Returning in the midst of VR’s rhythm action obsession, you’d think the cult hit Space Channel series would strut onto headsets with ease. But this short-lived revival stumbles on the dance floor, and just about everywhere else.
In Space Channel 5 VR: Kinda Funky News Flash — the first game in the series in 18 years — you dance-off with aliens in order to save the galaxy. The original two games’ button-matching gameplay (similar to that of the Parappa The Rapper series) has been translated into a gesture-based system. Your enemy throws its arms up, down and side-to-side then passes the sequence on to you to imitate with your motion controllers. Your thumbs are no longer the dancers here; your entire body is.
But, though the game retains the distinct wackiness that kept it in the hearts and minds of so many over the past two decades, too much else has been lost in the transition. Space Channel 5 VR starts off as a gentle reintroduction to the series then just sort of lingers there. Its 30-minute campaign — even then wearisomely padded out with lengthy level introductions and endings — only rarely tests your skills. A series of simple inputs is quickly regurgitated, and then whichever of the four levels you’re playing ends without ever really getting going. It doesn’t struggle to find its rhythm so much as actively avoids it.
Space Channel 5 VR is a largely stationary experience, with occasional dodging from side-to-side. The headset itself can be a little finicky to keep in place in these moments but, broadly speaking, there’s no reason to worry about comfort here.
Developer Grounding seems painfully aware of the risks of dancing around in VR (and the way your PSVR can slide around on your head). It’s an understandable concern, but one that casts a long shadow over Space Channel 5 VR. The split-second difference between inputs in later levels of the original game are spaced out to give you more time. It’s a softer, less calculated version of the game without any of the original’s immediacy and, to boot, an alarming lack of things to do. This is a timid alternative to the intensity of Beat Saber or OhShape, too afraid to commit to the demanding rhythm that makes those games sing.
Even the 100-stage dance-off mode, one of the few extras available after you beat the campaign, fails to really push you in any way. Perhaps it was naive of me to expect a long list of classic tracks to shoot for high-scores in once I was done with these two modes, but that’s the standard set by its VR contemporaries. All that remains, however, is an arcade mode to replay the story. At best, you’ll get an hour out of Space Channel 5 VR before you’re done with it.
Space Channel 5 VR PSVR Review Final Impressions
Space Channel 5 VR should have been a glorious return to form, but this cult hit series can’t keep up with the beat set by its competitors. The surprisingly brief campaign coasts on by without ever pushing your skills and, once it’s over, there’s very little else to do. Ulala and co are long overdue a return to the main stage, but this isn’t it.