Sega’s Visual Memory Unit was the perfection of removable save data storage and has yet to be topped. Sure SD cards are great and whatever, but the VMU had a full on screen and interface built in. These little guys slotted into the controller and peaked through a little window to give you either some helpful info like hit points or a minimal or whatever else the devs wanted. Typically it was a logo or mascot, but it was still something. I always was excited to see what little quality of life perk I’d get from having one in each game. Not just while I was playing mind you. Some titles would have mini games you could play on the go to get rewards and items when you slotted it back in.
To be honest I mostly did Chao stuff on mine. I love those adorable death monsters. It really added a different level of connection to my games. One very different than the Nintendo Switch’s ability to just take the full game with you. It made me feel like what I was doing was extra, like I was preparing to get back into my game. I guess the easiest way to describe it would be like cooking your food. Everyone prefers eating a nice meal, but the prep work before hand just makes it feel more satisfying. By separating the activities it made each feel more valid. Like I had a reason to step outside or that going to school or work could be fun because I had something I only really did there. Now sure Nintendo had things like the Pokewalker.
But that was a portable accessory for a portable system. It was alright, but if I had my walker I had my Nintendo DS. I really only used it to get the specific rewards in it. At times it felt more like a hassle than a fun little addition to my game. Not to mention it was also pretty limited in it’s uses and games that supported it. I’d go into more details but this ain’t about that. This article also isn’t about the GameBoy Advance’s ability to connect to the GameCube. Sure it had a few games you could take with you after downloading them from a GameCube title, but they lacked the ability to save so if you ran out of juice or your batteries popped out tough luck.
Sony tried to make one as well with the Pocket Station, but I didn’t have one and it wasn’t utilized much anyway so moving on.
The VMU could even hook up to each other to share data or play against someone in a game. That being said I had no friends with a Dreamcast and if I did I still don’t think I would have tried it. It was as comfortable looking as Digimon fighting. Which is to say hooking two devices without backlit screens together and standing several inches from your friend. It just sounds unpleasant for anyone over 5 foot tall and 12 years old. The size being the biggest draw back. It was large enough to play comfortably just that size had to be taken into consideration with the Dreamcast controller. So if it was any bigger we would have a classic xBox controller issue in size. The Duke I think it was called. Geez, if that’s not a dated reference there.
There was a wide variety of colors for the VMU. Most of them 90s see through plastic, which for the life of me I never understood. Because you can’t really see through it can you? It’s only kinda transparent. Like a Scooby Doo ghost or your driving sunglasses you can almost see what is on the other side just not enough to care. Not until the mid 2000s when they started putting LED lights in those types of plastic peripherals. Which should get it’s own article actually. My original VMU was the blue ghost one, but it died suddenly and horrifically in a moving accident. I have been meaning to pick up a new one. Seems a healthy homebrew community exists for the unmodded VMU scene. Also apparently those RetroPi people also found a way to stick emulators, color screens, and backlighting so I know my dream project someday.