The Dreamcast was known for a variety of rhythm and beat games like
Samba de Amigo, Dance Dance Revolution and, of course, Space Channel 5.
Amongst all of these, I would rate Space Channel 5 as the third title.
It had great music, some innovative concepts to contribute to the genre of rhythm and beat, but ultimately it was too much of a rehash of the above two. Lost in the exuberance of the Y2K new millennium buzz, its emphasis on go-go boot toting reporter Ulala got a lot more attention and praise than it really deserved. It was like one of those Oscar movies that won movie of the year but ten years later, you remember the runner-up rather than this movie itself.
Space Channel 5 is actually an interstellar television channel in the future that happens to catch the beginning of an alien invasion. Human beings are mind-controlled via some hypnotic music, but Ulala, with her natural ability to swing and shake to beats, can trounce the aliens at their own game. It's really supposed to be a big joke because the aliens look about as hideous as the ones that ended up Intel's MMX campaign during the mid 1990s. But keeping with the millennium thinking, anything that is retro is in.
The gameplay in Space Channel 5 involves looking at what the aliens do and repeating cheat code like control strings (left-right-up-down-left right) of commands in the correct order and timing. The higher the difficulty level, the more involved the string of commands will be.
Space Channel 5 should technically be an easy conversion to the Game Boy Advance. That involves creating a control layout that will allow you to mimic the beats and tunes you see on screen. Space Channel 5 is more of an instructional version of Samba de Amigo or Dance Dance Revolution. You don't play along the music or even make your own music. You replicate them, including the beats of rests in between. Go too quickly and it'll sound like a record spinning too fast. Go too slowly and it'll sound like cassette tapes winding in slow motion.
Most games that hit the Game Boy Advance are dumbed down. Their difficulty levels are reduced. The sensitivity of the controls, particularly the (in)famous directional pad, is taken into account. But Space Channel 5 for the Game Boy Advance is in reality more difficult than the Dreamcast version. The aliens aren't as merciful to Ulala's slip-ups and sometimes it's because the instructions aren't clear.
At least the developers have one part of the equation down. The soundtrack to Space Channel 5 is meticulously recreated on the Game Boy Advance. There are limitations but music being so integral to this game, I'm glad that a fair amount of work was put into this.
Ulala was a sort of sex symbol for the Dreamcast. The Dreamcast had Lara Croft, but not defining female figures of its own. Ulala's appearance on the Game Boy Advance is lackluster. She's 2D now, which means less curves (figuratively and metaphorically speaking). There isn't enough of Space Channel 5 to really show her off with less than half a dozen levels.
I keep mentioning the Dreamcast a lot. I'm not entirely sure who came up with the idea of translating Dreamcast titles to the Game Boy
Advance. This platform has a hard enough time handling Mode 7 titles from the SNES age much less the more sophisticated games that exist on the Dreamcast. I can't imagine some of these conversions doing justice to their source material.
The good news is, it doesn't take great graphics to do a rhythm game. I had tons of fun playing Dance Dance Revolution in practice mode and there wasn't much on screen other than great music and flashing arrows.
Somehow, the sheer difficulty level has made the basic concept of Space
Channel 5 frustrating. It's a pity that the other deficiencies then rear their heads because the core game is not solid enough. They ultimately make Space Channel 5 one of those stations you cruise by with your remote.
If you're a diehard Dreamcast fan and your Dreamcast broke and you might think this copy will make up for your missing Ulala, I'd suggest skipping this and going to eBay to get a replacement.