Wildcard Wednesday: Space Channel 5
Posted by Ken Barnes
Up, down, left, right, chu, chu, chu!
Wildcard Wednesday is where we open up the floor to one of our writers to talk about any game that they have fond memories of, on any platform. From Pole Position on the Atari 2600, through to Journey on the PS3, no game is off the table. This week, Ken boogies on down to talk about the iconic Space Channel 5 on the Dreamcast.
Almost a year after the Dreamcast hit the store shelves, and by which time the machine was already on the rocks, Sega finally decided that they’d release Space Channel 5 to an unsuspecting British public. The fact that it had taken them six months to translate the Japanese edition for the American market, and then a further four months to master the European version was a bone of contention for some, but when the game finally did land, it really struck a chord with some.
The gameplay could be described as insanity itself. Set 500 years in the future, pink-haired rookie news reporter Ulala has to face off against the invading Morolian race, who are kidnapping innocent people and forcing them to dance. Defeating the aliens is a simple matter of mimicking the inputs called out by the aliens, with a particular focus being on timing. To throw a spanner into the works, rival reporter Pudding shows up to cause you problems also. Each level is presented as being an episode of Ulala’s Swingin’ Report Show. Your goal is keep your show rating up by performing successful moves. Failing to do so affects your rating and if you hit 0%, the show is over.
Describing why Space Channel 5 holds such a special place in my heart is difficult. At its own heart, the game is nothing more than a technologically advanced version of Simon. The CPU throws out a set of dance moves (translated to simple button presses), and you must hit the buttons in the same order and with the same timing. Things start out easily, with the occasional tricky phrase thrown in to prevent you from resting on your laurels. Once you get further into the game though, the inputs become faster and greater in number, so the challenge is really ramped up.
But that’s about it as far as the nuances of the gameplay go.
The fact is that my love for Space Channel 5 comes from the presentation. Ulala is resplendent and certainly memorable in her futuristic bright orange cropped top and skirt, and “memorable” is the word that I’d use to describe pretty much everything else when it comes to the game’s aesthetics. The soundtrack well and truly has its feet firmly planted in the 1960s, stood right next to Austin Powers, yet mixes in some driving modern beats that somehow seem to work beautifully. So much so, that I’ve still got the soundtrack loaded into iTunes for when I fancy a trip back in time without having to fire up the Dreamcast.
My favourite memory of the game came as a friend and I teamed up to finally complete it. We battled through the later levels, taking in turns, switching the controller as we failed time and again to get our timing right, eventually reaching the final level.
Oh, that final level. You’re leading hundreds of people in a dance – complete with Michael Jackson (called “Space Michael” in the game) as you strive to defeat the Morolian’s once and for all. It’s a perfect example of how to build a game up to a stunning finish. Things start small, but more people join your troupe and the game’s commands are barked out by more and more voices until you’re suddenly being shouted at by seemingly the entire planet. When we finally finished that level and the screen faded to black, my friend and I could do nothing but say “wow.”
With perfect timing, of course.
The graphical style, the audio, and the simple but very challenging gameplay come together perfectly. As someone that would marry anyone with pink hair right out of the gate, who loves design, who salivates at the thought of the entire world being made in neon colours, and who is a sucker for big dumb music games, it’s as if Space Channel 5 was made exclusively for me. It might only take an hour or so to complete if you beat each level without failing, but there are games featuring forty and fifty times that much gameplay that haven't been as memorable to me as this.
The sequel was re-released on Xbox Live Arcade and is definitely worth checking out, although Sega is missing a trick by not getting the original lined up. Ulala has appeared in a few games since, but Sega seems to have abandoned the franchise other than that. This makes me cry.
Did you ever play Space Channel 5? Maybe you fired up the sequel on XBLA? Let us know your memories of the game in the comments.