Sega’s cult classic dancing game returns on PSVR, but after almost two decades in the wilderness does Ulala still have the right moves?
Now that Sonic The Hedgehog has been a big success at the cinema (no, we can’t believe it either) you can guarantee that as we speak Hollywood executives are combing through Sega’s back catalogue looking for other games to adapt and create a doomed-to-failure Sega cinematic universe. One that may well catch their attention is Space Channel 5; the Dreamcast’s neo-hued dance game, whose main character Ulala remain a fan favourite despite this being her first new game in 18 years.
Space Channel 5 was amongst the earliest releases for Sega’s doomed Dreamcast console in 1999. Designed by Rez creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi and his team, it was intended to help attract a less hardcore gaming demographic, and specifically to appeal to women. Somewhat patronisingly, it did that by putting you in the boots of Ulala, a candy-coloured sassy female TV presenter from the near future.
Her job was reporting on an alien invasion using the medium of dance. First you watched a group of dancing space invaders, then copied their moves by hitting the correct buttons in time to the music, very much in the call and response style of PaRappa The Rapper, which had been released for PlayStation two years earlier. It proved to be a winning formula and developer Grounding Inc. (responsible for disappointing Panzer Dragoon homage Crimson Dragon) has clearly decided not to mess with it.
In Space Channel 5 VR Kinda Funky News Flash! you’re a trainee reporter receiving your journalistic education from Ulala herself. That has two effects: one is that you get to watch Ulala performing the moves you’re supposed to copy, just in case seeing the aliens doing them isn’t enough. The other is that it gives the game a bit of personality. The aliens are still flat textured and don’t tend to talk much, so Ulala acts as your guide and interpreter for the typically surreal invasion plot.
The dance moves themselves are relatively straightforward. Instead of hitting a button to match the aliens’ gestures, you now use Move controllers. There’s no DualShock option, so if you don’t have Move controllers you can’t play. But for those who do, dancing with them is perfectly natural, even if the PlayStation VR’s occasionally finicky motion tracking means the game will sometimes register a mistake when you’ve performed a move perfectly well. Make three consecutive errors – whether real or imagined – and you’re sent back to the start of the level.
As well as flinging your hands in the same direction as the aliens, and adopting their poses, you’ll also need to dodge left, right, and downwards. That means Space Channel 5 is a game you can only play standing up, but it’s a price worth paying. Seeing the aliens’ laser beams and punches projecting towards you as you expertly sidestep them just in time, works beautifully and most certainly adds to the sense of immersion.
With all its arm waving and colourful visuals Space Channel 5 VR is actually more reminiscent of fellow Sega classic, Samba De Amigo, even if it turns out not to be nearly so much fun. Not that the dancing is bad per se, more that it’s quite limited in terms of the moves you need to do.
The bigger problem though, is that you can quite easily see all of its meagre four levels in under half an hour. It might take a bit longer if you keep making mistakes, but even for the most gaff-prone trainee reporter, this is highly unlikely to distract you for more than an hour.
That wouldn’t be so bad if it cost a fiver, but this is close to full price. Yes, each level has ‘secrets’ but those turn out simply to be circles that appear briefly in the air in front of you and need to be hit before they vanish. They add nothing to the gameplay and certainly don’t create any replayability. It’s a real shame, because the basics are all here, they just don’t lead anywhere.
The game’s beats are never less than funky, Mizuguchi’s campy, neon-hewn extraterrestrials remain charming enough, and the transition to VR works really nicely, especially when you’re dodging alien bosses’ attacks. However, with so little content it’s impossible not to feel let down. In its heyday Space Channel 5 had plenty to do, and a far greater level of challenge. This plays more like a tutorial than a full game.
Space Channel 5 VR Kinda Funky News Flash! review summary
In Short: Space Channel 5’s dancing aliens and high camp work well in VR, but with only around half an hour of gameplay this represents astoundingly poor value for money.
Pros: Funky tunes, colourful visuals, and good use of the PlayStation Move controllers.
Cons: Motion sensing proves distinctly patchy, and the game is so short you’ve barely got started before you’ll be playing its interactive credits sequence.
Formats: PlayStation VR
Publisher: Grounding Inc.
Developer: Grounding Inc.
Release Date: 26th February 2020
Age Rating: 7
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