Space Channel 5 Part 2 is a bit of a cult classic. Originally released in 2002, it has been given a bit of spit and polish for the new decade, and has recently released on Xbox Live Arcade - no doubt hoping to reach an all new audience.
Firstly, a bit of back story. Outside of Japan, where it was a mega hit, there was more than a whiff of scandal about it due to the involvement of Michael Jackson (who plays ‘Space Michael’ in the title and he also heavily influenced the dance styles throughout).
The game was scheduled for release in the UK just prior to the documentary ‘Living with Michael Jackson’ airing, which was of course swiftly followed by his arrest on child molestation charges. As a result, the game was pulled prior to release, and only a few copies ever made it onto the market there.
So, besides the fact that it’s a very sought after collectible, the title itself is also absolutely hilarious, and lots and lots of fun to play - especially with friends. Very tongue in cheek, its aesthetic is ‘Japanese retro futuristic’. It’s a rhythm game, which sounds simple enough, but... you might need to sit down for this: you are a space reporter called Ulala, and you come in and boogie your way through dance battles against alien invaders, to set free hostages who have been forced to dance against their will.
You also have pink hair and wear go-go boots with every outfit you own - but that’s another story. Speaking of clothing, as you progress through the game, you can upgrade Ulala’s outfits - each as awesome as the last.
So it’s 80s handheld game "Simon" meets The Fifth Element. With dance. And Michael Jackson. In Space.
Since it first came out in 2002, the technology of our consoles has changed a lot. So how does it look? Well, not too bad really, all things considered. It's a bit blocky by today’s standards, but the dance moves are all still quite smooth and natural looking, so it’s aged reasonably gracefully.
It’s extremely simple to play...dastardly, even! The only moves you need to know are the D-Pad directions (Up, Down, Left, and Right), and only two other buttons: A (Chu!) and B (Hey!). You’ll basically be presented with a character who moves something like “Up, Up, Down, Down, Chu Chu Chu!” which you need to repeat back in the right order, with the right timing, to defeat him.
Whilst the controls are simple, it’s the combinations and speed with which the moves are thrown at you that is the tricky part, and getting the timing right to match against the alien adversary.
It’s hard to rate how difficult the game is, because I’m absolutely sure some gamers out there could not play rhythm games even if their immortal souls depended on it, and would find even the simplest levels far beyond their abilities [That's me - Ed.], whereas others would really enjoy the challenge, and rise to meet it.
For this reason, we’ve given it a complexity rating of ‘Medium’, with a definite skew towards those who enjoy rhythm type games, or love dance or Rock Band / Guitar Hero type titles.
I have to confess that, as a huge fan of the original title, I may have squealed out loud with excitement when I heard this was coming to Xbox Live Arcade, and have had a lot of fun revisiting it.
It’s definitely not going to be for everyone, but it’s just so out there, and funny, that it’s a bit special, compared with a lot of other games.
Combine this originality with the great music, cute characters (including a rival called Pudding!), and entertaining premise - it might just keep a lot of people hooked in there until the very end... those of whom haven’t run off screaming into the night at the idea of a kitschy dance rhythm game, keeping them away from their precious FPS time.