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Unison
Preview By: Siou Choy
Developer:   Tecmo
Publisher:   Tecmo
Genre:   Dance
# of Players:   1-3
ESRB:    Everyone
Release Date:   March 2001
Posted:   2-25-01

It's 200 years in the future, and a dictator has taken over (and with all the weird little laws against living popping up beneath our very noses lately, this comes as no great surprise). He's decided to control everyone through the media and public entertainment (sound familiar?). Dancing has become prohibited (OK, so they're Baptists). So what do you do? Take over a broadcast by means of pirate TV, of course; and that is exactly what Unison, a group of four freedom fighters (Trill, Cela, Chilly, Sensei and their robot mascot, Friday) decide to do. By means of their desperate gamble, the members of Unison hope to free the average citizenry by demonstrating the mystical and liberating power of dance and rhythm. This is the story behind Tecmo's new dance game, Unison: Rebels of Rhythm and Dance for the Playstation 2.

The graphics in Unison adopt a style somewhat reminiscent of Japanese Anime (or Spice World done right). The game designers added a bit of a cinematic feel by utilizing blurring in the backgrounds while simultaneously sharpening and refining images in the foreground. Bright colors give the game an appropriately vibrant look. The characters appear to be well crafted, with each character having its own unique style and feel. How can you not love Sensei's giant afro? Of course, beautiful graphics are just a small part of Unison. Like any dance game worth its salt, Unison is a forum where you can show off your best push-button virtual dance moves.

Gameplay in Unison takes advantage of both the left and right Dual Shock analog sticks, for a change. Gee, after four years of Dual Shock enabled games, Sony's finally come up with a use for the right analog stick. Congratulations, guys. By using a multi-tap, you and two friends can each control a member of Unison (the exception being Sensei, who is there solely to teach you the moves). Like the Dreamcast's popular Space Channel 5, Unison relies on memorization. Sensei will present you with the moves you need to learn, giving you a portion of each dance routine at a time. The story unfolds gradually, after each portion of the routine is mastered. Upon successful completion of all of the segments, you are set to perform your Pirate Broadcast. If you fail, the game ends (and you must go through the entire training sequence from the beginning). Each song has it's own set of accompanying moves to learn, and your grade will increase or decrease as you dance based on your performance. The higher the grade you earn, the greater the rewards, i.e., a better stage show (including such extra perks as fireworks).

In Unison, you have your choice of playing in the standard "Story" mode (the "regular" one player version) or the "Special" mode, which allows up to three players, and is where you can earn some extra features for the game. Replay mode allows the player to view completed dances from both the Story and Special modes.

The music in the game is a strange mixture of Japanese pop (J-Pop), 1970's disco, and more recent, if equally dated, embarrassingly once-popular music by losers like Aqua and Naughty by Nature. I imagine obtaining the rights to such oldies-if-not-goodies was a significantly more reasonable expense than those to anything reasonably current (or even reasonably good, barring one track from slick disco funk maestros Chic). For the morbidly curious, this is the complete list of songs Tecmo thoughtfully replaced any actual J-pop with for the U.S. release: "Stop the Rock" - Apollo 440; "Barbie Girl" - Aqua; "Country Grammar" - Nelly; "We Are Family" (remixed by Marley Marl); "That's the Way I Like It" - KC & the Sunshine Band; "OPP" - Naughty by Nature; "Everybody Dance" - Chic; "Nowhere" - FAZE4.

There are three supposed J-pop hits that remain untouched by the transfer: "Yosaku" and "Night of Fire", both remixed by Tecmo Japan, and "Synchronized Love" by Joe Rinoue. Being an avid J-pop fan and Hey! Hey! Hey! Music Champ viewer for several years now, I strongly doubt that these songs are quite the chart toppers Tecmo would seem to represent they are, but in light of the usual complete wipe of the audio track in Japan-U.S. game importation, almost anything would be an improvement. Now if someone would stock a game with music from my favorite J-Pop bands, Pizzicato Five and The Brilliant Green, I'd be set; in the meantime, such half-measures as this (and the 2 Ayumi Hamasaki cuts on Thousand Arms) will have to suffice.

Unfortunately for the future of U.S.-Japan relations, both countries get stuck with that campy paean to older men who like seeing young boys traipse about in their underwear, the Village People's "YMCA" (as remixed by Tecmo Japan). Visions of dorky yuppie types who think they're partying hard by spelling out the letters in complete naiveté of the song's subtext haunt my mind too much at the moment to continue. << SHUDDER >>

Look for Unison, and a lot of dancing fun, coming your way in March courtesy of the folks at Tecmo.

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