Never heard of Space Channel 5? Shame on you. The original was a cult classic on the Dreamcast, and is essentially the story of a TV reporter who saves the world by entering into dance battles.
Despite being 9 years old this is actually the first official UK release for the title, as the original release unfortunately coincided with Martin Bashir’s famous Michael Jackson interview which included references about Jackson’s relations with children, leading the publishers to decide that perhaps the time wasn't quite right. So what have we been missing?
It's fair to say Space Channel 5: Part 2 is something of an unusual game. It's a remake of a 2002 Japanese Dreamcast title, and is basically a rhythm action game in which you play an intrepid news reporter called Ulala - who happens to look like Barbarella. She's up against the Rhythm Rogues, who have kidnapped people and are forcing them to dance - including the Galactic President and Michael Jackson, here playing Space Michael, who goes into battle with Ulala against a singing robot. Obviously. It's camper than a row of pink tents to boot. Suffice to say, this isn't a game you're going to play for the plot, but the kitsch style has a certain charm - think the Austin Powers films.
It's Space Michael!
The controls are simple - four d-pad directions, and two action buttons representing 'chu' and 'hey' (these have no specific meaning, although ‘chu’ is somewhat analagous to ‘shoot’) - then it's just a matter of repeating what you hear when the sequence finishes, with the same rhythm. The d-pad is never used for movement, only to input moves during the dance battle. Essentially it's the 80’s memory game toy Simon. While there's no formal difficulty system, you can map all the actions to one button, making it a pure rhythm game to make things easier. But Space Channel 5: Part 2 can be quite tricky - not only are there long sequences of inputs to remember, but it's not always obvious when you need to begin a sequence because there's no visual cue to start your input, and various aliens that you encounter along the way will have 'odd' voices which obfuscate the commands, adding another layer of complexity. Each missed input means losing health, although checkpoints within levels are pretty frequent, so you won't have to go back too far. It's pretty tricky once you go wrong to get back on track, but it doesn't really matter, as each sequence in the dance battles is a pass or fail type affair. There’s no real game over state, just repetition when you get stuck.
If that doesn't make much sense, the original Japanese trailer, below, might help.
In terms of remastering, the main graphics have been tarted up, but the video cutscenes between levels are the original versions. It's not a big deal, but the difference is quite jarring.
Aside from the story mode, there's a 100 level Ulala’s dance challenge mode where one mistake means it's game over. Perfectionists will lap it up, especially as there's an achievement waiting at the end, plus there are various unlockables and hidden secrets to further extend the experience beyond the 6 levels (or 'reports') that comprise the main story mode - around 2 hours of gameplay if no mistakes are made.
If you enjoyed the likes of Elite Beat Agents on the DS, and aren't afraid of a little campy fun, Space Channel 5: Part 2 might just be the quirky intergalactic dance show for you. Conversely, if you're easily frustrated or have no sense of rhythm, look elsewhere. It could appeal to fans of Guitar Hero and the ilk, but it’s as much a memory game as it is a music game. It may seem trite to say it, but this kind of game is what XBLA trial downloads were made for - if the demo floats your boat, you'll love it. Space Channel 5: Part 2 is a quirky little gem.
It's a dance off!