Space Channel 5 Part 2

By Jamie Love - December 8th, 2008


Good morning, fellow thumbs! Do you know what day it is? It’s Super Happy Happy Mega-Fun Monday!

We here at Toronto Thumbs know that there are so many ways you’d prefer to spend today rather than going to (or being at) work. Perhaps starting your car with the windows down and the garage door sealed? But before you go tripping the monoxide-fantastic, why not let us sway your will to live with the lighthearted remembrance of games past…

Today we finally pay an overdue visit to the age of Dreamcast, unfortunate proof that the light burning twice as bright, burns half as long – at least in the West. The revolution still lives on in the hearts of all those of the DCUnderground, those true believers waiting for the opportunity to dream again. And who can blame them? The Dreamcast represented a wealth of titles, overwhelming gamers with a return to rich, vibrant color palettes and worlds of unseen depth and unique mechanics. Truly, this was my Woodstock.

Despite a North American launch focused on extending Sega’s well-worn Sonic franchise, it wasn’t the blue blur that represented the revolution for me, but rather a pink-haired angel. Space Channel 5’s irrepressible reporter Ulala and her Swinging Report Show delivered a retro inspired future that took the rhythm genre beyond quirky escapism. It was still rooted in the Simon-inspired act of sequence repetition via colors and sounds. But it also represented the emergence of Tetsuya Mizuguchi as a true auteur within the gaming industry, continuing to develop titles that merge visual and audio sensations to reach deeper into the player and create tactile experiences. It’s an accomplishment that’s difficult to explain, ultimately requiring the player’s physical involvement to instill comprehension. The rhythm is simply infectious, creating a game that parts ways with previous two dimensional offerings through an undeniable sense of style, almost certainly accomplished via the transmission of signals to the brain that by-pass the conscious.

Space Channel 5 concluded with Ulala out-dancing every foe and saving the galaxy from robotic reporters – insert your media slur here. She even prevailed in a lawsuit filed by Deee-Lite’s Lady Miss Kier regarding similarities in the two women’s choice of footwear and fondness for short skirts. But since this is the gaming industry, the only thing to do after saving the universe is to do it all over again. By that time North American audiences had already voted with their wallets, truly getting what they paid for as the Dreamcast abandoned Western shores to live on in Japan, with limited game releases still on the radar today. Not only did this deprive us of a SHMUP renaissance with titles like Zero Gunner 2, Under Defeat, and Trigger Heart Exelica to name but a few, but it also kept Space Channel 5 Part 2 a strictly Japanese affair on the Dreamcast.

Though this was long before Patapon introduced strategy dynamics to the stilted rhythm genre, Ulala’s sequel didn’t simply reproduce the original. The core game-play remained, players able to Up, Down, Left, Right, Hey, Chu, Chu all over again. But the game sought to push the boundaries with additions such as instrument segments – semi-boss encounters that replaced normal dance moves with guitar and drum playing. A more interesting element was the introduction of charged moves via extended button presses enabling longer notes – CHUUUUUUUUUUUU!

Television ratings still served as a life gauge, but where players previously required a percentage of viewers to complete a level, boss encounters now had ratings converted into stars, essentially allowing players to survive an encounter rather than gain leverage for the following level. The change was similar to the removal of time limits in Jet Set Radio Future, one that perhaps streamlined game-play but also simplified the experience for some. The addition of two-player mode was perplexing, designed as a co-op feature where one player controlled Ulala’s directions, the other her actions. It played to the idea of timing and co-operation, but was far from the two-player competition expected.

Where Part 2 exceeds its predecessor most is in presentation. The awkward sequencing of the original was replaced by a focussed attempt at maintaining a progressive flow of narrative with rhythm, dispelling the notion that all rhythm games required terribly executed cut-scenes to develop plot. This time around terrorists were again bent on forcing the world to dance. Lead by the mastermind Purge, The Rhythm Rogues kidnap Space President Peace and work to construct a master dance weapon to control the universe. In the defence of freedom players confront singing robots, waltzing plants, the space police and a dancing mega-robot all working to cancel Space Channel 5 – return cameo from Michael Jackson included.

It’s difficult to define a game that plays with the senses to feed a subconscious experience. On occasions where I’ve introduced friends to the Dreamcast library, both entries in the Space Channel series are always played for hours. Watching friends get upset when Ulala misses the rhythm and visibly becomes depressed never ceases to amaze me. The game taunts players with off-tone music and lacklustre moves as a consequence of missed sequences. Alternatively, watching Ulala catch the rhythm and break into additional moves infuses the will to succeed. The game feeds players a concoction of visual and audio highs, those Ulala rescues along the way forming a team of support that rallies players forward. These nuances drip with personality and detail, every subsequent level raising the intensity and spectacle before ending on the highest possible note.

At first available only overseas, Space Channel 5 Part 2 was eventually packaged with the original and released as the budget priced PS2 exclusive Space Channel 5 Special Edition on this side of the globe. And though I find issue with the timing response of the original within this edition, the second instalment is well represented with a much appreciated English translation. So while I go sign yet another online petition for Space Channel 5 Part 3, I recommend experiencing the series, particularly Part 2. After all, if Ulala can’t cheer you up, well I’m afraid you’re just dead inside.

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    4 responses so far:
  2. Posted on Dec 8, 2008

    I have had total withdrawl since someone
    *cough* Jamie *cough* took back his dreamcast that I was borrowing!

    I even named my pet rat after one of the characters, Jaguar, because of the amazing way he’s introduced which I repeat everytime someone new meets my rat.

    But this game really is an experience in colour and sound. You really get into it, moving your whole body with the music and genuinely involving yourself. The colour aspect is actually really involving it puts you into a trance.

    At one point a warning comes across the bottom of the screen warning the player to make sure that there is a light on in the room and that you’re not sitting too close to the t.v. to avoid becoming hypnotized.

    Crazy good game, and excellent review Jamie!

  3. Posted on Dec 9, 2008

    I don’t know how anyone could have read this without wanting to play some Space Channel 5. Now to hunt down that PS2 collection…

  4. Posted on Dec 9, 2008

    Shaun I find it everyonce in a while at EBgames. They disappear and then suddenly I’ll see a copy every time I go for a few months.

    But it really is amazing in everyway!

  5. Posted on Dec 9, 2008

    Sweet! Thanks for the heads-up!

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