In the four years since Parappa introduced rhythm-based gameplay to a wide audience, Americans have had to make do with a slow trickle of music games. With the genre still very much a niche product here in the US, it's always a pleasant surprise when another quirky rhythm title is localized.

   Tecmo's Unison: Rebels of Rhythm and Dance seems to have all the elements of a genre favorite: slick visuals, memorable tunes, zany characters, and an offbeat storyline. Even better, the company has gone out of its way to improve the game for US release by adding in new choreography, an American-friendly soundtrack, and retooling the difficulty level. Unfortunately, all the effort in the world can't save a game when the basic gameplay is as shallow, repetitive, and unrewarding as Unison's.

  Minus Kevin Bacon, of course.
It's like Footloose meet Charlie's Angels.

   Unison takes place 200 years in the future in the "High-Tech Celebrity City" of Twin Ships. All dancing has been outlawed in the town by decree of the city's tyrannical ruler Ducker. Players take control of a three-woman guerilla dance squad known as Unison on a quest to liberate the people's booties by broadcasting their pirate dance show. While the story itself is nothing special, it does keep the game flowing with its likable characters and bright, well-rendered graphics. Each of the game's seven episodes begins with a short story sequence, and then it's off the rehearsal studio to perfect the routine. This is were the problems begin.

   Unlike most other rhythm games, Unison does not give players any indication of their moves in advance. There is no call and response as in Um Jammer Lammy, or even a preceding visual prompt as in Dance Dance Revolution; all the moves have to be executed as they appear on the screen. Essentially, this means the entire routine has to be memorized in advance. In fact, this is the foundation of Unison's gameplay: memorization.

AV makes yet another cameo.
In the studio

   Once in the rehearsal studio, each song is divided into a set number of segments. Led by Dr. Dance, Unison's afro-coifed mentor, players are taken through each of these one by one until they have the choreography down pat. After successfully completing the training, players are tested with a live broadcast of the routine. Though it's possible to fake your way through some of the easier numbers, the more difficult songs will require rote memorization of the entire routine. To combat the difficulty of this, most of the dances are kept extremely short; most clock in at around a minute.

   This basic flaw in the gameplay is even more of a letdown due to the fact that Unison has the one of the best control schemes yet for a rhythm game on a standard controller. Dance moves are executed using both the analog sticks on the controller, and the controller motions match up well with the moves on the screen. But there's still no getting away from the feeling that you are simply regurgitating what you've memorized - not reacting to the game, or even particularly "playing" it.

   Unison might have been rescued by a workable multiplayer mode - the simple, accessible gameplay of most rhythm games makes them an easy sell even to casual gamers. Though the game does offers a three-player mode using the multitap, multiplayer only exacerbates the game's basic flaw. You'll be hard pressed to find anyone to play with unless they've gone through it once themselves. All three players must know their moves in advance and, what's worse, only one is provided with the on-screen prompt if they lose track of the routine.

All style, no substance.

   Those who are willing to stick with the single player mode will still find plenty to like in Unison. The dancing is excellent, the graphics are crisp and full of personality, and the licensed soundtrack covers enough ground that there is sure to be something for everyone. Each of the three members of the dance troupe offers a new set of moves and a different difficultly level. But since they run through the same exact story with the same songs, there is little incentive to return to the game.

   Unison is a title that seems to do everything right - the technical aspects and localization leave little to complain about. The looks, charm, music and moves are all there. But without any real gameplay to hold it together, it's ultimately as insubstantial as a piece of Top-40 fluff.

Review by Zak McClendon, GIA
Unison: Rebels of Rhythm and Dance
Developer Tecmo
Publisher Tecmo
Genre Rhythm
Medium DVD (1)
Platform PlayStation 2
Release Date November 2000
March 2001
Full track list for Unison unveiled
136 screenshots
High-res character art
North American box art