• Space Channel 5 Part 2 Review - Sega Dreamcast

    Space Reporter Ulala once again battles cosmic ne'er do wells using the gift of dance and a sassy attitude, in her second adventure, Space Channel 5 Part 2. This time round the stakes are higher: much loved crooner and political leader Space President Peace has been kidnapped by a unknown group of cute robots called the Robo, lead by the mysterious Shadow. Good times are placed on hold until his rescue, and there is only one reporter fit for the job... no matter how much rival reporter and image-conscious upstart Pudding thinks otherwise.

    Ulala herself is the ultimate space babe, hewn from funk and clothed in plastic. Her driving enthusiasm for delivering the hippest space news is infectious, and you'll become drawn into her quest from the very beginning. Our realistically proportioned female protagonist has more universal appeal than the childishly inflated physiques of other video game heroines. While Ulala is undeniably sexy, this is not overplayed, making Space Channel 5 Part 2 a safe game to enjoy in mixed company.

    Taking a visual cue from the aspirational, forward-looking design of the Sixties, Space Channel 5 Part 2 is full of dayglo space suits, large electronic devices and curved surfaces. Ulala's future space world is plastic, optimistic and fun. The locations are similar to the first game, with large open areas that are detailed but not cluttered. A huge improvement second time round, backgrounds are now fully rendered in real-time, giving everything the same vibrant appearance. Part 1 had used streaming video, which resulted in minor sync problems and messy compression artefacts.

    As well as Space Channel 42 Reporter Pudding, Ulala meets the sultry Space Policewoman Pine, Space Channel 5 controller Space Michael (played by Michael Jackson), honourable but brooding love interest Jaguar, the villainous, disco dancing Purge, and many more besides, including cameos from most of the cast of Part 1. In total there are 120 different character biographies to unlock as people are rescued, written in an enjoyable witty style that provides heaps of back-story.

    Players help Ulala bust her moves by repeating the spoken sequences of her dancing rivals, rhythmically played out against the music. The dance sequences are entered by up, down, left, and right directions with buttons for 'chu' (shoot) to attack enemies and 'hey' to rescue friends. Visual clues to input patterns are acted out by the characters as they groove to the music, rather than being symbolically represented as found in Parappa the Rapper or Cool Cool Toon. These visual signatures evolve throughout the game, forcing the player to constantly adapt their cognitive responses.

    Dance sequences are cleverly constructed to include repeating patterns and incremental changes in tempo and timing, giving each music track and area its own natural feel. UGA have been more playful with the player's involvement second time round, Ulala now sings during some encounters, has to charge certain moves (by holding down the correct input), and can even play instruments in 'battle of the band' confrontations. Musical instruments can be played in different ways, encouraging the player to experiment.

    The game is scored using an 'audience share' rating but, unlike the first game, you only need to survive an area to progress, rather than achieve a target score. Completing an area with the full 100% is an impressive achievement - no mistakes can be made, and hidden 'chu' points need to be found during narrative intervals. Each new area begins with a set number of hearts (or lives), and you lose a heart for each mistake made. Boss encounters exchange hearts for stars, with the number of stars awarded based on the current score, so your overall performance has an effect.

    The main musical theme of Space Channel 5 Part 2 is the Mexican Flyer tune from the original game, but this time around the Sixties groove has been augmented with more styles, including Classical, Easy Listening, and Dance. As characters are rescued they join Ulala, and special characters lead the troupe with their own dance moves, adding new layers to the music. No other game will give you a grin as big or sloppy as when a group of cheerleaders chant 'Go! Go! Channel 5!' twirling their pompoms around.

    UGA has made sure Part 2 is packed with extras and unlockables, including forty different costumes and eight replacement microphones for Ulala. Complete the main story mode, and you unlock a harder version with tighter input timing and different characters to rescue. The new Ulala Dance Mode is a non-stop battle, with one hundred sequences from the first game and no margin for error, testing the best of players. Also new is a decent but limited co-operative mode, where player one controls directions and player two controls the 'chu' and 'hey' buttons.

    Originally released in Japan for both the Dreamcast and Playstation 2, the Dreamcast version is technically superior, as it doesn't suffer from the poor interlacing of the PS2 edition. Sega also released a luxurious Dreamcast boxset including a 'galaxy bag', fluffy silver headphones, and a clock for early orders. A European Dreamcast release was pencilled in but abandoned, leaving the Western PS2 release the only English language version of the game. It's a brilliant translation too, voiced by Apollo Smile and most of the original cast. Fortunately the Japanese release is perfectly playable, although some story details are lost.

    Space Channel 5 Part 2 is a skilfully crafted rhythm action game, but it is also more than that. The sheer amount of enthusiasm and devotion pumped into this title is palpable, and involves you in a very immediate way. Completing the story mode is a compelling, joyful experience, with the most uplifting finale seen in any video game. UGA have worked hard to make Space Channel 5 Part 2 a heart-warming experience, and succeeded in crafting a game that has direct emotional impact.

    A review by Richard Davies