Space Channel 5 Part 2

Space Channel 5: Special Edition, including both Part 1 and the previously unreleased Part 2 for PS2 - $15 at EB Games. How could I resist? Miziguchi and his UGA studio are one of those developers that get my money for a game without needing to read a review. Their Kandinsky-inspired Rez is one of the greatest videogames ever made and Sega Rally is one of my favorite racing games. Space Channel 5 was an enjoyable distraction on the Dreamcast. For me it was the only character-based music title that approached PaRappa. The style of Space Channel 5 was fantastic; sort of a neo-70’s musical with smooth spaceships in bright colors. The main character, Ulala, is among the most charismatic game characters created. She’s sexy and effortlessly cool. She’s cheerful and upbeat without sounding like an empty-headed southern California high school cheerleader.

The style of Space Channel 5 was remarkable; the gameplay was a simple interpretation of the call and answer mechanic popularized by PaRappa, where the game will play out a series and the player has to match the input in rhythm. Fortunately, the style and fantastic music helped overcome the uninspired gameplay.

With Space Channel 5 Part 2, UGA and Miziguchi achieved the basic goal that so many others fail at; they looked at the original title, removed all that was bad, included and improved on what was already good, and introduced enough new elements to make the title feel new while maintaining the spirit of the original. I know, file it under "well, duh", but honest reflection and the insight on how to significantly improve it seems to be a rare quality in the game industry.

The most notable addition to the main game mechanics is the ability to hold notes (i.e. “leeeeeeeft!”). While no one would confuse this with the next generation of game input systems, it expands the player’s expressive ability of the first game without significantly increasing the complexity of the controls. The new addition is integrated effortlessly into the music, and is used infrequently enough to punctuate important sequences.

My favorite new "areas" are the jam sessions where Ulala plays an instrument in a competition with another character. The interface is simple – pressing any direction on the directional pad is all that is needed to play the instrument – but the resulting sensation is awesome. These jam sessions are memorable and enjoyable because they capture the essence of that is cool and fun to do with the instrument. Even though the input is nominal, it feels like you’re laying down a killer guitar riff. These jams also help mix up the pace from the shooting of aliens and rescuing of hostages.

What makes the game thrive is the level of refinement that often separates the great from the good.. One of the more enlightened elements of the original Space Channel 5 game were sequences where the inputs are represented graphically, giving the player a visual reminder of what they needed to perform. Part 2 runs with this idea, featuring far more sequences using this feature, even toys with the player visually at the end of the game. The challenges in Part 2 are also mixed up to keep the player mentally engaged; the levels aren’t always a continuous sequence of ever-longer patterns to remember – sometimes the challenge is created by mixing up long holds, changes in pace, off-beat patterns, or switching up shoot and rescue. The game is much more engaging throughout because the mechanics are continually toyed with in interesting ways.

Michael Jackson makes another cameo in Part 2 to great effect. While it is hard to separate the entertainment entity with the freak that sleeps with 12 year old boys, the game shows off what was so cool about Michael Jackson with dance moves stolen from his prime. (I shout out “Haha! That’s from Thriller!” “Billie Jean!” “Black and White!” and laugh maniacally when he’s on the screen while my sisters-in-law think of tasteful ways of leaving the room.) His high and distant voice perfectly matches the other-worldliness feel of the game and his lines, both through script and spaced-out delivery, remind us how surreal it is having Michael Jackson running around in a videogame.

I’m so pleasantly surprised at how well Space Channel 5 Part 2 has turned out, both in being orders of magnitude better than the original game and being enjoyable when compared against more modern music game titles. Without less pretentious qualifiers, it is one of the best music games I’ve played and one of my favorite titles released this year. It is a refined and joyous play experience that should not be missed by the open-minded. It is a shame that Part 2 is probably the last Space Channel 5 game that we’ll ever see; the series has not sold to expectations and Miziguchi has departed Sega after yet another merge/reorganization. Even though this is the end of the series, I find it encouraging that Miziguchi continues to develop so rapidly as a game designer and that we can only expect greater things in the future.

Oh, and in response to certain sisters that say I don't have enough personal things in my blog, I had a fantastic time playing through Space Channel 5 part 2 with Tracy and Vicki. Heck, I hanging out with them in Macon was some of the most fun I've ever had. Taking turns on SC5, laughing while Tracy gingerly whacks kung-fu people as she plays EyeToy, playing Carcassone with Vicki, the long walks where we'd all make fun of people's houses, and singing along to Beatles songs. Oh, and the food; every meal was an amazing Chinese feast prepared by Bessie's mom - I probably gained 10 pounds and I won't mind the hours I need to spend on the exercise bike to get me back into, um, programming shape.

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