Publisher: Hudson Entertainment
Release Date: January 9, 2008
If Omega Five has anything at all going for it, it's that every time I sit down to play a game, I definitely feel like I've been sent back to the world of shoot-'em-up titles circa 1996. The presentation has a very arcade feel, down to the amount of credits at the bottom of the screen and the ability to switch to a new character whenever I die (something that I always relate to Konami arcade titles like TMNT or The Simpsons from my youth). This is definitely a compliment, especially considering that Natsume's newest Xbox Live Arcade title is a brand-new game, not a simple port from a bygone era.
While Omega Five resembles an older arcade shooter, the visual presentation is all current-generation, with some impressive visuals and flashy attacks that look right at home in a High-Def setting. Enemies will surround your character from all sides, including jumping out at you from the background, and quite a few can swarm the screen before any sign of slowdown approaches.
Omega Five, like so many titles on XBLA, adopts the popular twin-thumbstick shooter style that has you controlling your movement with the left stick and your attacks with the right. In addition to these basics, your character has a secondary weapon, different between all of the characters, as well as an incredibly devastating super attack carried out by the left trigger, and finally a defensive tactic that puts you out of sync dimension-wise, allowing you to catch a breather, used by pressing the right trigger.
There is only a total of four stages, but the difficulty ranges from pretty easy to incredibly difficult in a short span of time, with quite a few enemies attacking from every side, including some larger, indestructible enemies that fill one-third of the screen and spew projectiles at you while you dodge the smaller ships that swarm in from all sides.
Instead of piloting spacecraft, you're able to select from four different characters, two of which are unlocked after beating the game with the initial two characters. Your first two are Ruby and Tempest, and they play in a pretty different fashion from each other. Ruby is a bit more traditional, with three different weapons that depend on which icon you pick up during a map. Her basic attack is a simple bullet-style weapon, while her second attack is a straight laser that can eventually power up to reflect off of other objects. The third is a stream of electricity, which can also power up to spread out and damage enemies near your target. All of the weapons in the game can be powered up three times, simply by picking up more of their corresponding icons in the level.
Tempest has some pretty unique abilities and attacks, which are definitely unlike more traditional shooters. His initial attack is a flamethrower that powers up to expand in both length and width, and his second attack is a corrosive acid ability that tends to drip downward when sprayed out. The third attack is molten lava or metal that fires off in arcs, allowing for a unique ability to hit hard-to-reach foes.
Each character also has an alternate attack, with Ruby using a satellite that can attach to an enemy, causing Ruby to autofire at the attached target, and Tempest can spin and fire weapons from all four of his arms at once. Tempest also has an added advantage of a small shield that will slow down and even reflect bullets, provided you're not firing any attacks at the same time.
The other two additional characters you can unlock are R.A.D., who is just a faster version of Ruby, and Samurai, who is definitely a unique character, carrying out his attacks with a simple sword swipe, also one of the most powerful attacks in Omega Five. R.A.D. is unlocked by completing the game with Ruby, while Samurai is unlocked after finishing with Tempest.
Each character can also use the Ultimate Burst attack by hitting the left trigger, which unleashes a wave of destruction that destroys most of your weaker enemies on-screen. You can store up to three of these charges at once, which is powered up by the small pink triangles you'll collect from enemies you destroy. You can use the Burst as many times as you like within each level, provided you have a stored-up charge to use at the time.
Another great aspect of Omega Five is the incredible soundtrack put together by the long-running Natsume composer, Hiroyuki Iwatsuki. There are two soundtracks in the game, one that features your typical modern-day soundtrack in both style and composition, and another that is set to retro mode, made to emulate classic 16-bit-style soundtracks. Both of the accompanying soundtracks are fantastic and something that's pretty unexpected in a $10 downloadable arcade game. I'm pretty surprised at the amount of work Natsume put in to making a solid new title for the service, and definitely impressed with what they pulled off.
That's not to say that Omega Five is without fault, such as the short levels and lack of levels in general, and the harder difficulty of the last couple of stages will definitely put off casual shooter fans. Also, starting off with two characters feels a bit light compared to most games, and then having one of your unlockable characters simply be a sped-up version of an existing one feels a little cheap.
There's also a challenge mode that unlocks as you progress, which allows no continues and is basically a score builder for online leaderboards. Then there's a co-op mode, which is local only, pairing you with one other player. Co-op doesn't change up anything in game, but it does make the action on-screen a bit harder to follow with another player around.
However, I have to give praise to Omega Five, which is a great attempt at bringing an original shooter to XBLA that definitely feels old-school but with enough of a visual emphasis to make it something appealing to play for today's fans of the genre. The length is disappointing, but the challenge is solid for hardcore players, and the unlockable characters guarantee a couple of replays at least. If nothing else, finish the game with Tempest to unlock Samurai, as he offers a unique way of playing the game with sword attacks instead of projectiles. The biggest thing that elevates Omega Five from a standard shoot-'em-up, however, is the soundtrack, which gaming music fans will definitely want to check out. At 800 Microsoft points (or $10), I definitely suggest giving this shooter a try; I don't think you'll be disappointed.
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