off their new technologies, but this game shows off tastefully without disrupting the flow.

Gripes

It’s a lot of little things.

In small spaces the control falters. Carefully skating a circle around defenders works fine, but you’ll struggle with tighter movements. Gathering a loose puck can be an unwanted adventure. Players twirl around too much, and even though they twirl quickly, that half-second of delay is irritating.

Shots also have a slight delay to them, even with the quickest button tap. It’s actually realistic, but can be frustrating considering that hockey games usually allow you to fire off shots in an instant.

There’s no deking command or automatic deke animation. Quick back-and-forth skating works as a replacement, but it just doesn’t look like genuine hockey movement.

Defenders frequently skate backwards when they should turn around, and you can’t do much about it. Sounds like a nitpick, but it happens pretty often.

The default camera is in too tight, and the zoomed out camera is shaky.

The sound is lame. The announcer keeps up but he gets stagnant. And if you turn off the announcer, you find that the action sounds don’t have any life to them.

I’ve seen people complaining that it’s impossible to score, but I think experienced hockey gamers could embrace the challenge. You just need to focus your strategy on one-timers. What fuels that complaint, I think, is that goalies’ animations are pretty dramatic. They dive to make crazy saves when they don’t need to. In fact, the goalies behave oddly in general.