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Armored Core 2
Baldur's Gate II
Blair Witch
Samba de Amigo
SSX
Street Fighter EX3
Tekken Tag Tournament
THPS 2

1995-2001
GamesFirst! Magazine

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by Tecmo

 

unison_3_550-01.jpg (8651 bytes)I have to admit that when I was younger my most secret wish was to be a Solid Gold dancer. When Flashdance came out, I bought legwarmers. And my secret affliction didn’t seem to get any better as I got older. In fact it probably got worse, as it spread to other parts of my life. I even went so far as to rent the Spice Girls video game to see what kind of dancer and choreographer I could become. So I have to say, I probably have one of the most open adult minds about dance-focused video games, even if I may not always be the intended target audience. I was hoping that Unison: Rebels of Rhythm & Dance might be a game through which I could live out my dreams, or at least have a few hours of fun. I left the game without getting my groove thang shook even once.

While a younger audience might be a little more forgiving than I am about plot and its execution, I keep hoping that video game writers will get the idea that their fan base (no matter how young) is a lot more savvy than they are giving them credit for, and that a stronger story might broaden their age demographic. In Unison, three young girls (Trill, Cela, and Chilly) are recruited by Doctor Dance to help him bring dancing back to Twin Ships and wrest control back from the evil anti-dancer, Ducker. The Doctor will interrupt Ducker’s transmissions to broadcast his three "peaches" dancing to hits from our century (they’re living 200 years in the future). Now that setup isn’t so bad to begin with, but the way it is carried out is pretty unimaginative and the dialogue is terrible, even if we try to defend it as "just a cheesy dance game." The game strives to be a three-way cross between the seventies disco fever, the eighties valley girl phenomena ("like, ya know?") and hip nineties rap fest, and yet still try to be reflective of the future. However, besides Chilly’s pet robot, there’s not too much of the future going on here.

unison_2_550-01.jpg (9353 bytes)The game has a main story mode and a side distraction called Club Tecmo. In the main game, you can choose which girl you will focus on (Trill is the "easy" setting, Cela the "hard," and Chilly the "very hard"). You are given a short dance number which you can practice and break down into portions which are easier to learn. The object is to copy the moves the computer makes with your analog sticks and when you’re ready, you can perform for the doctor and then get broadcast out into Twin Ships. You receive a grade, and as long as you get higher than a "D" you can continue playing. In Club Tecmo, you can re-perform dance numbers you learned before and can earn new songs. This second option would be a lot more fun if it were not for one fairly serious problem.

The moves that you do merely represent which side of the body the computer is moving and have very little real correlation to the actual moves the dancers make. There are no combinations to remember, which might be nice for the much younger members of the target audience, but it pretty much ruins the idea of creativity or true skill on the part of the players. What it becomes is a test to see if you remember which analog move comes next and manipulating your controller to follow your directions correctly. So as a memory game, this title has a lot of potential. But as a dance game, the lack of true unique options for movement is a real downer. This makes Club Tecmo only a place to re-do old dance moves and not really a place to create, even when they give you new music for progressing further in the story mode.

unison_1_550-01.jpg (10454 bytes)A place where I thought they really could have broadened the game’s target audience and skill level is with the different dancers, so I was pretty excited when I saw that the girls represented different challenges. But what ends up happening is that the songs and plot exposition are the same and the moves are the same sort of controlled movement. The only real difference is that the computer requires more segments where you have to complete a movement on every eighth-note and you’re required to use diagonals on the analog stick. So while the girls represent different skill levels, the moves really aren’t that different and it only requires slightly more dexterity and memorization to play "very hard" than it does to play "easy."

As far as graphics go, this game is set up to be cartoon cute Japanimation, so I didn’t expect too much detail. However, the game had a lot of fry in the backgrounds and the sideline characters weren’t very detailed at all. The main characters had more time and detail put into them, and were much more fun to watch. I especially appreciated the nearly gelatinous mega-afro of Doctor Dance that looked like it could boogie on its own. Probably the highlights were the "stage" backgrounds that Doctor Dance programmed for the broadcast shows, which are a little more interesting, but in general, the graphics aren’t anything to write home about.

The music that was original worked very well in the game, but I was almost offended that they used remakes of such hits as "YMCA" and "We are Family." And one of the rap songs they used had barely edited references to smoking dubious substances that may not have been appropriate for the demographic they seemed to be targeting. However, the re-makes grew on me, and the music ended up being the strongest part of the game.

This game might be a good rental for a younger demographic that’s not old enough to rise to the occasion of a more difficult level of gaming. Some of the humor might also be more appreciated. But as soon as your video gamer gets to the point where they understand that their movements with the controller have little to do with the dancers movements and that they can’t really create more complex and cool moves, the game will lose its appeal fairly quickly. I have to say that I’m looking forward to the day when the dance game catches up with the type of complexity and intuitive level of movement as such games as Tekken. It’s really the same sort of idea in a different arena, and I know kids as young as six and as old as…well, lets just say older adults, who can play and love the game. Granted, the gamer must have a need to dance, but I think that games can be made that cater to all types and skill levels of the wanna-be groover. Rent Unison if you must, but cross your fingers with me that something better is coming along shortly.

Monica Hafer

Snapshot

Ups: Groovy graphics style; some good tunes.

Downs: Repetitive and boring gameplay; weak visuals.

System Reqs:
Sony PlayStation 2

 

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