da BEEF'S EPIC AND LONG AWAITED RETURN TO VIDEO GAME REVIEWS
Space Channel 5
developed by United Games Artists, published by Sega
available on Sega Dreamcast and Sony PlayStation 2
Space Channel 5 is a game about television. Its communicative strength as a demonstrative tool, and the inherent dangers of its misuse. It makes some sly commentary about the small screen by combining its two undeniable epitomes; televised journalism (the noble kind, the only purpose of which is to serve the loyal viewer with imperative information) and... music videos!
I love it when games have a specific idea that is coherently seen and expressed in all aspects of the design. For instance, in Space Channel 5 the mimicry powers of television are not only basis for the game's narrative, but its core mechanic as well.
The plot follows Ulala (she and I share a birthday, according to the instruction manual
), a news reporter employed by Space Channel 5 as she takes on a mysterious race of brainwashing, monitors-for-heads aliens known as Morolians. The conflict? The aliens have invaded and are forcing people... to dance? The only way to stop these miscreants is to beat them at their own game; out-dance their intergalactic moves until their little alien booties can shake no more.
Copy the aliens' dance moves to win and look great doing it.
So if you've played at the very least a variant
of Simon says, you'll get the idea. Only difference, Space Channel 5 is also a rhythm game, so to progress Ulala will have to match both the order and
timing of the Morolians' dances. If an alien says "Up," you press up on the d-pad. If they say "Up, up... left," you press up, up... left. Shooting is also involved and controlled by given commands. Gun down galactic scum and rescue groovy victims with your dual-pistols, a face button controlling each.
Shoot to defeat the aliens and rescue the hypnotized humans.
Each level culminates with a "boss" fight, essentially a more challenging rhythm section where Ulala gets a health meter, represented by a number of hearts. If you screw up, you lose a heart. Lose all your hearts and you'll have to restart. I didn't find these bosses or the levels in general particularly challenging, but they are all designed very well, and a few sections were tough enough that I had to (joyously) attempt them multiple times. The game can still be completed in an hour or so, even the first time through, but this is by no means a detriment. The game doesn't need to be any longer at all, the fun and rewarding rhythm received from joining together sexy dance moves never gets old. I also find replaying this game extremely accessible and enjoyable, specifically because of its brevity. Finishing a game in one sitting is a special experience, and I relish re-entering the world of Space Channel 5. Its retro-future style and Ulala's go-go boots never cease to completely charm, and if I've got the time (which again is likely) I can see it through to the fantastic finale.
Space Channel 5 is an unforgettable game with wonderful music, art, and style all its own. It left me with a good funky feeling, and still makes me think about why television is important, and what it can show. Oh, and did I mention it has Michael Jackson?
Space Michael is awesome. This game is awesome.