Cyber Troopers Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram (just Virtual On for short) is an XBLA port of a classic SEGA arcade mech fighter, one that hasn't seen a lot of love in recent years, but is much deserved of some sort of revival. My only experience with the game was from the Dreamcast version; I didn't have an arcade unit near me when I was younger, but the setup I've seen in numerous videos over the years always looked like a blast. Granted, the Dreamcast version did get a twin stick peripheral that worked really with the game, and it was far more interesting than using the standard control setup, but I would've loved to play the arcade game.
With that said, I think Virtual On on XBLA is about as close as I can get to the real thing, minus the twin sticks. It's a really solid and faithful port, complete with online play, leaderboards and a system link option, giving players the chance to check out their mech skills against other players worldwide. It also finally brings a little attention to one of the best mech titles created in the past decade or so, and hopefully it does well enough to see a possible sequel down the road at some point.
The original arcade game was based on the Model 3 hardware, which is the same arcade hardware that brought about SEGA titles like Sega Rally 2 and Virtua Fighter 3, so we're obviously talking about quality here. It came out around 1998/1999, depending on location, and it was ported to the Sega Dreamcast later, and even the Naomi board version of the Dreamcast hardware saw a limited lifespan, so the port is pretty close to the real thing. The arcade unit was a beast, featuring a twin stick setup for the controls and attacks, requiring players to dodge, move and attack using the sticks by slamming them in the same direction or apart (depending on the maneuver), with the attacks tied to the joystick buttons. The battle system in Virtual On is something that's meant to be seen, with a variety of melee and long-ranged attacks, along with huge special attacks that can whittle away nearly half of your opponent's health bar in one shot.
Unlike a lot of popular big robot fighters from that time period, Virtual On wasn't based on a pre-existing anime franchise of which I'm aware. The various robots you could control and fight were all new and created specifically for the games, and the designs were given to them by a noted robot designer named Hajime Katoki, who had also contributed to the very popular Gundam series and the cult Kojima title, Policenauts. Needless to say, the man had a pedigree established, and it shows with the various designs featured in this game. The Virtual On series established a number of various merchandising options in Japan and had a considerable amount of success, even if the reception in the U.S. was never that huge.
The arcade and XBLA version of Virtual On features 14 different robot fighters to choose from, including the "mascot" of the series, Temjin. The mechs all vary in design, some taking on more feminine aspects while others are huge and bulky, and still yet you'll have smaller, obviously faster units, allowing for a lot of variety when it comes to matchups and skill types. Most longtime players have established their own favorites, and it's easy to compare the hardcore players of this game to those that play stuff like Street Fighter or Virtua Fighter. It's not the easiest game in the world to master, that's for sure, but with some patience and dedication, it doesn't take a whole lot to reach a level of adequacy. At first, the controls might seem a little stiff, and while I think there's a bit of appeal lost from not having the twin-stick option on XBLA, the basic control setup allows some customization, and after a bit of time, it's not hard to get into the swing of things. Still, if you're a new player, keep in mind that it's a game with a steep learning curve, especially online against far more experienced players with 10 years or so of playtime under their belts. I don't want to put anyone off of the title, as I think it's a blast even though I'm not particularly good at it, but I understand that it's not going to be for everyone.
Visually, Virtual On is ported over into HD with some outstanding, bright colors, sharp but simple texture work, and a look that feels like it was torn straight out of the arcade hardware. The single-player mode feels identical to what I remember from the Dreamcast, and the online implementation is handled really well. There's a leaderboard system for the online world, and the matchups are quick and easy to connect to, without a lot of dropped games or other issues. I never had any lag issues either, which is nice to see in a game that requires precision like this one.
Finally, there's some customization offered up for the robots, where you can take existing designs and alter colors and whatnot, along with a name to give you a robot that you can take online or into the single-player game to help you stand out against the pack, but don't expect a level of customization on par with something like the Armored Core series. It's definitely reigned in compared to some modern mech action titles, which is slightly disappointing considering they have made additions to the core arcade experience, but it's a small complaint.
Other than that, I can't think of a good reason to skip Virtual On. It's a great online experience, and it's a lot of fun to play a hidden gem from the past. For those of you who missed Virtual On the first time out, give this version a go; it's very true to the original, and it's a great, all-around port of the material. For longtime fans, it's a great way to get reacquainted with the game, and it already has a decent, established online community.
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