In the last few years music games have seen a big rise in popularity thanks to the likes of Dancing Stage, Singstar, Guitar hero and Rock Band. While the genre has reached its peak in terms of popularity it would be wrong to forget the games that built up one of the biggest money makers in gaming today.
Released for SEGA's Dreamcast in 2000, Space channel 5 can best be described as the video game equivalent of 1970's memory game Simon were you had to remember a sequence and repeat it after it finished, it is a "listen and repeat" game that has you listen to actions and copy them with the correct timing.
The game is set at the end of the 25th century, a race of alines known as Morolians have suddenly invaded earth, taken its people hostage and are forcing them to daaaaance. Space Channel 5 reporter Ulala is sent in to shoot aliens, rescue hostages and find out why they invaded in the first place.
Space channel 5 is unique to say the least, the game has a futuristic theme but it also has this dated feel to it, the game is a bit Austin Powers to say the least. Not to say that is a bad thing I love the idea of getting into the grove with Ulala in what may be one of the most charming games I have ever played.
The music is the games most important aspect and I have to say it is that it is phenomenal, the music is just really strong and it gets you in the perfect mood for the game with its Jazz and Bass.
For what the gameplay is it's pretty flawless. It is like Simon, the sounds play in a order and you repeat them, only here you have 6 buttons instead of 4. The sync between the gameplay and music is spot on. The game itself is memorable thanks to that charm alone it has this campness to it that you just can't help but like, at the same time it is also what keeps you going. Space Channel 5 is a game that requires your full attention, mistakes are very costly in this game, if you mess up the routine you will lose a life and will have no way to recover from that mistake until the next commands are made. The games goal is to try and get to the end of the stage with a high view rating, Ulala's report show will be taken of air if it does not meet expected view ratings. Your rating is affected by how well you are doing, do well and people become interested in your TV show, do badly and you will be taken off air (you will also be taken off air if you lose all of your lives in a boss fight). The music is like this to, do well and the music stays upbeat and in tune, do badly and the music goes completely out of tune and Ulala just limps off to the next section.
Each stage has an order of events, most of the stage will see you fighting off aliens and saving earthlings, near the end of the stage you will be faced with a sub-boss where you have a dance off, at the end of each stage you fight the boss by dancing and shooting. Throughout the game you will also save hostages, depending on who you save they will either just follow and mimic Ulala or preform a special action, a good example of this is late in the game when you save Space Michael Jackson (yeah, I forgot to mention Michael Jackson worked on this game with sega) and everyone starts copying his actions. Some of the rescued hostages change the music, for example if you rescue a guitarist the music then has an electric guitar to go with its mix or jazz and bass, even though these things are temporary you sure do appreciate it.
Between each stage you see some full motion video cutscenes but these are uninteresting and break up the gameplay so you are just best off skipping them and going straight to the next stage. While the game seems all well and good there are some areas that ruin the experience slightly, along with the cutscenes there is also the length, Space channel 5 has only four stages and takes an hour to complete the first time, thankfully after you complete the game you unlock the extra mode which see's you doing all 4 stages again only this time the stages have new areas, again this takes roughtly an hour and it isn't much harder than the regular game, so in all Space Channel 5 takes less than 3 hours to complete so I can't recommend paying a lot of money for it, the game offers replay value in the form of saving all earthlings but besides that once the novelty has worn off there isn't anything else to make you continue playing.
Graphically the the game is good for Dreamcast standards but there is one thing that bothers me, all the character models are 3D but everything else like the backgrounds are pre-rendered or full motion video which does create some problems at times, I dislike how there are sometimes enemies or things that are placed in really awkward looking postitions because the back grounds are all pre-rendered, I know games like Resident Evil were all pre-rendered backgrounds but with them there was still some sense of interaction, Ulala could be dancing on a white background for all I care and the game would still play exactly the same, that may not be much of a bad thing but it does make the backgrounds feel "fake".
Space Channel 5 is a really enjoyable game, SEGA was put up with a hard task when having to make a game that appealed to both male games and women who didn't really play games. With bags of charm, great gameplay and a groovy soundtrack Space Channel 5 is a game that should be in most Dreamcast collections.