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Virtual-On: Oratorio Tangram

Mech titles are oft regarded as an acquired taste amongst the videogame world. They garner a rabid fanbase of devout followers, all hungry for the taste of metal and MECHANICAL WARFARE. There are many classic mech games, but arguably the most fondly remembered is Virtual-On: Oratorio Tangram. Recently re-released on Xbox Live, this Dreamcast and Saturn classic still holds a lot of charm. It’s bold, bright, and refreshingly vibrant, and despite the high price and limited game options, it’s worth checking out if you’re interested in frantic mech warfare.

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The first thing worth noticing about Virtual-On is its styling. Many would consider it ugly – the big block text of the logo, the general design and capital lettering of the menus, the solid colours. Perhaps a love-hate affair, but the love is entirely justified, as the whole look of the game is unique – they certainly don’t style them like this anymore. Much like the game’s presentation, the gameplay and visuals are also wonderfully retro, warts and all.

The game centres on mech combat, specifically one-on-one, arena-based battles. There’s a wide array of mech warriors to choose from, and you’ll have a favourite in no time. Whether you’re after a big tanked up machine, a cutesy pink princess model or a slick hero swordsman, the variety is refreshing. Each mech has its own sparkling personality, ironic as it sounds, and once you’ve chosen a particular machine, you’ll grow fond of its many intricacies and features. When you’re used to a dull selection of grey robots as in many similar games, these colourful charismatic mech characters certainly do the job.

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Once selected, it’s time for some combat. There are ten arenas to choose from, with locales ranging from an underwater plaza, an aircraft carrier and even the German Autobahn. As well as these you can engage in battle across a selection of arenas in space, which usually host the more epic of fire-fights. Colour is about in abundance, and the blocky visuals do little to mar your enjoyment – if anything, they welcome a wonderful nostalgic appreciation.

The actual gameplay has carried well from the original. It takes getting used to, and requires dedication if you want to become a master, but once you learn the general controls you’ll soon be felling opponents all over the park. The combat isn’t entirely fluid however. There are moments where you will be forced to stop, and your enemy will have a free shot, and the camera sometimes doesn’t give off the best view of the action. The twin-stick control works, but not perfectly, and a few people will be put off by the clunkiness, but it’s easy to look past all this.

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Each mech has a different primary and secondary weapon assigned to each trigger, with the best firepower available by pressing both. You can mix it up with crouch attacks, close-range swipes and strafe shots, amongst other moves that you can learn as you become more astute with the game. Battles can be as epic or as standard as you choose to play, and the deceptively simple play mechanics mean you can be jumping around in no time and still have a good fight. The electronic music that accompanies each round does wonders for charging you up, its beats energising the battlefield. If you’re not one for mech games or fighters, it’s unlikely this game will change your mind, and even if you are the fact all there is to the game is one-on-one battles may put you off.

Aside from the standard arcade mode which emulates the Dreamcast original exactly, there’s a score attack mode, the ability to customise the colours of the mechs, and online-play – arguably the game’s selling point. Online play is still arena battles between two players, but the leaderboards mixed with the thriving online community and levelling up system means it holds a lot of lure. There are lots of promotions and ranks to gain as you attempt to beat the opposition, and while it seems odd that you don’t get any experience points for losing, this only makes you more determined to win. You can use your customised mech design, and while you’re only able to change your mech’s colours, it still gives you a unique identity. The online community is busy for a Live Arcade title, and the game’s cult status means a lot of hardcore players will burn you before you’ve even got a shot off, but if you choose to stick with it your effort will be paid off.

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Surprisingly for a game that holds so much reputation, the achievements are ridiculously easy, and can be finished within a few hours play. Past leaderboards and online play, you won’t have as much incentive to come back to the arena unfortunately. The price is a little steep too – at 1200 points (£11.69/$15), you may find it hard to purchase given you don’t get a huge amount of content.

Nevertheless, Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram is a bright and cheery Mech’em’up with great charm and a nostalgic gleam that despite its problems is worth checking out, provided you agree with the price. Who knows, it may even transform the odd non-believer.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @_Frey.

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