Space Channel 5: Special Edition
Sony Playstation 2
I remember when I first experienced the music-gaming bliss that was Space Channel 5. It was the summer that I graduated high school, and the Dreamcast game was my first purchase I made with my new check card. I really didn’t know what prompted me to buy it, other than the fact that it had an interesting heroine on the cover, an animated card, and a free “Planet Dance” sampler CD. But from the moment I turned it on, I was treated to a psychedelic, funky thrill ride that was both ridiculous AND incredible. It also provided me with a special “moment” in my video gaming life that I love to recreate.
Flash-forward to the end of 2003, and I see Space Channel 5: Special Edition on the shelf for only $15. Not only did it contain the original game I loved for so long, but also it came bundled with its sequel that had never been commercially released. Two music games for only fifteen smackers. I jumped at the chance.
Before I popped the games into my trusty PS2, I began having doubts. Would I have the same fun with the game I had played only a few years prior? This could be Super Mario Brothers 3 all over again, where my anticipations would be met with disappointment. But I pressed on anyway, knowing full well that this was one of my favorite games, and I would enjoy it AND it’s sequel And enjoy I did. And blown away I was.
SC5 Part 1: All the way into the 25th century, the planet Earth is being invaded by aliens! The “Morolians” are capturing humans left and right, and forcing them to dance against their will. So Space Channel 5 sends their crack reporter (and only one who hasn’t been captured) Ulala to grab the scoop. But once she’s there, she finds herself fighting against the Morolians with dances of her own. By defeating them in various dancing stages, she’ll save the captured humans. The humans themselves are so grateful that they come with Ulala to help save others. It’s up to them to save the Earth!
SC5 Part 2: The events in Part 1 come to and end, and the Earth is saved. (Like it’s much of a spoiler. There wouldn’t be much of a sequel if the aliens won!) So Ulala returns to her normal life of reporting. That is, until two years later. That’s when a mysterious man named Purge and his band of Rhythm Rogues start to capture people all over the galaxy and force them to dance. (In other words, same shit, different day.) So once again, Space Channel 5 must get the scoop first, and Ulala must match dance move for dance move in order save life as we know it.
I’ll be the first to admit that both of these stories are completely weird and ridiculous when you first read them. However, if you look past the initial absurdity, you’ll actually get hooked onto where the plot goes next.
The visuals encompass a world where sixties/seventies psychedelic meets the future. The places you do your dance battles in come complete with a myriad of color and uniqueness. In fact, some places look as though you jumped into one of the classic Laugh-In party sketches.
Character models in both games are very basic, as many of them perform the same movements as Ulala does. In this regard, SC5 Part 1 does not offer much variety in dances when they follow Ulala around. They’ll end up copying whatever dance the most recently captured person is doing. In the second game, more of these NPCs will end up doing their own thing as they traverse each stage. In any case, the dances are still creative as you go along. And there are many dancers to gaze at here.
In between stages, there are several FMV clips that play. In both games, however, many of these clips are recycled over and over again. They may contain new dialogue or captions, but the clips themselves are the same. Luckily, you can skip through them if you don’t feel like watching them over and over again.
Unfortunately, the visuals are very dated when compared to the other PS2 games out on the market. In fact, they’re…what’s the term I’m looking for…Dreamcasty. It’s not a bad thing that the game has DC graphics, but you’ll take note, as the visuals in both games haven’t really been updated for the next-generation consoles. You’ll definitely be able to tell in the first game, as colors will bleed together during certain FMV segments. SP5 Part 2 shows a drastic improvement in the visual quality, but it’s still rather simple looking. Even so, the game still contains a visual style all its own, and is very pretty to look at. And since all movement is restricted to your command button presses, there are no camera-angle problems to get in your way.
Where would a music game be without sound? Why that’s simple! Collecting dust in a landfill somewhere. But lucky for us, Space Channel 5: Special Edition DOES have sound! And great sound at that!
First is the music that plays as you progress. Much of it is based on “Mexican Flyer”, the title track of the game. There are many different variations and remixes of it, and all of them are catchy as hell. Much of the music in general has a light Latin flavor, but there are plenty of techno, bass, and jazz sections to provide variety. There’s even some bubble gum pop in there somewhere, and also a waltz section in Part 2! I swear you’ll be humming these tunes for days after hearing them once.
Also included is a generous portion of voice acting in both games. In Part 1, it’s rather low key and pretty mellow. The characters will mostly talk (instead of yelling, shouting, etc.) in between play segments, even in times when the situation might require more emotion. It also seems that the voices had not been redone for the PS2 release, although there are a few new lines of dialogue when explaining the controls for the PS2 controller. Apollo Smile, who did the voice for Ulala, still gave her enough life and enough personality to see her through.
