Space Channel 5 VR: The Kotaku Review

Illustration for article titled iSpace Channel 5 VR/i: The iKotaku/i Review
Screenshot: Sega/Grounding

How badly do you want to play another Space Channel 5 game? Your personal level of yearning to see Sega’s long-dormant rhythm game series make a comeback is likely to be proportional to the amount of fun you have with this week’s Space Channel 5 VR Kinda Funky News Flash for PlayStation VR. At its essence, it’s a simple, brief dance game, but the chance to step into its iconic universe is a fan’s dream.

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When Sega released Space Channel 5 for the Dreamcast 20 years ago, the company was at the peak of its creativity. Space Channel 5 was a rhythm game following the broadcasts of a futuristic, vinyl-clad television news reporter whose on-camera appearances are invariably set to hot dance moves. It fit in perfectly with the console’s similarly stylish, offbeat ideas like Jet Set Radio, Crazy Taxi, and Samba De Amigo. The Dreamcast game’s development team, led by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, went on to make Rez, which has had a more robust post-Dreamcast life, including its own VR version. (Mizuguchi wasn’t involved in Kinda Funky News Flash, but other key members of the original team were.)

Rather than remake the original game, the creators of Kinda Funky News Flash are telling a new story, although it once again pits heroine Ulala against a variety of aliens who want to get into deadly dance-offs.

The major difference in this new version is that instead of pressing up, down, left, and right on a Dreamcast controller to do the moves, you’re moving a pair of PlayStation Move controllers, making Space Channel 5 VR more of a dance game than a strict beat-matching one.

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Probably the smartest design decision here is that you are not playing as Ulala. You’re playing as a rookie reporter standing behind and to the right of Ulala. That means the iconic news anchor herself is there in the scene you’re seeing, part of the spectacle, instead of you being awkwardly Malkoviched into her head.

You also get the benefit of being able to watch Ulala do the exact dance moves you’re supposed to be doing, which I guess would be helpful if you don’t already get the call-and-response gameplay of the Space Channel 5 series. First, the aliens dance a few steps, which is mostly just waving your arms in the four cardinal directions. Then you repeat what they did. Get it wrong four times in a row, and it’s game over.

Besides the classic up, down, left, right, and “chu” (arms in front), you’ll also hear “pose” a lot. This is not a specific position—instead, you’ll have to watch your opponent and mimic their positioning. You’ll also occasionally have to dodge their attacks by moving your body to the left and right.

Gif: Sega/Grounding
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At first, I started out playing Kinda Funky News Flash as if it were, like its predecessors, a precision-timed beat-matching game. I’d snap my arms into the pose positions right on the beat. This actually worked well enough to get me through all four levels, but I’d often miss a lot of beats I thought I should have hit perfectly. As it turns out, I was pretty much doing it wrong. It seems like the game is just checking to make sure that the PlayStation Move controller’s glowy balls are in the right position at the right time in the song. So that means when they say “Chu, chu, chu!” and Ulala throws her hands in front of her three times in a row, you can just hold your hands in that position and register all three hits.

The tutorial doesn’t tell you this. Nor does it explain about the “secrets” you’re supposed to collect in each level. It turns out that they’re little circular patterns that appear at various times throughout the levels, and you’re supposed to reach out and hit them with your hand. I honestly thought they were weird loading icons or something, and my mind started to actually ignore them because I was so concentrated on the rest of the action. I only figured it out right as the game was ending.

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That happened pretty shortly after it began. Much like the first Space Channel 5, which you can finish in well under an hour if you don’t fail a level, you can polish off Kinda Funky News Flash during a sufficiently long lunch break. The ending sequence is interactive and fun as well, so maybe we’ll call it four and a half levels. But it’s still pretty short.

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What’s there to do when you’re done? Not a whole lot. You can replay levels for 100 percent completion, but unlike the original game, Kinda Funky doesn’t add harder or more complex versions of those levels for your second playthrough. There’s a mode that lets you play 100 levels in a row with more and more dance moves, although that’s pretty much just hanging out in a single virtual area, and thus gets a little repetitive.

I don’t want to get too deep into what actually happens during the story, because that’s a great deal of the fun, and because as I’ve said, it’s such a brief ride that each little unexpected story beat is a precious moment. Although I suppose that if you have no intention of playing it, you can convert the final clause of this sentence out of ROT13 to find out that at one point Ulala ends up pehpvsvrq ba n tvnag svqtrg fcvaare. It was weird!

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The most important thing to say is that this is an authentic Space Channel 5 experience. The wacky situations, the charming dialogue, the classy dance moves, the signature sounds of the classic 1966 jazz anthem “Mexican Flyer”—it’s all here, and it’s as timeless an aesthetic as it was 20 years ago. If that’s all you’ve wanted to hear, you’ll be as excited as I am for this interstellar dance adventure. Just know that it’ll be a short trip.

Features Editor, Kotaku. Japanese curry aficionado. Author of the books Power-Up: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World an Extra Life and Final Fantasy V from Boss Fight Books.

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DISCUSSION

Here’s the thing, though.  You get about half an hour of gameplay for FORTY DOLLARS!  By no stretch of the imagination is it worth full price.