I picked up Space Channel 5: Special Edition recently, partly because I adore Puddin, and partly because getting two games for US$15 is simply too good a deal for a cheapskate like me to pass up. Playing them again, though, I realized something: they’re really lousy games. The core mechanic is essentially a couch-potato’s version of Simon Says. The difficulty is oddly unbalanced, lurching between boringly easy and infuriatingly difficult even within a single level. The graphics are pretty sketchy, with criminally low poly counts and often jerky animations. And both games are ridiculously short: you can finish either one in an hour or two. You know what, though? None of that matters, because Space Channel 5 has something that very few video games even know they should want to have: swing.


Everything about SC5, from the voice acting to the character models to the music — even the way levels are paced — exhibits a clear and thorough understanding of the concept of fabulousness. The ecstatic brass of the main track, “Mexican Flyer,” infects the player right in the opening menu, and its optimistic vibe runs through all the music in the game. The biomorphic, retro-outer-space design of the graphics doesn’t take the player into the future so much as into the past, when the future seemed like something to look forward to — more “Jetsons” than “Blade Runner.” The whole experience is an indulgence in camp without any negativity or sarcasm; rather than being winked at, the player is invited to join in the fun; it’s the Hairspray of video games.

To put it another way: try to think of another video game that could include drag queens, ex-teen-idols, and Michael Jackson without degenerating into mockery: I’ll bet you can’t. Yet SC5 has them strutting along behind Ulala (literally — Tony Manero would be proud) with ´┐Żlan rather than air-quotes. A game that can express joy to the player like this transcends any nitpicky complaints about mechanics or playthrough time: it’s just so much more fun to play the game than it is to worry about that sort of thing.