It feels like it’s been years since I played a decent Mech game, infact, it has being years. Fans of the Arcade may be familiar with Virtual On. You probably encountered this beast of a machine in a smoke filled arcade at a tacky seaside resort or perhaps you were lucky enough to play it in your home town.
Who can’t forget the twin-sticks on the machine that enabled you to battle it out ferociously with a friend, before you clocked them round the head with that stick of rock you picked up beforehand?
The arcade feeling wasn’t quite so successfully re-created with the release of the Dreamcast update Virtual-on Oratorio Tangram, though a good port, it didn’t beat the feeling of battling it out in the arcade. This version for the Xbox LIVE Arcade is a port of that Dreamcast version, and is pretty much a replica of what you may have played in the past.
Control methods always are an issue with mech-style games and the sticks of cabinets past are sadly missed when it comes to home console versions. Without over-complicating things, Sega have reviewed the control methods and rejuvenated it for the Xbox 360.
Sadly though, it just doesn’t feel the same, and on a first run-through of the game I was somewhat confused by the control methods and button functions. The fast paced nature of the battles meant it wasn’t the easiest of starts either; numerous attempts to pass the first mission were met with the inevitable ‘Game Over’ screen.
Moving the bots were slow and sluggish at first when using the sticks on the pad, and it will take a little more getting used to. The triggers act as weapons whilst the face buttons will boost you left and right and for jumping. What makes up for the confusing control system at first is the option to re-map the control configuration and change the buttons to suit your style.
It all becomes clearer as you play through the first mission and the pace begins to pick up. Within around an hour I was accustomed to my bot and was running circles round the opponent mechs. Let the anger out initially and you’ll start to enjoy the game as you play through the story mode.
For the sole player you have the Story mode, which features ten missions and a Score Attack mode with fourteen battles. The difficulty level ramps up after the initial first two battles and it can be a struggle to get past the third and fourth levels until you are aware of how best to use the control methods.
Though it doesn’t recreate the fun of the arcade, there is the option to play online. Sadly already in the short time the game has been available for download, people have already moved on from the title and it is increasingly difficult to find games. You can opt for the usual ranked or player matches, these offer some achievements for completing the ranked ones.
Players online that you do find are incredibly good and difficult to beat. These are seasoned veterans of the Virtual On scene and seem to have brought the skills from the arcade back to the home with them. This can make for some very one-sided battles initially. Hang-on in though and you’ll soon start competing with the best of them.
As for the graphics, for a game that was released ten years ago, it looks fairly decent and hasn’t aged as badly as some other games we’ve seen on the Arcade service. Despite the promise of a HD update, the mechs are nicely detailed and can be customised by the player; however the backgrounds appear to have been left on the back-burner, with a distinct lack of objects both on the stage or generally appearing in the background of the game. It is what I like to call a ‘classic’ look and as mentioned it has aged fairly well.
As for the sound, you could be mistaken for transporting back to that smoky arcade in the 90s. The music is upbeat but dated now and Sega could have put more effort into creating some funky new remixes. The general sounds of the mechs are drowned out by the music and the explosions might look good, but they don’t sound great.
The issue for me, and for many, is the price. 1200 MS Points or £10.20 in old money is an awful lot for a game that is pretty much an identical port from Dreamcast. We didn’t pay this sort of money for Soul Calibur, but we’d certainly pay that for the epic classics such as Banjo Kazooie and Tooie (which was released on the same day!). The length of the game is short, the achievements are some of the easiest in an Arcade title, but the price is disgustingly high.
With no major update to the visuals or sound and a lack of online players, you really have to ask the question; is it worth it for a few mechs? If you are a cult fan of the series, then yes it is. But for the new players and the guys sitting on the fence, there are far better things to spend a tenner on. Infact, I’d rather go find an old machine and stick silvers in and enjoy that experience instead.