If there’s one thing that I love about rhythm games, it’s that whenever one of them has a story mode, it’s going to be balls-to-the-wall crazy. Usually, the plot revolves around saving the world through the power of dance, with everything from the Japanese cheer squads to virtual pop stars leading the way.
United Game Artists and Sega’s Space Channel 5 Part 2 is no stranger to the weird and wacky world of rhythm games, and it’s a weird ride that deserves to be played again and again thanks to its quirky cast, infectious musical soundtrack, and deceptively simple controls.
Dance the Night Away
As the title implies, Space Channel 5 Part 2 is the sequel to the 1999 Dreamcast title. Why would you play this one first, you might ask? For one, the original hasn’t really seen many re-releases since the initial Dreamcast one, whereas Part 2 got an HD re-release in the beginning of the decade on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. (That said, there’s a PS2 compilation that combines both games together for a pretty cheap price, though keep in mind the first game in this package has a glaring issue with timing and input latency).
Simon Says, “Chu, Chu, Chu!”
Space Channel 5 Part 2 is a game of Simon on steroids. In each segment, you’ll have to mimic the opposing dancer by “up, down, left, right” commands, “chu” (a blaster button), and “hey” (a button that rescues bystanders). While it may seem easy at first, the game ramps up in later stages by adding more complex sequences and visual distractions to make sure you’re listening properly. The gameplay system is something that you could actually do with a dance pad, yet it does call for some surprisingly complex memorization skills as you keep playing. The soundtrack is appropriately exciting and happy, with it being easily stuck in your head once you stop playing.
Ulala is the main character of the game, who’s also the main reporter of the titular Space Channel 5. When her friend and fellow rival reporter Jaguar gets mysteriously captured, an evil organization known as the Rhythm Rogues takes over. Led by the flamboyant but furious Purge, these baddies wreak havoc, and it’s up to Ulala to stop them. It’s a plot that seems straightforward at first, and to be honest, it is, but then it exploits the weirdness to its advantage.
A Colorful Cast of Characters, and… THE KING OF POP?
The cast of characters of Space Channel 5 is unique and zany and feels right at home with the camp 60s/70s aesthetic. Ulala is reminiscent of a go-go dancer, with her other rival Pudding sporting a weirdly interesting beehive hairstyle. (Think Charlie’s Angels or Totally Spies with a little more pizazz). The characters have a strangely alluring personality to them, from the president being a cheesy male damsel in distress to Purge being an affably evil villain. There are also some minor bystanders that you’ll save with your “hey” command that get some dialogue, and it is all gloriously fun.
Oh right, it also has Michael Jackson.
No, seriously: he voices a character in the game.
While he was featured in the first game as a cameo dancer near the end, in Space Channel 5 Part 2, Space Michael gets to shine. Featuring his trademark dance moves, signature “Hoo!” chants, and just displaying a… uniquely realistic face model (for the time, I guess), he is probably the biggest reason that people who don’t know what this game is all about will check it out.
It’s a surprise celebrity appearance that actually holds some narrative weight, and I’m here for it. (Interestingly enough, he’s so popular that the Japanese version of the game doesn’t have a separate voice actor for him; instead, his dialogue is subtitled, because who could replace the King of Pop himself?)
Play it Again!
Probably one of the genuine cons of the game is that it’s pretty short, clocking in at under two hours if you don’t fail any missions. However, once you beat the game, you unlock a second playthrough. While it follows the same beats narratively, the sequences are more difficult and there are minor details like name changes and different bystanders to save that will have you replaying the game immediately. It’s one of those games you can play through in one sitting, put back on the shelf, and then come back to when you want to bust a groove again.
Put simply, Space Channel 5 Part 2 is a game that oozes campiness but also is one packaged in a pretty cool rhythm game. While there hasn’t been a full-blown sequel after this title (though Grounding Inc. will release a VR reimagining of Space Channel 5 soon), I hope that everyone has a chance to experience the weirdly wonderful joy that can only come from shooting robots in time with a dance battle.