Since the price point and file size limitations that once functionally dictated the content of Xbox Live Arcade have been effectively removed, it seems like it's open season for re-releases of classic games that diehards are desperate for but that might not sell enough to justify a full-fledged retail release. Enter Sega and what many people consider to be the greatest entry into its arcade arena mech combat series, Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram.
VO:OT is not a fighting game but operates under the same methodology: one-on-one combat between characters with unique attributes and move sets. The game plays something like a combination between a fighting game and a first-person shooter deathmatch; your primary means of defense is getting out of the way when people launch beams, bullets, and bombs in your direction.
A unique blend of shooting and fighting that doesn't exist in any other title.
The concept is straightforward enough, but Virtual On presents an unique challenge: its controls are born of a unique arcade twin joystick setup and are poorly suited to console adaptation even in this age of dual analog. And even after you've come to terms with the mechanics, the actual strategic complexity is enough to leave some players mindboggled at how decisively they can be dominated. It doesn't help that, even with this most recent rerelease, the game includes only a rudimentary tutorial system. The fact that Virtual On is not user friendly is probably the game's biggest problem. However, those with the determination and patience to grasp the less-than-intuitive controls and shockingly deep combat are rewarded with a unique blend of shooting and fighting that doesn't exist in any other title.
The Xbox Live incarnation of VO:OT is based on the most recent version update of the arcade title, with all your standard XBLA features (Achievements, online multiplayer). This game really puts the "Arcade" in "Xbox Live Arcade" - players looking for any kind of significant, meaty single-player experience should look elsewhere. The graphics lack detail and technical wizardry but still hold up well considering the game is eleven years old. This is largely thanks to the game's art direction. The virtuaroids are all large and colorful, with distinct personalities, and the backgrounds capture the bright and vivid visual style that was so prominent in the Dreamcast era of gaming. And for those of you wanting to express your individuality while you melt your competition into slag, the game includes a color edit feature.
It is not exaggeration to say that Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram is among the very best competitive multiplayer games on Xbox Live Arcade. It's learning curve is steep and the game itself offers little in terms of instruction for this kinda-hard-to-learn, really-hard-to-master game. But in spite of that, for those with perseverance, a sense of experimentation, and a love of fast-paced strategic action, there is literally nothing else like VO:OT. Fans of competitive action games should download the trial version and find out for themselves if they have a taste for this venerable, unrivaled, inimitable arena combat game.