Genre: Rhythm Developer: United Game Artists Publisher: Sega Ent. Players: 1 Released: 2000
In the far-off future of the near 26th-century, interstellar news stations are in heavy competition for -what else? – higher and higher ratings. It is at the station Space Channel 5 that we join the groovy and always cool reporter Ulala. Her assignment? To cover the in-progress invasion of the Morolian army that is forcing its helpless victims to dance! Armed only with her microphone, guns, and funky moves Ulala sets out to get the scoop and rescue the hostages. Over the course of four stages, a sinister plot will be unraveled as well as the true nature of the Morolians and their motives.
Space Channel 5 is a rhythm game that is based on a simple call and response system using only two buttons and the direction pad. Ulala enters every stage reporting on the situation and getting into dance battles with all sorts of colorful aliens and people. The controls are as simple as it gets, matching the commands shouted out, but it takes a good sense of rhythm and quick reactions to keep up. The game does a great job of mixing up situations and pushing the limits of how much you can memorize in a single sequence before easing off, especially when Ulala meets a fellow reporter or end boss and engages in a duel. As you rescue more and more hostages, Ulala eventually has a whole army of backup dancers following behind her matching her moves. By making it through with as few mistakes as possible and rescuing the hostages, the station’s ratings will increase. These get converted to hearts that act as a life gauge as the stage goes on, but if you don’t finish the level with the minimum ratings needed, it’s the end for Space Channel 5’s airtime. Every dance battle remains the same though so even if you struggle keeping a beat, a little persistence will get most players through each checkpoint.
Sporting a retro-futuristic look straight out of The Jetsons, Space Channel 5 is a rhythm adventure that has no shortage of style. The main theme, “Mexican Flyer,” is as much straight out of the swinging ‘60s as the fashion of the reporters and everyone you meet. The future, it turns out, is filled with bright colors, bell bottoms, platform shoes, and jetpacks. The game itself uses a large amount of pre-rendered footage. The layering, camera angles, and shadows used do a great job of mixing the video with the in-game models but there are moments when the illusion doesn’t entirely work.
A rhythm game is only as strong as its soundtrack, however, and it’s here that the game excels. The music is pure ‘60s style brass, big band sound with funky beats that fits right in with the retro-future look. The audio cues and structure of the songs match up well with the dance battles, making the challenge of keeping a beat without any visual icons much more manageable. I love the touches put in each stage, like the extra instrumentation added when you rescue someone playing a guitar or saxophone.
If there’s a major flaw that needs to be addressed, it’s the overall lacking amount of content. No matter how you cut it, only four stages is far from ideal, and it’s clear in how quickly the story has to wrap up that there could’ve been a bit more. I’m sure the heavy usage of video footage in every level is a big reason for how short the adventure is, but even adding in one or two more stages would’ve been greatly appreciated. There is an incentive to return though, with an unlockable hard mode, as well as alternate paths to take in the levels. Getting a perfect rating and rescuing everyone in each of the stages is the main incentive to keep coming back. All the civilians you rescue have personal profile descriptions and backstories to unlock as well. It’s fun to read about just what that weird saxophone-playing space pirate is up to. The king of pop himself Michael Jackson even makes an appearance as a hostage with all his signature dance moves intact!
While the length can come across as a shock at first, there is an appeal to revisiting the adventure in the same way you might go back to a favorite album. The unique premise of Space Channel 5 and its groovy style have held up well over the years. Ulala has since become one of the most beloved characters Sega has created and her initial adventure is worth checking out. As the game itself so eloquently states in the credits, Space Channel 5 is for all people who love music, dance, and games.
SCORE: 8 out of 10