Space Channel 5: Part 2 review: Are you a bad enough chick to rescue the space president?

Space Channel 5: Part 2[originally posted at Total PlayStation]

The premise for Space Channel 5: Part 2 sounds like something out of a fevered nightmare following an extended binge on dance music videos and The Jetsons. You manipulate Ulala, star reporter of Space Channel 5, as she attempts to save the space president and the entire galaxy from an evil mastermind who wants to mind-control everyone into dancing against their will. Along the way you’ll pick up assistance from various space citizens bedecked in retro space gear, funky aliens, and Space Michael. Michael Jackson, that is.

Space Channel 5: Part 2 finds its way to American PlayStation 3s as a PSN downloadable title after a complicated publishing history. Long story short, the original version of this game and its predecessor, the implicit Part 1, were Dreamcast titles developed by the short-lived second-party Sega studio United Game Artists under the direction of one Tetsuya Mizuguchi (who would later go on to design such synesthetic titles as Rez, Lumines and Child of Eden). Now Part 2 is available to a new generation of groovy dancers as part of Sega’s Dreamcast Collection line.

Naturally, the only way to combat evil space robots and save helpless hostages through the power of dance is with a rhythm game. Following in the tradition of spiritual ancestors like PaRappa the Rappa, Space Channel 5: Part 2 is all about matching your opponents’ moves by pressing buttons in time to the music, all of which is catchy. The game is pretty simple even by rhythm game standards, with only four directional inputs and two command buttons to rely on. Despite playing like a flashy version of Simon, it will keep you on your (tapping) toes by mixing up the tempo and forcing you to pay attention to the visuals just as much as the pulsing beats. Still, the game is neither very hard nor long, and the story can be easily beaten in a single sitting. Extras like a survival mode, 2-player co-operative play and unlockable outfits and items will give music game enthusiasts a reason to come back for more.

While the voice acting is decidedly campy and can be forgiven for its amateurishness, at times it’s hard to distinguish between “left” and “right” for some reason. It’s also difficult to pin down the exact rhythm during intense moments, and something like a visual indicator would have been helpful in a game so reliant on musical timing. The game’s visuals have been updated to support more modern widescreen and high-definition displays, but jagged edges are quite evident throughout the experience – it would have been nice to have some added anti-aliasing to smooth things out a bit. Sadly, all the cutscenes and an important endgame sequence are pre-rendered, meaning they’ll display in ugly compressed videos in a pillarboxed window, which is a stark contrast to the crisper real-time visuals. It’s definitely jarring and a shame they couldn’t be reworked for this release.

Space Channel 5: Part 2 is flashy, flamboyant, funky, and most importantly of all, fun. It sacrifices substance to layer on thick levels of style, but what’s there is definitely a unique experience even amongst the small family of Japanese rhythm games. Anyone who enjoys music video games will find quite the treat dancing along with Ulala and Space Michael. Like a piece of bubblegum, Space Channel 5: Part 2 is sweet and fun and done before you know it, and at a budget price to match, this is one title that’s easy to recommend to fans of rhythm games. For everyone else, it’s a bit of a tough sell.