"Visually and musically, Space Channel 5 for the Dreamcast was an experience. However, as a rhythmic video game, it fell flat on its face. I'm not talking about the Simon Says gameplay, where you copy the dance moves your opponent does, no, I'm talking about actually trying to play the game. Unlike many rhythm games that give you on-screen indicators, telling you when to press certain buttons, SC5 rarely does that. You're left with having to time when to press specific buttons based entirely on w..."
Visually and musically, Space Channel 5 for the Dreamcast was an experience. However, as a rhythmic video game, it fell flat on its face. I'm not talking about the Simon Says gameplay, where you copy the dance moves your opponent does, no, I'm talking about actually trying to play the game. Unlike many rhythm games that give you on-screen indicators, telling you when to press certain buttons, SC5 rarely does that. You're left with having to time when to press specific buttons based entirely on when they were presented during the song. Basically, you had to put your faith into the developers, believing that they programmed a solid timing detection. They did not. There were always moments when I would follow the dance patterns the way they where shown, at the exact moments they flowed with the song. You'd think that would be enough, right? The game didn't think so, because it would normally reject my version and take away a piece of my health. This was made more aggravating thanks to the Dreamcast controller's shoddy d-pad.
Diving into the game again, two years later, in Space Channel 5 Special Edition, I was hoping for a different experience. The PlayStation 2 controller is much sturdier than the horribly-designed Dreamcast controller, so I was expecting a more comfortable playthrough. Thankfully, I was right, and was even surprised when I ended up making it to the final stage before losing on my first play. What a difference a controller makes. That doesn't mean I made it through without any problems, though. Disappointingly, the timing detection is the same, so while the controls have been improved, the gameplay is still just as screwed up as it was on the Dreamcast...
Space Channel Part 2, the second game in Special Edition, is really what the first game should have been from the start. The music is a hell of a lot more catchy, and the settings, this time in real-time 3D, are more pleasing to the eyes. The FMV backdrops in the first was a neat trick, but when actual 3D characters are thrown in front of them, the two just don't mix that great. It also looks like the developers actually hired a dance choreographer (or at least a better one), because the dance sequences are better staged and coordinated. Seriously, you get synchronized swimmers during a guitar battle and perform a waltz against a giant, robotic flower. In the same stage! The dancing in the first game wasn't terrible, but it's nice to actually see dancers act like dancers, and not people who just know a couple of moves. The developers even went the distance to add two player support and a mode where you have to survive 100 dance sequences without messing up.
This game sounds great.
But the timing sequences are still broken.
People can make the argument that this adds challenge to the Space Channel 5 series, that by repeated playthroughs, you'll eventually get it right. But there's a problem with that argument: you don't even know what you did wrong to begin with. When you watch the opposing dancers perform their moves, copy them just as they did it, then hear the dreadful "boing!", signalling that you somehow messed up, you really don't have a clue how wrong you did it. Did you perform it a millisecond early or a millisecond late? Imagine playing Super Mario Bros. for the first time, with no knowledge of what the game's layout looks like. Now picture Mario being the only visible thing on screen, and everything else, the background, objects, and enemies, are in the dark. Not a very pleasant experience, is it?
What I'm getting at is this: if you're going to try something different with the genre, make sure you get it right. In this particular case, when gameplay is normally based on memorization, timing, hearing, and visual aids, and you then take away one of these elements (visual aids), it needs to be handled with care in order to be pulled off successfully. The Space Channel 5 games are perfect examples of what happens when you screw that up. If you want a good rhythm title, go look elsewhere, but if you want to watch a game, buy this and enter the auto play code. It's actually quite entertaining to watch than to play.
Community review by pickhut (October 02, 2009)
Pick any sci-fi game from the 1980s and you're likely to spot an Alien reference.
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