Among the storm of action, racing, and first-person shooters, it's refreshing that every so often, a developer introduces a new approach to the rhythm/action genre. Not since my virtual adventures aiding a savvy news reporter in a perilous mission to prevent an alien invasion, my world of rhythm and groove has been rather quiet. Until now...
Known for its focus in delivering high-caliber titles, namely the Dead or Alive and Monster Rancher franchises which provided significant entertaining appeal, Tecmo set out to introduce an innovative approach to rhythm-action titles. Enter the world of Unison: Rebels of Rhythm and Dance, a unique title combining the elements of Japanese anime, hip music, and endless replay value which you, your friends and the whole family can enjoy.
Unison takes place 200 years in the future, centered around the city of Twin Ships. Under the total control of a ruthless dictator known as Emperor Ducker, a strict prohibition has been placed on dancing. Anyone caught dancing is immediately arrested and banished from the city forever. With the aid of the mysterious man known as Doctor Dance (a person who's hair would even make Don King 'fro envy'), players take on the role as one of the three members of the super dance team Unison, in a mission to liberate the citizens of Twin Ships and demonstrate the power of dancing.
Alright...let's do it!
Now that Doctor Dance has outlined your objective, it's time to select one of the three dance members. Each character offers a different level of difficulty. Thus, novice players can select Trill to become familiar with the game. As you become more advanced, you have the option of selecting Cela for a more difficult challenge, while choosing Chilly is recommened for expert players only!
Once you've jumped into the initial story segment, Doctor Dance devises a plan to hijack Ducker's TV show in order to give you the opportunity to flex your dance moves to the citizens of Twin Ships. Before you engage the big moment in the spotlight, it's recommended that you practice your dance steps in the Lesson Mode until you've got down the entire routine on your own. While most rhythm/action games generally make use of the action buttons to control all of the onscreen action, the core gameplay revolves upon the left/right analog sticks. In similar respects to Space Channel 5, your dancing performance must be top notch. Failure to impress a substantial degree of the public results in immediate termination of the broadcast. Translation: Game over...thanks for playing.
Here's where the Lesson Mode has dire signficance to your success. In essence, its represents the training mode which will help you to master the dance routines from beginning to finish. The Lesson Mode is divided into several sub-categories:
- Full Mode: Practice your dance lessons from the beginning to end of an entire song. Qualify by scoring Rank C or higher in order to advance to Broadcast Mode.
- Portion Mode: Can't seem to grasp the steps in a particular segment of the song? Selecting this option allows you to target the difficult portion and practice it endlessly until you've got the groove down perfectly.
- View Mode: Ah, learn by example. Here's where Doctor Dance demonstrates the entire dance routine from start to finish. Follow along by moving the left/right analog stick in unison (no pun intended) with the onscreen guide. Once you feel comfortable with the dance steps, move on to Play Mode (as outlined below)
- Play Mode: So now you've seen how it's done from the masterful man with the crazy hairdo. Here's where you take those dance steps and put them to action. Players who may occassionally forget the steps (much like I initially had the problem in my first attempts) can take a peek in the upper left hand corner displaying a thumbnail version of the View Mode as an additional aid.
While some may view this process as mundane, it's quite enjoyable and is the game's most effective element which will transform you into an elite dancing mogul, virtually speaking of course.
The bells and whistles; Bahn rants some more!
What a great musical selection! (Y'know?)
Unison's presentation is very distinct, vibrant and packed with anime influence. Being highly fond of comedy types such as Tenchi Muyo and Ranma 1/2, it was naturally easy for me to relate to the entire design and style of the characters and story. Overall, the voice acting suits the characters to a tee, that any avid anime type would be hard pressed to find disatisfaction. With exceptions to titles like Metal Gear Solid, domestic voice acting in video games (and even anime for that matter) tends to be quite unpleasant, enough to minimize the entire experience a hundred fold (just watch the U.S. version of Street Fighter: The Movie if you think I am kidding). Digressing here, the talent is quite evident in every character within the Unison universe. It's pretty difficult to identify my personal favorites, I honestly enjoyed every single character that was introduced - from the alleged ditsy-like Trill, Chilly's feisty attitude to Ducker's personal troops, Like and Y'know (yes, those are their actual names), down to Emperor Ducker himself...each character has their own appeal that left a smile on my face from start to finish.
Unison's musical selection features a balance of Japanese pop music, classic disco, and contemporary American dance tracks. Most may be surprised, (much like myself in my initial game sessions), at the number of popular songs which comprised the eclectic soundtrack in each level, including songs such as Barbie Girl by Aqua; Stop the Rock by Apollo 440, OPP by Naughty by Nature and taking it back to the old-school, Motown Era - We Are Family, by Sister Sledge. Oh yeah, we're talking about a game that is down with the times and introduces players to a variety of classic songs from yesteryear right up to our common era.
In addition to Unison's solid execution of gameplay and entertaining value, the graphic presentation is quite impressive, and arguably on par with Sega's own rhythm/action title, Space Channel 5. Each level is practically exploding with color, and there's plenty to admire (though paying too much attention to the background during your dance routines may result in failure, so be wary). In addition to the Unison cast, who change their dance outfits accordingly to each new song are highly detailed, ranging from star-spangled digs and celestial skirts. Futhermore, the dance movements are so smooth and fluid, it almost gives the impression that you're interacting with a virtual dance video. I found the Unison girls to be, well...rather cute, but hey, I've always been a sucker for anime chicks! Unison even incorporates a small degree of background interaction as players who successfully recreate the dance steps as outlined by Doctor Dance will note how the backgrounds will trigger various outcomes as seen in Parappa the Rappa. Without trying to come off like a generic press release, Unison takes advantage of the PS2 graphic engine, creating authentic cinematic sequences and in some areas, provide a psuedo-cinematographic look by use of blurred backgrounds and a refined foreground; truly an excellent display of the system's graphic potential.
Dance, dance, dance...
As an added perk, Unison features a special mode called Club Tecmo, which allows players to access any of the songs in the game, in addition to selecting from a variety of hidden songs that aren't accessible in the Story Mode (which can only be unlocked by clearing certain conditions in the game). But that's not all, as highlighted earlier, Unison is a game that can get up to two additional players involved (a PS2 multitap will be required). Club Tecmo can instantly become the center of attention at any get-together as gamers take turns playing the roles of the main cast of Unison, getting their groove on, and most importantly - having a great time.
Overall, Unison is a very solid title, balanced in practically every department. Perhaps the ability to select from a wider cast of characters as a bonus for completing the game (such as the supporting cast in Unison), but quite frankly, there's very little else which I personally could find amiss. Unison features a premise that while simple in execution, requires a considerable amount of skill and coordination. In comparison to Space Channel 5 and respective titles of the genre currently on the market, the learning curve has a greater balance due to the selectable difficulty levels (represented by the cast of Unison). Complemented by the dynamic appeal of Japanese anime and some of the most popular hip hop, pop music selections, Unison takes the rhythm/action genre and raises it to another level, serving as a perfect model for future titles to come.
· · · Bahn