Unison Hands-On

Tecmo's stylish rhythm game is headed to US shores, and we have a copy of the localized version. How does it compare with the Japanese release?

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With the success of games like Space Channel 5 and the hype generated by the US release of Konami's Dance Dance Revolution, it seems the climate is right for Japanese companies to bring their quirky dance games to the States. Whatever its reasoning, Tecmo has decided its dance game Unison is fit for North American consumption, and it's well into the process of localizing the game.

Unison tells the story of Doctor Dance and his three brave cohorts, Trill, Cela, and Chilly. Living in a world where dancing is prohibited by a dastardly entertainment minister, this quartet forms Unison--a pirate dance squad out to take back the night. Unison rehearses and subsequently broadcasts underground performances aimed at stirring the rhythmically subjugated population into revolt. The group spares no expense--each broadcast consists of a massive multimedia presentation on top of the song and dance antics of the fully costumed group. Quite a sight to behold.

Screwball story aside, Unison is by no means your standard dance game. From a gameplay standpoint, the game relies heavily on the Simon-esque memorization of dance routines rather than on quick reflexes and custom peripherals. The control scheme requires you to use the PS2's dual analog sticks to simulate the moves of the onscreen dancers. Depending on the particular dance routines you'll be required to perform, you'll have to move the sticks every which way while staying in tempo in order to achieve maximum accuracy.

Each performance is preceded by a lengthy training session, in which Doctor Dance coaches Trill, Cela, or Chilly on the particular moves to be performed. As you'll be required to dance to entire songs, the training exercises are broken up into sections aimed at teaching you each of the song's sequences. Trill, Cela, and Chilly all have a different set of moves, with Trill's being the easiest and Chilly's the most challenging. After you've sufficiently mastered the moves via the training sequences, you're made to go on the air with your performance. This is where the music and pyrotechnics are in full effect--as whichever character you've selected, you have to dance through the entire song, entirely from memory, in order to score a passing grade. In contrast to the on-air sessions in the less-lenient Japanese version, the US version's on-air sessions include onscreen prompts that illustrate the moves you're required to perform. Though this does help out quite a bit, it's still nearly impossible to go through the songs without having practiced them intensively in the training sessions. The performances are replete with flashing lights, tightly choreographed dance routines, and crisp hi-fi versions of the selected songs. Despite the game's technically modest visuals, there's quite a bit of eye-candy to be enjoyed here.

The game's visual design is very focused. It adheres to a sort of "manga meets '70s space-funk/disco" aesthetic to a tee. The game's world is composed of bright colors and rounded shapes, and the characters are all decked out in hip huggers, butterfly collars, and platform shoes. Doctor Dance's pad--where the training sequences take place--is quite swank. It features donut-shaped couches, azure bamboo plants, and round, pulsating modular speakers. All in all, the visuals are technically simple, composed of straightforward textures, low-poly characters, and an impressive use of light and shadow effects. The on-air productions are pretty impressive, replete with laser lights, fog effects, and lens flares.

Unison features music by Naughty by Nature (OPP), Aqua (Barbie Girl), and KC and the Sunshine Band (That's the Way I Like It), among others. Needless to say, the game's selection of '70s and '90s pop, as well as its moderate selection of J-pop, fits the theme quite well. Tecmo also has remixed some of the songs, though to what extent isn't entirely clear.

Unison is set for release in the US later this month. Though the North American populace has expressed some kind of interest in the neglected rhythm genre, it's tough to tell whether it'll take to an entry that is markedly more difficult to "pick up and play" than the others in the genre. The game has definitely been toned down a bit for its US release, though, so it's clear that Tecmo is aware of the risks involved. Stay tuned for full review of the game in the coming weeks.

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