Sega Swirl: The puzzle game time forgot.

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.320px-Dreamcast_logo.svg

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:

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 (seen above).

Sometimes, simplicity is better than complexity when it comes to menus.

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.

They almost look like colored cinnamon rolls.

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.

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Hot competitive Sega Swirl action going on here.

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.

This guy’s probably a better mascot these days than Sonic…

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.

Eh, cut them some slack, even if they use Comic Sans for everything…

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.

I bet this could get pretty frenetic…

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.

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 and Sega Retro.)

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B.J. Brown

B.J. Brown is the creator and sole writer on You Found a Secret Area. Casually writing since 2010, Fascinated by dumb things like game shows, music, and of course, video games. Also on Twitter. You can support their work on Ko-Fi or Patreon.

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  1. satori says:

    The Mega-CD and the Saturn did not fail by any metric. Nearly all of what people speak about those consoles is myth from gross misunderstanding.

    The Saturn was actually one of Sega’s bigger successes. Failures do not get over 1000 unique titles! The problem is that they spent far too much time and money marketing to other countries without listening to their particular demands, and hiring idiots like Bernie Stolar in some odd suicide attempt. Sega’s entire western effort was a nightmare from the beginning, and it’s sheer luck that the Genesis had any success at all.

    Until Super Mario 64, the Saturn was doing well in the west, and until Final Fantasy VII, the Saturn was doing very well in Japan. It was chiefly because of VII that the Dreamcast was completed and released seemingly early. As if to follow up on that point, the mere release of the PlayStation 2 killed the Dreamcast overnight.

    There are also all sorts of details we don’t entirely know about, such as the poor construction of early PlayStations and PlayStation 2s combining with a bizarre sense of forgiveness for that leading to inflated sales counts for both systems. Sony made a lot of big mistakes that would have threatened any other company, but were completely forgotten for Sony.

    In general, people have a very limited understanding of gaming history. Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t intentional, judging by some of the conversations I’ve had over the years.

  2. 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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