Every once in a while, I kind of go on a “vacation” with the site. It’s not that I hate writing for this site (In fact, I love all those who read this site, especially those who leave hateful comments on that Doom mods article I wrote in 2014!), it’s that I get into a writer’s block, struggling for ideas. But then those vacations give me interesting ideas while I’m doing other things. Suddenly I get an idea, and get back to writing. Today, I’m dipping into a bit of late ’90s-early 2000s nostalgia.
Sega was going through some rough times throughout the ’90s. The back-to-back failures of the Sega CD, 32X, Game Gear, and the Saturn put them in pretty bad shape by the time they released the Dreamcast. While they made a lot of games that I loved (Crazy Taxi and Chu Chu Rocket were my jams, man), it wasn’t enough to fend off the PlayStation 2 and the forthcoming GameCube and Xbox, forcing Sega to bow out of the console race for good around 2001. Nowadays, Sega is merely a husk of what it formerly was, occasionally putting out a Sonic, Football Manager, or Total War game to keep them afloat.
But let’s go back to the glory days of Sega. Around 2000, Sega’s PC arm made this game available to freely download, which became a wonderful time-waster during my middle school years:
Introducing Sega Swirl, a fairly simple puzzle game released by Sega, loosely inspired by the Dreamcast logo swirl (seen above).
The gameplay is fairly simple: You’re given a grid of swirl colors, and your goal is to find groups of colored swirls for points. Removing them shrinks the playfield down, making it easy to build up combos. The only danger is removing a single swirl rather than a cluster, which’ll give you a score penalty.
In the standard “Level mode,” you must complete five goals to finish the stage and move on, thus you want to chain swirls together for massive points. Fairly simple, but still fun.
There’s also a Versus mode, where up to four competitors start taking enemy swirls for massive points. The goal is to knock your opponents out by eliminating that player’s swirls from the field. Like before, clicking a single swirl makes you lose points, but since your goal is to eliminate your opponent, it’s a good strategy to grab one swirl just to knock them out of the game faster. It’s an interesting strategy.
There’s also cross-platform play, where you can send plays via email to people to choose what play you wanted to do next. Around 1999-2000, that was an impressive feature, especially for those who wanted to do multiplayer but were in different parts of the world.
If you’re wondering: yes, it still works, though it won’t work if you aren’t using an email client like Thunderbird or Outlook. My test opponent (Bobinator of The ’90s Time Machine and Hardcore Gaming 101 fame) couldn’t send a move since he uses the Gmail web client, but I could send him a move since I’m an old fogey and still use Thunderbird to send emails. It basically requires opening a .swl file and associating it with the Swirl program to show what move the player used. Slow, but considering the period this was made in, it works.
So that’s the PC version in a nutshell. Surprisingly good despite its simplicity these days. No more complex than many of Shockwave/Flash games around that era.
Now not only was there a PC version, they pimped this thing out for the fledgling Sega Dreamcast. Pick up any demo disc from Official Dreamcast Magazine, games like Sega Smash Pack Vol. 1, or even a Web Browser 2.0 disc, and there it is, Sega Swirl on your Sega Dreamcast.
Unlike the PC version, which looks fairly simple even by 2000s standards; the Dreamcast version looks more in line with similar puzzle games from the era, complete with an orange snake as our mascot rather than just a simple animation. In addition to the modes in the PC version, there was also four-player split screen multiplayer, a timed mission mode.
Yes, even the play by email feature exists in the Dreamcast version, though it’s a bit harder to work these days considering SegaNet doesn’t exist anymore.
The Dreamcast version looks better and is more feature-filled than the bare-bones PC version, but there’s nothing wrong with the PC version of Swirl. There was also a Palm OS version of Swirl, but that one’s probably harder to find considering tablet PC games are scarce to find unless people had the mindset to keep them around.
I’m gonna be honest, Sega Swirl needs to make a comeback. With how popular Candy Crush Saga is, Sega could make a killing using a free-to-play mobile version of Sega Swirl and make beaucoup bucks. Probably more than shoehorning Hulk Hogan into a mobile Crazy Taxi game does. Alas, much like Sega remembering that they have the great Chu Chu Rocket!, this will probably never happen, leaving this idea to be nothing but a mere pipe dream. :(
Surprisingly the PC version still works on modern devices, even on my Windows 7 box. (I can’t vouch for if this works in Windows 8 or 10.) If you wanna get it for yourself, Sega Retro’s got the hookup here. Have fun with one of the coolest puzzle games nobody remembered. Maybe I need to look into more strange puzzle games of the ’90s, because there were a bunch of them.