If Dance Dance Revolution and PaRapper the Rapper had a lovechild, Space Channel 5: Part 2 would be the end result. It bears semblance to beloved Playstation title PaRappa the Rapper, with its funky rhythms, entrancing beats, and follow-the-leader style gameplay. Throughout my time with this gem I was waiting for the moment when Austin Powers would pop out with a “Yeah baby!” comment, but alas, it never came. Instead, I was greeted by Michael Jackson’s digital avatar dancing the day away after I saved him from a group of intergalactic hipster space pirates.
Space Channel 5: Part 2 is a port of the 2002 Dreamcast / PS2 title, which was a sequel to 2000’s hit Space Channel 5. It’s the same title, albeit at a higher resolution, and while it hasn’t received any other updates, the game as a whole holds up just as well today as it did then. SC5: Part 2 is heavily inspired by the 1960’s music and dance culture, and will take you back to a time where you can’t help but want to move to the rhythm.
You take control of quirky 22-year old reporter Ulala, who doubles as a groovy, hostage saving, dance machine. Essentially, the game is a digital version of “Simon Says,” where you mimic the moves of your opponent, which happens to be a group of space aliens known as the Rhythm Rogues. These rogues have kidnapped el presidente, among others, including cheer leaders, and even the aforementioned Michael Jackson, thereby forcing them to shake their groove thing.
The control scheme is simple enough, as you use the four cardinal directions, along with A or B to boogy and blast away Purge, the pirate’s leader and his seemingly benevolent and entertaining cohorts. Visual clues, such as enemies and projectiles moving towards you, or hostages tied down by an electrical field give you a general idea of what you need to press, in addition to the aural notifications. The sound cues are the driving force behind the game, but oddly enough, are also its largest problem.
Frequently the opponent’s voices are muffled, making it difficult to hear which button you need to press. On a number of occasions, their instructions are flat out wrong, as they will rattle off “down, down, right, right,” when in reality it is their right, but you really need to press left. This wouldn’t be so confusing if it wasn’t for the fact nearly every other time they say right, they really do mean your right. The difficulty curve doesn’t gradually rise either, and tends to be sporadic, as some levels are far more difficult than others, particularly early on.
Space Channel 5 also requires precise timing. If you’re button press is off, even for a fraction of a second, it doesn’t register. Needless to say, it’s an unforgiving title at times, with a high difficulty curve which may scare some gamers off. Fortunately, you can simplify the process by mapping all of the moves to one button, thereby only needing to press “A” for each move, and allowing you to focus purely on your timing.
Moreover, the save system is a bit questionable as well. It’s often difficult to tell when the game has saved for you, unless you’re defeated and see firsthand where the game picks up from. Generally, you’ll begin again half way through the level, but with the same rating and number of stars as when you lost. This can be troublesome at times, because if you only had 2 or 3 stars at that point you may need to start from the beginning of the level again, unless you have precise timing.
Your “health” is measured in TV ratings (you are a reporter, after all), which then in turn converts to stars (hearts) on certain areas of the level. Make a bad move when you are trying to increase your rating, and the number of stars you have for bosses will be reduced when it gets converted. While fighting bosses, with the stars viewable on screen, the loss of one is all the more tangible.
Despite Space Channel’s numerous shortcomings, it has a greater number of enjoyable features that successfully outweigh the negatives. The soundtrack is terrific and constantly had my head bobbing to the beat, which always went perfectly with the vibrant and dynamic environments. You never see the same area repeated as you make your way through the tunnels of a space ship, jet-set through the lush blue and cloud filled skies, or escape the grasp of a monstrous plant in an ecology center.
If only ever game took the creative risks that Space Channel 5 took, perhaps the gaming landscape would be a far different place. Don’t let the rating fool you – this is a game worthy of both your time and money, if not for the highly entertaining time you’ll have with it, then at least for the unique experience that’s capable of crafting is own sub-genre.
Space Channel 5: Part 2 was provided for review by Triple Point PR. It is available now on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace for 800 MS points ($10) and on PSN for the same price.