Sega Swirl: The puzzle game time forgot.

Sega in the late 1990s to early 2000s was a weird time, at least here in the United States. After bungling the Sega Saturn, there seemed to be some hope for the company with the blue hedgehog as they released the Sega Dreamcast in 1999, being a modestly successful system. But then Sony’s PlayStation 2 came out the following years and steamrolled over all competition, forcing Sega to abandon games console production and go into full-time game publishing instead. As time rolls on, the Dreamcast era seems to be more fondly remembered, alongside many of the games that came with it. But there’s one game Sega heavily pushed during this era, one that has been slowly forgotten to time.

While Sega was mostly known in the console space, they did have a middling PC division during those years. Most of them ports of legacy games like Sonic & Knuckles Collection, but there was one game they released around 2000 that was a unique, interesting idea. It was a game that would absolutely dominate my middle school years in terms of its simplicity and fun factor.

What the heck kind of company is

What the heck kind of company is “Sega of America Dreamcast” anyway?

Introducing Sega Swirl, a fairly simple puzzle game released by Sega, loosely inspired by the Dreamcast logo swirl. This came out as a freeware game from around 1999-2000, and while the title screen is incredibly basic, there’s a lot more to it than you think.

The swirls almost look like colored cinnamon rolls. Damn, now I’m hungry.

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. However, removing a single swirl will result in you losing points. In the standard “Level mode,” you must complete five goals to finish the stage, thus chaining swirls together for massive points is the end goal. It’s a fairly simple game, but still fun even in spite of its basic looks.

A shame this came out in 2000, before esports were a thing. I would totally watch a Sega Swirl tournament.

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 a fun, competitive mode.

There’s also cross-platform play, where you can send your moves via email. 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, the email thing still works, though since it was made for the days of Outlook it likely won’t work well on modern systems. My test opponent (Bobinator of Hardcore Gaming 101 fame) couldn’t send a move to me since he uses a web client for his email, but I could send him a move because I use Thunderbird to send emails.  The emails themselves are just .swl files that you use which open the program and show the move the player made. It’d be interesting to see this in action, but unless you’re LGR on YouTube who has a fascination with Old Computers, it’s not worth it. These days you could probably remote into a friend’s computer and play it locally with no hassle.

So that’s Sega Swirl. Surprisingly good despite its simplicity these days. No more complex than many of Shockwave/Flash games around that era. But that’s not where this story ends.

Changing it from a a cute swirl to a snake is quite the downgrade.

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.

Normally I’d suggest sending the hounds on anyone who uses Comic Sans unironically, but for a game like this, who cares?

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 existing modes in the PC version, there was also four-player split screen multiplayer, and even a timed mission mode.

Some intense four player action, seen only in the Dreamcast release.

Yes, even the play by email feature exists in the Dreamcast version, though it likely doesn’t work anymore considering SegaNet died when the Dreamcast failed.

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 forethought to keep them around.

This is ideally what you want to get, with minimal single swirls left. Tricky, but still fun.

This is ideally what you want to get, with minimal single swirls left. Tricky in the later stages, but still fun.

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.

(Some screenshots courtesy of Honest Gamers, Giant Bomb and Sega Retro.)

beverly jane

I'm the creator and writer of You Found a Secret Area. Fascinated by obscure pop culture and wanting a place to write about curated stuff, I created the blog in 2012 and have been running it ever since. Also on other places. (Pronouns: she/her, they/them)

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1 Response

  1. Thank you for the great article about SEGA Swirl!! This game started as a passion project after hours while I was working at SEGA. I would go home each night after work and program until 3 or 4 in the morning on this project. I brought a working prototype into the office after about three weeks and that was when I received the official approval to continue working on the game (while also continuing to produce the other games I was working on at the time). Someone had given me a copy of Scabble for the PC that could play over email and I thought that was a cool feature and it could be something that would allow us to take advantage of the 56K modem that was bundled with every SEGA Dreamcast system before we had lobbies for matchmaking or game servers. It took me a little while to implement that feature myself on for SEGA Swirl, but it really helped us get the project green lighted for SEGA Dreamcast.

    Without going into a super long winded story, I have to say that it is pretty awesome that the game was bundled on over 4 Million Dreamcast discs and we also had several hundred thousand installations of the PC version of the game. I am a strong believer in the fact that if you have passion and work hard enough, things will work out. This was definitely the case on this project.

    SEGA Swirl is definitely one of my top five favorites projects that I have worked on during my career. Other top titles include: Our recent King’s Quest episodic game that we just completed in December 2016, the Karaoke Revolution series, Condemned: Criminal Origins (my last project for SEGA), and Quake III Arena for SEGA Dreamcast.

    I completely agree with your comments that this game needs to make a comeback! I think I need to reach out to SEGA and see if we can get something going again!!

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