By Leah McDonald / March 31st, 2020
|Title||Space Channel 5 VR: Kinda Funky News Flash!|
|Publisher||Grounding, Inc., Sega|
|Release Date||February 25th, 2020|
|Genre||Dance, Musical Action|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone|
Hey there, space cats! Leah McDonald here, reporting to you live from oprainfall with the latest scoop on Space Channel 5 VR: Kinda Funky News Flash! It seems those dancing and singing Morolians are back at it again! This time they’re forcing everyone to dance in order to steal all the Dance Moxie from everyone in the universe! But with intrepid reporter (and universe-saver) Ulala to help, surely it’s only a matter of time before those aliens exit stage left!
With that bit out of the way, Space Channel 5 VR is honestly a massive blast from the past. It lovingly recreates the ’70s retro vibe that was massively popular when the original game launched on the Sega Dreamcast 20 years ago. Characters and locations both have a plasticine sheen, with gogo boots, short skirts, and vibrant colors in abundance. Fans of old sci-fi serials (and Austin Powers) will be intimately familiar with the aesthetic.
The music is just as much a throwback, with that brassy, iconic theme song blaring out from your TV. I played a review copy for the PlayStation VR, and with a pair of headphones plugged into my PSVR, it was incredibly easy to get into the groove and dance to each funky beat the game has to offer.
In addition to the visuals and music, several characters from previous games also make an appearance, which is fitting seeing as SC5VR is a 20th anniversary project. There’s of course Ulala, played by Cherami Leigh, as well as space pirate Jaguar, played by Tom Clarke-Hill, who is reprising his role. Even the first boss is a throwback to the original game. Newcomers include the Jaguars Kell, played by Cassandra Lee Morris; Bello, played by Ratana; Soon-Soon, played by Mari Suffiad; and Glitter, played by Greg Chun. The story is hammy, ridiculous, and at times nonsensical, and the cast absolutely ramps the camp up to 11. I expected nothing less from my Space Channel 5 experience.
The game, developed by Grounding, Inc., is short but fun. Levels are varied, ranging from inside a space station to dancing on the hull of a spaceship, but they never quite reach the imaginative zaniness of the first two games. They are also much, much shorter and significantly more forgiving. Some of that is understandable, considering the shift from traditional controller-based gameplay to motion controls and VR. Wearing the headset for too long can cause dizziness, and it’s generally easier to input rapid-fire commands using a direction pad than it is physically contorting yourself to Up Up Down Down Chu Chu Chu. That being said, there was still little challenge in the actual story stages, and for a game about dancing (and that calculates the amount of kCals you burn while playing), it didn’t offer much of a workout.
The Trial Dance addresses some of the difficulty issue. This 100-stage mode ramps up the challenge in measured but steady ways, and without the story beats interrupting your moves, it actually feels like you’re dancing. Unfortunately, like every other extra mode, you can’t unlock Trial Dance until you’ve beaten the story. It takes roughly an hour to complete, so it’s not a huge investment, but it was still annoying being locked out of the rest of the game.
The other modes include Arcade, which is recommended for VR beginners; the Friendopedia, where you can view character biographies; the Dressing Room, where you can change Ulala’s outfits as they’re unlocked through the game; Calories, which just tracks how many calories you’ve burned while playing; and what I thought was the neatest feature, Viewing. This is a video mode that lets you watch the story sequences from one of three angles, which really shows off the staging and character models the team designed. It’s also one of the only ways you can see the player character. At the beginning of the game, you get to choose which twin you’d like to play as (either Roo or Kie), and after a short introductory segment, you never really get to see yourself or your sister again.
The tutorial level does highlight one of Space Channel 5 VR‘s most glaring issues, though: the animations. Throughout the game, when Ulala and other NPCs are dancing, they look great and very obviously motion-captured. Their idle animations, on the other hand, are janky as hell, and Ulala’s lower half looks like it’s constantly about to snap off from her upper half at high speed. Your character model, as well, is incredibly stiff, with only limited motion in your torso. Your arms and hands move fluidly thanks to the motion tracking of the Move controller, but it ends up looking like a marionette. Considering this is one of the very first things you see in the game, and it goes out of its way to show you in a mirror during the tutorial sequence, I cannot for the life of me understand why they didn’t fully animate the player character, especially when the character model is fully animated in the Viewing and Trial Dance modes.
(As an aside, though, since your hands are mapped to the Move controllers themselves, it is immensely funny to let them dangle from their strap and watch your in-game hands twist and turn like leaves in the wind. Technology is great.)
Space Channel 5 VR: Kinda Funky News Flash! is an obvious love letter to the series, created by many of the original designers. Virtual reality is a natural fit for rhythm games, so it makes sense to make one of the most iconic of the genre into a VR title. Unfortunately, that also means the game feels a little lacking compared to its predecessors, with shorter, less imaginative levels, significantly easier gameplay, and some janky animation issues. Even Ulala’s costumes are only color swaps instead of completely new outfits like in previous titles. Trial Mode is great if you want to just jump in and burn a few calories, though, and the actual dancing feels natural, helped along by the Move controllers’ responsiveness.
There’s a lot to like about SC5VR, but it’s definitely geared toward fans of the series. Newcomers to VR will find an easy rhythm game with a low barrier of entry and style oozing from every pore, but rhythm players wanting a challenge may need to look elsewhere. Still, if you have access to a VR system, I suggest at least giving Kinda Funky News Flash! a gander. It’s is available for PlayStation VR for $39.99 USD. The game requires the PlayStation Camera and two Move controllers. Grounding eventually plans to release versions for the HTC Vive, SteamVR, and oculus quest.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Grounding Inc.PlayStation 4PlayStation 4 VRrhythm gamesSegaSpace Channel 5 VR: Kinda Funky News Flash!virtual reality