Space Channel 5 VR | MHG Review

Space Channel 5 VR

Here to save the galaxy once again, intrepid intergalactic reporter Ulala (in no way based on Lady Miss Kier, guv) returns… and this time she’s Virtual! Debuting on Dreamcast way back in space year 1999, rhythm action game Space Channel 5 was a popular little release but, after a few ports and a sequel, disappeared into a wormhole for nigh-on two decades. Kinda Funky News Flash (KFNF) picks up the mic to continue the legacy…but was it worth the wait?

The pesky Morolians are back: a groovy alien race determined to conquer the universe by, erm, forcing people to dance. Putting on the headset and selecting one of the game modes, you inhabit the body of a plucky young reporter. The iconic Ulala – kittenish veteran of the boogie wars – jive-battles alongside your avatar to defeat the alien menace. 

Just like the old games, KFNF  is all about the style. It’s a retro-futuristic look combining Go-Go dancing, miniskirts and Sixties funk with chunky robotics, bright colours and a kind of euphoric optimism; The Jetsons mixed with Austin Powers. You compete against the aliens using straightforward arm positioning, for the most part: the Morolians strike several poses – based on old dance moves like The Watusi, but simplified down to just a few gestures – which you have to imitate using the Playstation Move controllers. 

There’s also head tracking, with some moves requiring you to bob out of the way of ray gun beams, and you can send cosmic blasts to stun the Morolians by thrusting the Move controllers towards the camera. This is accompanied by Ulala’s signature “Chu! Chu! Chu!” exclamation and it’s all very upbeat and silly.

You’ll quickly settle into the game’s rhythm, but this is where the problems start appearing. For a start, many poses require you to jab the controller into the same position several times to match the beat, but the PSVR system is not sophisticated enough to track that movement, and you can simply hold the Move in the same position instead. Sure, you can make the movements anyway if you like, but that’s making your own fun rather than conforming to the game mechanics.

As for the music, it’s just sort of… there. There are no stand-out, memorable tracks. Each one is in the style of Quincy Jones’s Soul Bossa Nova but without the hook and, for me, it all just blended together into one long, kitschy backing track. 

To drive another nail in the coffin, the game is short. Incredibly short. You can see yourself through both Arcade Mode and Story Mode within about an hour for both, leaving the Trial Dance option as the last nugget of content left to mine. This is an endurance mode where you have to complete 100 dance moves in a row, and stands out as the best option in the game as it presents the greatest challenge (uninterrupted by cut scenes, to boot). Even this mode is marred by the tracking and how easy it is to game the system, though: I’m pretty terrible at VR music games, but managed a staggering 94% score in Trial Dance on my first try.

A few other menu options remain, but they’re peripheral. There’s a character model viewer, a dressing room to switch Ulala’s costume colour plus a couple of other distractions but, unless you want to go back in and try and beat your high scores, that’s it for gameplay.

PSVR seems like the perfect platform for a triumphant return to SC5, but the game leaves you wondering why SEGA didn’t greenlight a Samba de Amigo VR game instead; a beloved IP crying out for a modern reinvigoration. 

Even full of joie de vivre as it is, with its technical problems, brevity and lack of memorable tunes, I can only recommend Space Channel 5 VR Kinda Funky News Flash to Ulala obsessives or PSVR music game completionists. Everyone else should Chu-Chu-choose another channel.

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