In the second game, there is a lot more emotion put into the voices. Smile now shouts back the commands thrown at her, instead of simply talking through them. She also has more variations on how she says “Up, Right, Chu, etc, etc.” The supporting cast is also well represented, and a pleasure to listen to.
Of course I would be an idiot if I didn’t mention that Michael Jackson himself added his vocal talents to his personal character: “Space Michael”. Of course, the voice work was done before his most recent arrest, so it’s not like Sega was endorsing a criminal. Still, don’t let Jackson’s appearance deter you from these wonderful titles!
First, we’ll start with the similarities between the two games. As you go through a typical level, you’ll see a “ratings” meter at the bottom of the screen. Doing well increases your ratings, but screwing up will decrease them. Also, you’ll be given a certain number of “hearts” for each section. Each time you mess up, a heart is taken away. Lose all your hearts, and its game over.
Both games basically play like a super-advanced version of Simon Says. The game will throw out a command in time to the music, like “Up! Up! Down! Down!” It’s your job to copy that pattern exactly and with the same rhythm. This game has very simple controls on the whole, and is very easy to learn. You’ll be a master at them in no time, I’m sure.
Part 1 has the following commands: Up, Down, Left, Right, and “Chu”. The first four correspond to the directional pad, while “Chu” can either mean the X or the O button. When you are in a dance battle, you’ll only need to worry about pressing X. When you’re in sections that require saving people, you’ll press X to blast away aliens, and O to rescue people. You’ll have to keep a keen eye out in these sections so you don’t end up killing the innocent.
One thing that I noticed was that the timing needed to succeed was much stricter than I remembered it to be. I screwed up a lot more on parts I used to fly through on the Dreamcast. However, as long as you stay on beat, you should be fine. And outside of these commands, that’s all you really need to know to play this part.
Part 2 expands upon the original controls in several different ways. The first major difference is that a new command, “Hey”, has been assigned to the O button. This clears up any confusion as to which button to press when you need to save people. The other side of the coin is that “Hey” is now included in all dance battles.
Other additions include you having to hold down buttons in certain spots. You’ll know when a game throws out a command like “Chu! Chu! Chuuuuuuuu, Chu!” that you have to hold the button down for a short period. In certain battles, you’ll have to play an instrument of some kind. For those battles, you can press ANY direction to follow the pattern. Chu and Hey are still the same. Finally, some places will have lyrics thrown in with commands. You’ll need to sit through those portions before or after commands are given, since they don’t correspond to any buttons.
Whereas Part 1 seemed to have super-strict timing, Part 2 is MUCH more forgiving. I found I could be a bit looser on the controls and still pass sections without a miss. Being on beat still counts, however.
Other gameplay enhancements found in Part 2 include your ratings turning into “stars” during boss battles. They function the same way as hearts, but if you do badly, your overall score for that level will drop sharply.
The controls may be simple, but the game is incredibly fun and addicting as you progress. As long as you have your timing down, there is no way you can’t have fun.
Oh, you will be spending days and days and DAYS going through the two games whether there is stuff you haven’t seen or not.
For example, once you finish the four main stages in Part 1, you can go through them again and access brand new portions of each stage. There are different locations, different dance commands, and different people to rescue.
Speaking of rescuing, there is a Character Profiles section where you can view all the people you saved, including bios on the main characters and supporting characters. The interesting thing is that there are bios for EVERY ONE of those poor shlubs you ended up rescuing, when none of them really matter to the game! Much of these bios are there for comic relief, so it’s worth your while to save as many people as you can.
You’ll be spending much more of your time in Part 2, partially because it’s brand new to America, but mostly because there’s so much more to do here.
After finishing the main six stages, you’ll discover that there are “alternate” versions of each chapter that you can select. They don’t contain new areas like in Part 1, but many of the dance commands have either been reversed or changed. They also contain a new host of characters to save to fill out THIS game’s Character Profile section! Also, you might want to make friends with someone who likes this game. There is a 2-Player mode that has one person handling the direction commands, and the other handling the X and O commands.
Plus, there is special “100-Stage Battle” where Ulala has to go through 100 commands without messing up once. To be honest, however, they should have called this mode a “200-Stage Battle” simply because when you make it to the end of 100 commands, you’re immediately thrust into the “alternate” version with 100 MORE commands to go through. In any case, you can go through this mode with either one or two players.
Perhaps the coolest thing about this game (outside of the main missions) is the costume collecting. You’ll notice that Ulala will wear various costumes as the game progresses. It turns out there are 40 of them total, and they have to be unlocked by doing various things in the game. Some of them are yours by simply completing missions, while others you need to get 100% on those same missions. Still others are only gotten by going through the 100-Stage Battle, and still OTHERS are unlocked by achieving certain goals with two players. Then there are the time-release costumes. So you’ll have plenty to do to keep yourself occupied.
