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Space Channel 5: Ulala Cosmic Attack
game: Space Channel 5: Ulala Cosmic Attack
two star
posted by: GF! Back Catalogue 10/2004 => 1995
publisher: THQ
date posted: 12:00 AM Mon Nov 10th, 2003
last revision: 12:00 AM Mon Nov 10th, 2003

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By Colin Yu

Ever wonder how fun it would be to parade in an orange miniskirt with hot pink pigtails, defeating hypnotic aliens by having a dancing face-off? Sounds like a Michael Jackson video, doesn't it? (Considering he cameos in the game, it doesn't sounds as farfetched as it might seem.) Nevertheless, if you've missed out on the Dreamcast original, here is the opportunity to cash in on the groovy experience that is Sega's Space Channel 5: Ulala's Cosmic Attack on the Gameboy Advance.

Although given a longer title, Space Channel 5: Ulala's Cosmic Attack is practically the same exact game as the Dreamcast's Space Channel 5. SC5 debuted in the year 2000, at the expanding variety of the music genre games. There were games such as the Dance Dance Revolution series, Parappa the Rapper, and Bust-A-Groove already on the market that got players grooving with the game. Created by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, Space Channel 5 is one of the first music games that revolved around a story instead of simply competition. While SC5 was an instant hit in Japan, Americans were highly skeptical of such a title, and it became one of the many Dreamcast sleeper hits. With the partnership of Sega and THQ that recently formed for Gameboy Advance titles, it was time to dust off the cobwebs and bring Ulala back into action.

In SC5, the human race is once again on the brink of peril. The alien race of Intel-mascot-looking Morolians has started to hypnotize poor helpless humans aboard a space station. Who better to rescue the human race than a space-news reporter? Enter Ulala, a pink-haired, pony-tailed vixen, donning an orange outfit complete with microphone, phaser gun, and space's sexiest miniskirt. If this storyline interests you, good luck following it. In the Dreamcast version, the story was unraveled by spoken dialogue. The GBA version couldn't handle that much data information, and therefore differentiates dialogue via various colors to represent each character line. Ultimately, the story becomes so confusing it's hard to tell who's saying what. Don't worry though. Since SC5's story is extremely generic, you're not missing much.

The goal of each stage is to reach a certain percentage of satisfied viewers of Ulala's Swingin' Report Show, or else the show gets canned. In order to do this, Ulala must compete against the Morolians to save as many captured humans as possible. These competitions come in the form of dance-offs, which would make the likes of West Side Story proud. Along the way, Ulala will also encounter other dance offs with rival space reporters, and even space pirates.

Space Channel 5 utilizes an interesting format of integrating the gameplay. Those who suck at Memory Match will quickly get aggravated with this title. SC5 requires the player to not only memorize a string of commands, but also to press each command at a certain beat. An example of a string command would be, "Up, Down, Up, Down, Right, Chu, Chu." The player will have to match the rhythm by pressing the given direction buttons, and then the A button for the "chu" command. If the player misses one button in the string of commands, that entire string is considered wrong.

The difficulty arises as the player continues further in the story. There are moments when the player needs to rescue humans that appear onscreen. This is accomplished by pressing the B button instead of the A button on "chu" commands. Therefore, in addition to listening carefully, and mimicking correctly, the player must pay attention visually as well. This becomes increasingly complex when towards the end the enemies will toss more chu commands than you'll ever find in a game of Chu Chu Rocket. (Okay, that was the cheesiest plug-in, but it had to be said.) The commands begin to come at eighths of a beat, and it is hard to keep up. I wasn't sure if it was a lag on behalf of the GBA with such rapid button pushing, or if it was because I was having difficulty moving as efficiently on a cramped button layout compared to a controller. Inconsequentially, the GBA version of this title is not lenient on missing the press of the button by a fraction of a second, and this will surely frustrate many players.

