Dancing is not one of my strong suits. Any attempt that I have ever made to engage in the art form has usually been fueled by alcohol and usually ends with a mixture of alcohol and glass scattered across the dance floor, due to a combination of flailing arms and awkward hip movements. Therefore, much like my sporting 'prowess,' my dancing ability is evident only through the medium of video games.
Space Channel 5 Part 2, originally released for the SEGA Dreamcast, was one of the first games focused solely on dancing and rhythm, although input was done directly through the controller, rather than an additional peripheral such as a dancer pad, guitar controller or Kinect. Channel 5 focuses on the adventures of Ulala, a reporter for the titular Space Channel 5’s news channel. Ulala has to fight the Rhythm Rogues, a group of interstellar terrorists led by Shadow and Purge, and must rescue their many hostages, through what else, the medium of dance!
One-Two Step - Space Channel has one of the more simpler gameplay set-ups that I’ve seen recently, and it really is a case of being easy to learn yet hard to master. Using merely six inputs (the four directions and two buttons), you have no excuse to not pick the controls up quickly. The game itself uses memorization and timing as challenges, with players needing to remember dance sequences and match them to the rhythm in order to defeat a selection of enemies and bosses. This is an incredibly simple game to pick up and play, but don’t think that you’ll be getting 100% ratings through the first time around.
Lights and Sounds - If your idea of gaming visuals consists largely of greys and browns, then Space Channel will be a shock to your system. I think that every single colour under the rainbow is used at some point in the course of this game, and the music is just as eclectic as the colour palette. There seems to be no shortage of genre exploration here, with waltzes, disco and Michael Jackson all being used, each with a varying degree of success. While you will get some music that is cringeworthy at best, other tunes will have you tapping your feet along with their rhythm, which makes it a lot easier to match the timing of the dance moves.
Dance All Night - Considering that it is ‘merely’ a dancing game, Space Channel packs a lot into the deal. Along with a decent variety of game modes, including co-op, you also have the chance to unlock a large number of costumes, items and additional characters. Perhaps the strangest unlockable, however, is the chance to discover the backstories of all the hostages that you rescue from the Rhythm Rogues. Although it serves no real purpose, it’s an interesting touch that serves to add to the randomness of Space Channel 5.
BLOOD ON THE DANCE FLOOR
Too Lazy To Dance - Although not advertised as a ‘HD-remake’ like the recent Resident Evil re-releases, it is still a shame to see Space Channel 5 released in exactly the same form as it was eight years ago. The game is presented for the majority in widescreen, although the cutscenes are shown with thick black borders at the edges. Even though Space Channel isn’t unplayable with the graphics as they are, and certainly isn’t the only game guilty of having a lazy re-release, it would still have been nice to see a little touching up done on some of the visuals.
Dance, Dance, Dance - If dancing really isn’t your thing, then Space Channel 5 really isn’t for you. There isn’t much more here than a series of dance-offs, and even these require very minimal player input. Whilst there is definitely an element of challenge to the game, if you prefer your gaming experiences to constantly keep you on your toes by requiring different abilities, then I suggest you look elsewhere.
The Narrative of Dance - Space Channel 5’s story is certainly entertaining, and definitely random, but it borders on the nonsensical at times. Sure, if your game focuses on dancing, then a decent story isn’t exactly a priority, but if you are going to shoehorn a narrative into a game, it does help if it makes sense. As a quick example, just as I was beginning to get used to the unexpected events, Space Channel 5 throws a huge curveball by giving me the objective of rescuing ‘Space Michael,' an animated version of Michael Jackson, who serves as a reporter for Channel 5. Humour and random occurrences are largely welcome in a narrative, but here the randomness is stretched out almost to breaking point.
As one of the earliest games in the dancing/rhythm game genre, Space Channel 5 Part 2 does a good job of setting the scene for later games such as Rock Band and Dance Central. Although using standard controller input, and a greater deal of visual feedback than the later games, there are a large number of connections between Space Channel 5 and the rhythm games of today. Saying that, however, it is still easy to see that Space Channel 5 was an early pioneer, and not just through the visuals. A lack of variety, in both gameplay and music, holds the game back from larger appeal, and the weirdness will certainly put some people off from playing the game. If you can get past the initial culture shock, chances are you will gradually warm up to this game. I also guarantee that you will remember this game long after you are finished playing, although that may be due more to its strangeness rather than an experience of gaming greatness.