Tuesday 9 October 2012

Space Channel 5: Part 2

Hey there space cats, this is Squirrel coming to you live with Space Channel 5: Part 2, third game in "Dreamcast" Collection for the Xbox 360. Why not part 1? Because that would make too much damned sense.

So Ed Milliband has taken up echoing Conservative Party policy and apparently idolises Benjamin Disraeli, prominent Tory figure from the nineteenth century. Britain has only elected right wing governments since 1979 so abandoning traditional socialist values is a given to succeed, but that's not the point - you're meant to offer an alternative to the current government!

This sort of thing is defined as "petty politics". And now here's some more - this copy of Space Channel 5: Part 2 isn't a small-state, low tax Dreamcast game, it's a wealth distributing trade union-endorsed PlayStation 2 release in disguise! Blasphemous!

For some, confusing the PlayStation 2 for the Sega Dreamcast is like getting mixed up between North Korea and South Korea at the Olympics... when the games are being set in North Korea... and you're part of the South Korean team. Though what this release puts forward isn't entirely untrue (there's a Dreamcast version of Part 2 in Japan, albeit in Japanese), it's the video game equivalent of not having a credible economic plan to overcome the UK budget deficit. Or something. This political analogy broke down two paragraphs ago, and we all know the Dreamcast is a centrist Liberal Democrat anyway.

Space Channel 5: Part 2 is the second game in the "series" - a pair of games which see fledgling reporter Ulala save the universe through the medium of dance. The first Space Channel 5 (which did see an English Dreamcast release) has yet to be brought to modern consoles, so with the Xbox 360 release of Part 2, we're able to confuse the masses on top of the regular agenda of lying to them.

That being said there's a perfectly good reason why the original Space Channel 5 hasn't been seen in ten years - the conversion would require too much hard graft, as you'd need some qualified artists on your team to overcome the reliance on pre-rendered 480p video. I'd like to think this was an insurance policy adopted by United Game Artists back in 2000 - in order for Space Channel 5 to look decent on newer systems, you're forced to devote an abnormal amount of man-hours to the project. Rushed, low budget ports are almost an impossibility.

But what's frightening is that Sega, assuming the company didn't consciously decide to start with the second game, likely reached this conclusion at some stage. While sifting through the back catalogue of "Dreamcast" titles to "upgrade", chances are Space Channel 5 gave a clear indication that slap-dash ports are a bad idea, yet its suggestion was ignored all the same. Part 2 deals more in 3D polygons so only a small fraction of the game looks outstandingly awful on modern platforms (as opposed to all of it), but it certainly highlights the change in culture over the last ten years - Sega won't even listen to themselves anymore.

And so we're left with yet another non-HD, non-Dreamcast game, this time a direct sequel to a game most of you haven't played. Though perhaps more pleasant in its delivery than Crazy Taxi, it is nevertheless a poorly conceived release brought to us by clueless chimps. On the plus side, this is a Space Channel 5: Part 2, and so by default holds up remarkably well in the face of adversity, and coupled with the fact it's a rare game to see, it stands as the only meaningful reason to invest in a copy of Dreamcast Collection.

Perhaps more than any other release on the Dreamcast (except maybe Segagaga), Space Channel 5: Part 2 feels like the final sending-off for Sega and its Dreamcast console. It pulls out all the stops to show what developers, United Game Artists were capable of, with visuals often stunning for the day and one of the best video game soundtracks of all time. It's a bizarre game where you repeat sequences of instructions, aiming to up your viewer ratings and not have your show cancelled due to stupidity. Though set four hundred years in the future, fashion styles are plucked straight from the 1960s, and the names of many prominent organisations are preceded with the word "space".

Both Space Channel 5s are fully aware of how ridiculous they look and actively revel in the bright colours and horrible vocals. Both are fun games, not just to play, but to watch and to listen to, and even today Part 2 stands as a vastly different product from anything else you might find on the market. It represents a class of games rarely seen in the modern world, and of course, also features Michael Jackson as a main character, with a performance second only to his role in Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2 (also a Dreamcast game), in which Bill Clinton can punch him in the face.

But I'm not going to lie, persuading you to play this one is going to be an uphill struggle. This isn't some crappy Wii-loving accessibility fest for so-called "casual gamers" like the internet may have you believe, but its outlandish and occasionally awkward ideas may fail to appease the masses. We all know this isn't destined to sell in large numbers - it can only appeal to gamers with a touch of class and a sense of humour.

And sadly this 2011 version of Space Channel 5: Part 2 strives to put you off further, highlighting all the fun inaccuracies of yesteryear, including low resolution textures, low polygon models and rendering errors not usually caught on camera. The dated visuals don't haunt the game like they might in Sonic Adventure, but the problems are obvious, with the ending scenes being particularly horrible under the new "HD" regime.

Because although Space Channel 5: Part 2 is by far the most entertaining game in Dreamcast Collection, it is also perhaps the most insulting. A game that thrives entirely on presentation has been short-changed on visuals for the purpose of making easy money. The problem is, having only ever appealed to a niche market of die hard Dreamcast loyalists, not even Sega of America's bank account will benefit from this one.

It genuinely angers me that this game has been allowed to be exploited in this way. The Dreamcast spent its days delivering new and innovative experiences, as well as setting new standards for audio and visuals, creating fans with high expectations in the process. The game is a work of art, but in "HD", Space Channel 5: Part 2 fails to make the grade by leaps and bounds, not least because Sega of America can't comprehend such a notion. On top of this, I can't imagine bear-bones ports of ten-year-old games will attract waves of new customers either - it feeds off memories alone... except none of us remember it looking as bad as this.

Buying Space Channel 5: Part 2 is must, regardless of your views on its pink-haired protagonist and awkward sexist undertones, but it's more than fair to say the Xbox 360 doesn't do the game justice. In the end, it's probably worth buying regardless of the inadequacies, but rushing a game to market to please a non-existent audience is nothing short of stupid. Have some self respect - give the rights to Q Entertainment and leave Ulala alone.

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