You'd never guess that a company could transform Simon--the electronic game where you recall patterns of color--into a stylish and entertaining dance contest, but that's exactly what Sega did with Space Channel 5. Originally released for the Dreamcast and now available for the Game Boy Advance courtesy of THQ, Space Channel 5 puts you into the shoes of Ulala, a leggy reporter assigned to observe an alien invasion that's occurring aboard a space station. Rather quickly, Ulala joins in the fight against the aliens, but not with guns or bombs as you'd expect. Instead, Ulala's weapon is the ability to mimic the dancing moves of the invaders, which allows her to free their human slaves and incapacitate their leaders. As you can imagine, something was lost in the conversion of these dance numbers from 3D graphics on the Dreamcast to 2D graphics on the Game Boy Advance, but the real problem with the conversion is that the timing of the dance moves is much less forgiving on the handheld.
The gist of the game involves Ulala walking from level to level and copying the dance routines performed by the aliens. If an alien says, "Up, right, right, down, shoot, shoot," then you'll need to perform the same moves with the exact same timing during the next portion of the song. Every time you succeed, the humans you free will join your dance posse and follow you around until the end of a level, where you'll eventually square off against a large boss monster--copying its dance moves to defeat it, just like you did with the smaller aliens. The game evaluates your progress based on the percentage of moves you perform correctly, which determines whether or not you'll advance to the next level.
As simple as the concept sounds, Space Channel 5 worked well on the Dreamcast because it presented the story like a futuristic Broadway musical. Copying the aliens' moves required precise timing, but the reward was a series of lengthy dance numbers that flexed the visual and audio muscles of the system. As previously mentioned, the GBA version has been scaled back quite a bit, but it still looks decent. The game's main problem stems from having to accurately time your dance moves. Even if you input each move correctly, you'll blow the entire section if you begin too late or pause just a split-second longer than you're supposed to. The original Dreamcast game was challenging, but it at least allowed enough leeway that you never felt you were being scored for failures when you were performing the proper commands. The GBA version seems unfair in this regard, and it's less enjoyable as a result.
It's a shame that more time wasn't spent tidying up the controls, because THQ has managed to capture the futuristic look and feel of the original Dreamcast game relatively well. All of the formerly polygon-based backgrounds are duplicated using two-dimensional renders and various camera angles. Ulala and the other dancers are brought to life using traditional sprite animation, and the variety of moves and reactions is pretty decent except for a few instances of stiffness here and there. Dance routines aren't nearly as impressive as they were on the Dreamcast, mainly due to the loss of the various laser and smoke effects that went along with each scene, but the developers did succeed in incorporating the constantly growing entourage that Ulala acquires as she releases more hostages within each level. Text boxes have replaced the majority of the digitized speech that was in the Dreamcast version of the game, although there are still some vocal snippets that pop up from time to time. Most of the music has been copied intact as well.
Like the original Dreamcast game, Space Channel 5 on the Game Boy Advance is a brief experience. In all, there are only four unique levels. Once you complete the game, you can unlock an extra mode that changes some of the sections within each level--but not to the extent that any level feels significantly different from its original configuration.
Ultimately, the frustrating controls ruin what could have otherwise been a standout conversion of one of the Dreamcast's more unique games. Any chance to enjoy the action occurring onscreen is swept away by the inability to get a fair shake from the computer.