Sony introduced the rhythm music genre to the U.S. with Parappa the Rapper and Um Jammer Lammy. Gamers everywhere were transfixed by the combination of catchy gameplay and catchier music. But with the cojones of the early launch years long forgotten, Sony has passed the Torch of Quirkiness unto Sega. Chu-Chu Rocket and Maken X have already crossed the Pacific, with "it's-never-coming-to-the-U.S." titles Seaman and Samba de Amigo on the way. In the midst of all this strangeness comes a quirky rhythm action title with genuine mainstream appeal: Space Channel 5. Its simple "Simon" gameplay, great aesthetics, and breakout character of Ulala combine into the sort of gaming experience that makes gamers grateful for their hobby--and non-gamers keenly interested.

   Space Channel 5 is a tongue-in-cheek story of futuristic journalism. Ratings are more competitive than ever, so news reporters literally go through song and dance to build market share and keep the audience interested. At the top of the announcer foodchain is knockout Ulala. With her no-nonsense reporting style, signature strut, and mini-microskirt, there's not much question why Ulala's number one in the minds of her fans. When the TV-obsessed aliens, the Moroliens, invade, Ulala's got to bring viewers the story from the front lines--and fend off the invasion, too.

   The media-saturated Morolieans love to dance, so that's just how Ulala's going to fight back. Aliens dance along to the music, giving Ulala commands: "Up! Up! Down! Down! Chu! Chu! Chu!" Ulala must then copy their rhythm exactly, dancing like they dance, shooting when they ask, saving the hostage humans. Rescued humans enter your "posse" and dance with you for the rest of the level. As you rescue more and more humans, your party grows, leading to an Austin Powers opening credits effect. Rescuing some special characters will also lead to added effects, like a new background element or a change in the music's instrumentation.

  The Safety Dance
You can dance if you want to...

   If there's a flaw with Space Channel 5, it's that the game is too easy and too short. There are only four stages, and an experienced fan of music games will blow through the game in a single sitting. Alternate pathways and a character gallery offer minor replay value, but for the most part gamers will complete the title very quickly. Some may tire of the game after a single playthrough and never return; hopefully, these gamers will at least rent it--but the fun gameplay and killer aesthetics make Space Channel 5 a game many players will come back to time and time again.

   Graphically, the game has a futuristic mod-retro look, like something out of the Jetsons. The game combines prerendered FMV backgrounds with polygonal characters. This allows for a higher polygon count on Ulala, the dancers, and the aliens, but can lead to occasional synchronization issues between the backgrounds and the characters. The motion capture on the dance moves is exceedingly lifelike and great to watch, but sometimes repeat itself frequently.

   Soundwise, the game really shines. The music is some of the catchiest to be found in any music game, with a variety of styles. The main theme "Mexican Flyer," was originally penned in the 1960s, and it and the songs based on it have a brassy, big band feel. Styles like house, techno, hard rock and surf rock round out the soundtrack. The interesting and varied rhythms make for both catchy music and challenging gameplay. Sega has also pulled through with one of the best videogame dubs in recent memory; while it's not perfect, it captures the zaniness of the Japanese original perfectly.

   But where Space Channel 5 excels most of all is in the hard-to-pinpoint field of "design." The hip environments and fantastic soundtrack combine with a far-out plot, bizarre voice acting, and some of the most memorable characters in recent memory. Ulala is the Dreamcast's new de facto mascot, and unlike marketing-manufactured Lara Croft, she has a personality and creativity of design that makes her more than just another pretty face.

   Sega should be commended for bringing a unique niche title like Space Channel 5 to the U.S. Fortunately, they picked a winner. It's a bit on the short side and may not be for everybody, but the combination of great design, a fantastic soundtrack, and fun-but-simple gameplay make Space Channel 5 one swinging game no open-minded Dreamcast owner should pass up.

Review by Andrew Vestal, GIA.
Space Channel 5
Developer Sega
Publisher Sega
Genre Rhythm Action
Medium GD-ROM (1)
Platform Sega Dreamcast
Release Date  12.16.99
Ulala appears at MTV Awards
23 E3 screenshots
5 pieces of hi-res Ulala artwork
North American box art