Virtual On, Virtual Off.
I sometimes find myself becoming very jealous of the Japanese. After all, Japan is something of a gaming Mecca and the proving grounds for many of the console games that make it to U.S. shores. Like a small child, I wonder why exactly THEY always have to get all the good games first? (most of them anyway.) It's not fair I tell you. It's not fair!
Luckily, one particular gem made it across the seas, narrowly escaping a cruel death by the Sega of America execs. Yes dear readers, Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram (the sequel to the hit Virtual On: Cyber Troopers) has made it over to our very own U.S. Sega Dreamcast!
The story behind Oratorio Tangram is a strange one, so listen up. During the Virtual Century, a "Moon Gate" was discovered which held enormous amounts of valuable psychic energy. War broke out and development Plant 9 disappeared, along with a vital piece of the new technology. Known only as the "Tangram," this technology controls the laws of space and time. Your mission is to take control of one of twelve Virtuaroids and locate the Tangram.
No one ever mentions what in the world "Oratorio" is (It's a composition for voices and orchestra, which doesn't make things any clearer. - Ed.), but I think it might be the name of the supreme power emanating from the Virtuaroids. Either that or some wacky hidden psychic code saying, "Buy this game!" (I'll make sure to run it backward through a vocalizer to find out.) Got all that? It's giant robot fightin' time!
From the very beginning, it is obvious just how graphically enriched the world of Virtual On is. During the take-off scenes, you can even see the miniature Dreamcast powering each of the warrior robots (I just can't call them 'roids). As the battle gets underway, you'll soon be amazed by the smoothness of it all. The animation of each character is completely seamless, lacking any visible faults. The Virtuaroids themselves even show physical damage as the game progresses.
The 17 different backgrounds are also loaded up with plenty of detail. One stage includes a small moat that will slow you down and another stage takes place completely underwater. This game definitely shares one of the top spots in the Dreamcast graphics category alongside greats like Soul Calibur and Dead or Alive 2.
Blazing gameplay augments the graphical wonders of Virtual On:OT. At an astonishing 60 frames per second, the cast of Virtual On moves almost as fast as Kobe does to the hoop. Even when the action is hot and heavy, the game runs as smooth as silk. This speed makes it possible for a skilled player to eliminate his opponent in a matter of seconds.
Many gamers may be unfamiliar with Oratorio Tangram, a game that never really made it overseas into American arcades. Even the original Virtual On was difficult to find. Oratorio Tangram, like its predecessor, is meant to be played side by side with a human opponent...and with twinsticks. That awesome peripheral sadly did not make it over to the U.S., making fans of the series wonder how their U.S. version would fare minus the essential controller. The answer is disappointing.
Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram is just not the same game without the twinsticks. To compensate for the loss, Activision has provided several possible controller options to suit a player's control preferences. While none of these configurations can truly capture the essence of the twinsticks, they're good enough to play the game. Even still, a great deal of patience and practice is needed in order to gain even the smallest grasp of the virtuaroid's controls.
Despite the control problems, Oratorio Tangram is a great two-player experience. It isn't as frustrating as the single player mode and it's much more fun to learn the controls with a friend rather than in the training mode.
Another little bothersome aspect is the lack of extras. Extras (especially in fighting games) lead to greater replay value. More costumes, stages, or characters are always welcomed, but you won't find very much past the basics in Oratorio Tangram.
Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram is one of those great Japanese games that didn't quite reach its potential with the American release. My heart yearns for those beloved twinstick controllers that I so fondly remember from the days of Cyber Troopers. Still, it's a graphical powerhouse that is great for some one on one fighting robot action.