Tetsuya Mizuguchi must be rolling in his synaesthesia suit right now. One of his most visually striking Dreamcast classics – the dance adventure Space Channel 5 – has made its way back to the mainstream via virtual reality. A recipe for success, you might suspect, what with the excellent handling of Rez Infinite and the audio-visual revolution that is Tetris Effect.
Well, he’s not involved. But Mizuguchi, despite his talents, is not the lone auteur capable of making good rhythm games, and many of his Space Channel 5 colleagues have led the development of this Kinda Funky News Flash!, brought to the plasticky portal of PSVR by Shibuya’s Grounding Inc.
I hate to inform our readers that the game demands Sony’s primordial PS Move controllers. If you’re rightfully worried about relying on the woeful wands to get your Space Channel fix, don’t worry – you won’t be using them for long.
The game’s run time is a measly 35 minutes, and even then, a decent chunk of what you could refer to as ‘the narrative’ is made up of expository cutscenes, not in-game action. They relay that you’re a rookie reporter following Ulala’s lead to rescue humans from an alien scourge with the naturally journalistic power of dance.
When the game eventually gets down to funky business, you speak truth to power by waving your arms in an omnidirectional fashion, depending on what orders Ulala barks your way.
The lack of content here is jarring. You might expect a big library of remixed classic tracks or a robust endless mode, but neither of these surface once you wrap up the campaign. You can play missions again to get a high score or take on the 100-dance gauntlet, which, despite the name, is deceptively simple and clocks in at around ten minutes.
Space Channel’s challenge has been dumbed down for VR, to the point where you don’t actually have to thrust your hands as part of a dance move – you can usually just hold them there, and the game will register your input as a success. This laughable approach to difficulty completely overlooks the point of the original and similar games like Rez – they’re designed to enable the loss of self amidst the trance of dance, but this is always an earned privilege. You would think that a VR port would help rather than hinder this issue.
Unfortunately, the open goal of a visual upgrade doesn’t deliver either, the modern style hacking away at the early 3D aesthetic of the original, where every stage looked like the backdrop to an ambitious nineties pop video, complete with pre-rendered backgrounds and glossy Y2K charm. Even the samples and low-resolution sound effects grafted from the original can’t muster any meaningful nostalgia.
This all wouldn’t be so contemptuous if the game didn’t cost £36.99, a stunning price point for such a limited experience. At best, it feels like a lacklustre demo for the real deal. Space Channel 5 VR is at the very least honest in its intentions – this is a flagrant cash grab, preying on the nostalgia of a far better experience.
You’d be better off dusting off the Dreamcast, because this isn’t the grand return you might have been hoping for.
The diamond in this game’s overwhelming rough are the character designs, the only ‘kinda funky’ thing about this soulless reboot. An optional dressing room lets you switch through a series of outfits for Ulala, and the upscaled evil Morolians appear cuddly – if only they weren’t trying to enslave the populace!
A nostalgia-baiting cash grab worthy of your contempt, Space Channel 5 VR sullies the name of a fun franchise.
Format: PSVR (tested)
Developer: Grounding Inc.
Release: Out now