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.
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.
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
|Full track list for Unison unveiled
|High-res character art
|North American box art