A problem that still holds through during the port from Dreamcast is that once the game over, the game is over. While the gameplay is fun once you get used to it, the game ends fairly soon thereafter. That means when the short-lived four levels are completed, SC5 provides no incentive to play through the game again. An average player can complete this title and toss it aside in a matter of hours. A suggestion this poor reviewer would give is to have different results to each confrontation, what is commonly known as the branching effect. If a player does horribly during a dance-off, perhaps this will take the player down a visually and audibly different path. This helps alleviate the tired linearity that is inescapable in SC5.

Visually, it is definitely apparent how Art Co. attempted to cram in as much as they could. No matter how hard it tries, the Gameboy Advance system is not as advanced as the Dreamcast, and therefore the visual environments have transformed from three-dimensional to a flat two-dimensional field, shot-for-shot. While the conversion seems satisfactory, the static atmospheres are barely feasible. The characters might as well have been slapped onto a stagnant stationary background like an antique Colorforms playset, with the gratuitous butt-shaking of course.

As problematic as the aforementioned short-comings may be, the main flaw that hindered the enjoyment of this port was the integral element that this game is based on: music. While the music is directly from its Dreamcast brother, the volume output on the Gameboy Advance was undoubtedly out of par. The sound was not nearly adequately high enough to hear without effort. Since there are no onscreen commands, it is highly essential that the player catches every command spoken. Given that any moment a loud sound can overcome the speaker volume, the player will miss a command, and thereby ruining the entire string of commands. This only adds to the frustration.

I ran a test to compare the gameplay during different conditions. As a note, this test was examined with the GBA volume dial set to the highest output possible. The sound came out at a decent level when I was at the privacy of my own home. While it certainly wasn as high as the highest volume should be, at least I didn find myself having to strain to hear any of the commands. The alternative was when I took it with me aboard a NYC subway train. The surrounding noise, even at a murmur, flooded over my GBA speakers. Frankly, I personally want my speaker to be loud enough that the guy sitting across from me stares awkwardly as all he hears is incessant hu ng?. Besides, what's the point of having a portable system if you can't comfortably take it with you everywhere (*cough* PSP *cough*)? Well much to my dismay, the game was unplayable in busy environments.

An issue that certainly needs to be addressed is figuring out what demographics would this game apply to? Children will be generally attracted to the neon colors, but the gameplay system of memorizing commands and beats is far too complex for them. With no option to adjust to a simpler difficulty, children are bound to loose interest at that rate. Is the game suited for the older generation of teenagers and adults? While this demographic will have an easier ability to memorize and repeat commands, they will quickly discover the boredom as well. Since SC5 is extremely linear with only four stages, the game ends far too soon and there is absolutely no reason to replay it. All videogame players, young and old, have come to expect more bang for their buck, and a title with no variations or replayability will certainly feel out-dated.

I had the privilege of reviewing two Gameboy Advance ports recently. One was the Playstation classic, Super Puzzle Fighter, and the Dreamcast original, Space Channel 5. While these ports were near-perfect reproductions, SC5 proved that some games should stay solely on console systems. In this instance, Art Co. needed to add more replayability to give prospective customers a reason to want to take this title with them on the road. In addition, being that this title is one of the few titles where it necessary to have the GBA sound on (I won even consider Britney's Dance Beat a real game), Art Co. must ensure that the sound can be hear at a decent level, even with surrounding distractions. For those who have played Space Channel 5 on Dreamcast, and long to play it again, I would suggest waiting for Space Channel 5, Part 2 to be release this winter on the Playstation 2 (come on, who doesn have one by now?). If the portability issue is what truly reels you in, I would highly suggest packing a decent set of headphones with you on your trip. Just remember to bring along another title in case you get aggravated quickly. Otherwise, Space Channel 5: Ulala Cosmic Attack deserves to stay on the rental shelves. Let's just hope that in the meanwhile, we won't need Tom Brokaw in an orange miniskirt to save us anytime in the near future.