Some people want Klonoa or Parappa The Rapper to come back. Some people want Jet Set Radio or Baldies. Me? Space Channel 5, hands down. It's a very specific desire, almost on par with wanting something like Baldies 2 or an HD version of JB Harold Blue Chicago Blues. Space Channel 5 and its sequel Space Channel 5 Part 2 are two games that I have practically memorized front to back. I've heard it called Simon with a beat, but that's not really fair to the dedication the team puts into the campiness. We are talking about 1966 Batman levels of camp. These games find a way to make fighting a monster plant that can waltz (who has kidnapped the president of space, mind you) into a frankly epic affair. All through some excellent music, bizzare dialogue so off beat that it's as quotable as The Room, and a 60's sci-fi groove aesthetic that's all its own. It's a testament to Tetsuya Mizuguchi's ability to make hypnotic rhythm games without following established genre conventions, even though this is probably the most grounded he's been. And while Mizuguchi is probably off somewhere remaking Lumines again, members of the original Space Channel 5 team under the new banner of Grounding Inc has revived the series for a third entry, Space Channel 5 VR: Kinda Funky News Flash. And it meets my oddly specific desires.
I want to take a moment to explain what happens when an old property is revived. If you have been a fan of basically anything, you probably are familiar with the feeling. I'm calling it the four stages of IP renewal. The first is overwhelming excitement that something you love is coming back. The second is immediate skepticism, scanning every single piece of information, and if one thing seems out of place, a red flag goes off and you take to the internet to complain about it. The third is understanding how ridiculous it is to base your expectations around previous installments, and you let the creators of the new installment take it in the direction they feel is best. This step is completely optional, of course. The fourth and final step is to actually see the new entry in the series and see if it sinks or swims. I have recently been informed that this too is optional, and you can stop at step two and complain until the end of time.
Space Channel 5 VR dodged a minefield of potential problems to get to a point where it swam like a chance. First was getting it off the ground. Even among the Dreamcasts short lived yet quality laced library, Space Channel 5 ranks well below other beloved properties on the console. You have to dig a bit to get to Space Channel 5's tomb. Also, Sega owns the IP, and they hand those things out to incompetent third parties all the time. Granted, they've gotten significantly better about it over the past five years or so, but Sonic Boom still happened relatively recently. But somehow, the IP was handed to developers that have an actual attachment to the series. Even with the original developers at the helm, sans Mizuguchi, there's still the possibility that he was the glue holding all of SC5's elements together. All of the new elements added, like the new villian, the othermoros, and the Jaguar rookie reporters, could have tanked equally. Thankfully, that's not the case. There's no attempt to modernize the game with references to dabbing or something equally stupid. Space Channel 5 VR feels like a Space Channel 5 game, beginning to end. Which unfortunately isn't a long journey.
Let’s not beat around the bush: Space Channel 5 VR will take 45 minutes to run through the story and another 20 to see all the side content. This game is more expensive than Astro Bot Rescue Mission, a VR game that will last you about 10 times longer. It’s short. Really short. Personally, I don’t mind the short length. Like I said before, I played the first two games enough to memorize them front to back. I will be playing VR over and over and over again until I can perfect the songs multiple times. That won’t be hard to do because this game is shockingly easy. The Dreamcast games were positively punishing, with being slightly off beat grounds to fail the whole stage. I get that VR has to compensate for having to do actual, full body movements, but if that’s limiting the game, why bother with the motion controls? Yeah, the new posing mechanic adds a visual element to the game, where you have to pay attention to the screen instead of relying solely on the music. But without the difficulty ramping up, there’s no sense of progression. The game may even be harder towards the beginning than by the end, frankly. The biggest challenge I faced was getting the motion controller to register one of the poses; the one where you do the strong man muscle flex. That’s worthy of docking points.
But you know what, Space Channel 5 VR has something more important to me specifically: a chance to revisit the world of Space Channel 5. It’s a new SC5 adventure that I will love all the same. It’s a game for people who adore music and style, and the VR adventure delivers, albeit in a smaller portion. It’s the single Reese’s cup compared to the previous King Sized variations. Both taste great, just one has less of it. I am not above shelling out $200 for a Dreamcast Space Channel 5 Part 2 collectors edition. $40 for a chance to support one of my favorite niche franchises isn’t a big deal to me. Maybe this will produce a Space Channel 5 Part 3. Maybe it won’t. Who knows. But I want to give Grounding the chance to make it happen. You, reader, may not have that attachment to the Space Channel 5 world that I have. I dare say most of you don’t. And if that’s the case, wait for a price drop. New players will get a sample size of what made these games awesome, and if they like it, then excellent. You have two other similar games to get acquainted with. Space Channel 5 Part 2 has an HD version on Steam, Xbox 360, and PS3 if you still have the later two around. Space Channel 5 Part 1 is trickier, with its most recent release being on the PS2 as a bundle with Part 2. And of course, they are both on Dreamcast, with Part 2 being Japanese exclusive, but an english version can be found if you know where to look.
You might think this review is sort of biased, and it is. But think of it like this: This is a brief, but enjoyable game. Roughly an hour's worth of musical fun, beginning to end, in an absolutely charming place. Like spending an hour with Shigeru Miyamoto at the Sydney opera house. If nothing about that bothers you, try it. If the length bothers you, then hold off until you get a chance to try it. I recommend it either way, but only if you can stand the price of admission.
FINAL VERDICT: Groovy
ONE SENTENCE REASONING: Space Channel 5 VR delivers a true Space Channel 5 adventure, just in a smaller burst.
(Nick Miller is a video game historian and collector based in Cincinnati. You can reach him at [email protected])