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   PlanetDreamcast | Games | Reviews | Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram
    Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram
We're turning Japanese I really think so - Review By Subskin

Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram Logo Virtual On was a critical and popular hit in Japan, and something of a cult classic in America. For the sequel, Oratorio Tangram, Sega pumped it full of updated graphics and interesting features. Although the arcade version saw limited distribution in the U.S., it was an instant classic on both sides of the Pacific. Many thought Americans would never buy the highly Japanese themes and gameplay of Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram, so a release on the U.S. Dreamcast was doubtful from the start. Activision, on the other hand, thinks you're ready for some pick-up mech warfare. Are you?

  • The Good

    The environments provide minimal cover for your mech.
    VO:OT is a straight-forward mech fighting game. There's a storyline hidden in there, but it means less than that of Street Fighter 2's. For all the talk of VO:OT being too centered on Japanese culture, you really only have to know two things: there are two mechs, and one of them is going to blow the $#!+ out of the other.

    The mechs, called Virturoids, are finely crafted pieces of death metal. Each sports three long range weapons, three short range weapons, and a few special attacks. Each Virturoid is a masterpiece of anime, from the Robotech-ish Cypher to the feminine Angelan. On screen, they appear life-like and highly detailed. When the camera zooms in on a replay, you can clearly read the writing on even small parts like wrists. AM3 constructed some of the most impressive mechs the world has yet seen.

    One reason the Virturoids are so damned impressive is their speed. No, not speed like Carl Lewis, or speed like Ben Davis. Speed like 60 frames per second. Consistently. VO:OT's ability to run VHS quality frame rates with nary a drop is crucial to the success of the game. With two visually fantastic Virturoids dancing around each other, launching man-sized missles, you have no choice but to wipe the drool from your chin and keep pounding on the triggers.

    The mech designs are beautiful, and wonderfully rendered by the game.
    The arsenal of weapons is also exhilerating. GRYS-VOX fires something close to a nuclear warhead from his back, while Temjin whips out a twelve-foot sword. You have a different trigger for each arm's weapon; pressing both fires a center weapon. You also have individual control over both of your back-mounted thrusters. By combining the use of these -- say left thruster plus center weapon -- VO:OT provides you with special attacks to beat your pitiful foe into submission.

    Despite the armageddonish firepower, the gameplay in VO:OT is extremely balanced. Each mech has strengths and weaknesses that make every match-up worthwhile. The nice thing about VO:OT is that the character design isn't stock crap -- you know, the typical "slow big guy with a mighty punch" versus the "hyper-fast runt with more bark than bite." VO:OT's characters are a mix of speed, firepower, rate of fire, turning ability, and other useful comparisons. What's more, each character's weapons are genuinely unique. I mean, Fei-Yen Xn fires a swarm of pink hearts. Do you know anybody that launches killer hearts? See, it's unique.

    The accompanying sound effects are nice, if a little generic. Most weapons sound approximately the same, and the voices are a flat computer drawl. Music is an odd mix of video game techno to stuff that sounds like Kraftwerk meets the Cranberries to Imperial March-like nocturnes. The sound doesn't really help or hinder the game; in fact, I was able to throw on a Beastie Boys CD for a little better effect.

    VO:OT is intelligent. You have to think and move quickly to play this sucker, not just jam out pre-programmerd 50 hit combos. The computer will bury you for a while, even on the weaker difficulty settings. This presents a slight problem if you start out on single-player like I did. The game moves so fast and is so deceptively complex that it's difficult to tell just how that CPU bastard ended up behind you with a six-foot drill stuck through your keister. The two-player mode is a safer introduction to this frag-fest, as odds are your friend isn't nearly as aggressive as the demonic AI.

    Next: More Good, The Bad, and The Final Word

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