Oh, wait! Along with the costume collecting, there are also “items” you can collect. Depending on who you save, you can go to the Character Profiles menu and “talk” to them by accessing their bios. Some will give you hints to better complete a stage, while others will give you “items”. They aren’t crucial to the game, since they only replace your microphone, but it’s kinda funny seeing Ulala talking into a spatula or an ear of corn. It’s almost like a mini-RPG to see what all these guys have to say.
Sega has outdone themselves in this regard. For a pretty short game, they came up with TONS of ways to come back to it with a fresh and new approach practically every time. Wow.
Replay Value: 10/10
I’d say both games have a great learning curve. At the very beginning, the commands are simple and you are told exactly how to do things. As the game goes along, the commands get more complicated, but in a gradual way. The director “Fuse” is always there to instruct you whenever something new or unfamiliar is about to happen anyway, so that makes things easier in that regard.
By the time you get to the end of the games, it’s almost as if you never even noticed a change in the difficulty. That’s how seamless the transitions are. The difficulty curve is smooth as silk here.
I must say that the actual gameplay isn’t very unique. Most music games out there today follow the “Simon Says” method of control. Just look at Parappa The Rapper and Un Jammer Lammy. All these games have commands thrown at you, and you having to copy them in some way. So here’s where the game loses points.
The environments for the games, however, are pretty original. So are the concepts in the story. I mean, aliens forcing people to dance?!? Only Sega would come up with that. Most companies are so focused on creating “real” games that they couldn’t come up with a plot this weird if they tried! That’s how you get original in a game. You go off the beaten path, come up with something cheesy and idiotic, and endear gamers to it. How else do you explain the success of a mustached plumber jumping around on turtles and eating mushrooms?
Up, Down, Up, Down, Chu! Chu! Chu!
Left, Right, Left, Right, Hey! Hey! HeyHey!
They call me Purge! Chu!
A pleasure to meet you! Chu!
I’ll make the galaxy dance for me! Down!
Dance! Don’t give him the chance! Down!
The last four lines were typed exactly from memory.
Need I say more?
Here’s the only part in the review where I say “Shame on Sega!” (Well, maybe there’s another part somewhere in here. I need to check.) Shame on you for not publishing this thing to the masses yourselves. Shame for not thinking that these games can’t draw consumer dollars alongside Crazy Taxi and Virtua Fighter. Shame, shame, shame.
And here’s the part where I thank Agetec from the bottom of my heart for picking up the rights to publish both games in one collection, and only charging $15 bucks for it. You guys are GENIUSES!
In any case, I haven’t seen any ads for this in magazines or TV, so many outside of the web might not know it exists. But for those who DO know, they’ll be drawn to it by the quirky story and memorable characters, as well as the simple yet fun play mechanics. And for those who don’t know it exists…IT DOES! GO BUY IT! IT’S LESS THAN A PLAYER’S HITS GAME! AND YOU GET TWO FRIGGIN’ GAMES! GO NOW!
Appeal Factor: 7/10
Now excuse me while I get all misty-eyed and talk about something that SC5 players can probably relate to me with: that special moment.
***WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD! SKIP DOWN TO THE FINAL SCORES IF YOU WISH NOT TO BE SPOILED!***
A special moment is created at the end of Parts 1 and 2. The parts where the music dies down and all seems lost. When all the people that Ulala saved form a gigantic crowd around the battle to support her. The people who weren’t content to just say “thank you” to Ulala and go home, no! They followed her and helped her along the way. They danced right along side her. They helped make a difference. And they all come together to rid the universe of the source of evil.
Here lies that moment. That special moment that doesn’t come very often in games, yet appears here. This moment comes when there are hundreds, nay, THOUSANDS of people of all shapes and sizes. Of all creeds and colors. Of all sorts of different species. All together, unified as they dance along with Ulala against the core of the evil. Hell, I got up out of my chair without even thinking about it and danced myself! The togetherness and love that Ulala brought to these people is being returned one hundred times over. This moment transforms the game from a quirky little adventure into an experience that should be shared with as many people as possible.
This moment officially defines Ulala as a character. She’s not just a news reporter with funky dance routines. She’s a wave of change. A catalyst of peace. She goes through the game liberating people she doesn’t even know from a force she doesn’t understand until the end. Those she liberates are inspired by this, and come with her. The change becomes stronger and stronger until even the mightiest of foes buckle underneath it. And once the evil is gone, they continue to dance with Ulala. They continue to relish in their newly found freedom. They continue to usher in a new era of living. An era of peace. And this concept…is marvelous.
Or maybe I’m just thinking too much. Either or.
***THE SPOILERS HAVE CEASED! YOU MAY CONTINUE READING UNAWARE OF THE MAJOR PLOT!***
Replay Value: 10/10
Appeal Factor: 7/10
TOTAL SCORE: 84/100 (Reviewer’s Tilt: 85)