reviews\ Jan 21, 2001 at 7:00 pm

Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram - DC - Review

I’m a big fan of competitive Sega Arcade games. Until the day I die, I will fight for the recognition that the Virtua Fighter series deserves. All you Namcophiles can take your Tekkens and Soul Whatevers and go play in traffic, because Virtua Fighter is the true art, and as we all know, there can be only one. In fact, if you’re feeling especially saucy, you can... never mind. I’ll deal with you people later.

Back to our regularly scheduled program.

Cyber Troopers Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram (VO:OT) is the next installment of the Virtual On franchise and can easily set standards for both visual detail and title lengths. The premise couldn’t be choose a giant robot (called a feel like a Godzilla extra just saying it, don’t you?), then you beat the life out of another giant robot. This is all done from a third-person perspective, and occasionally you take on a boss to break the monotony.

Unfortunately, that monotony is usually stronger than the diversions in place to alleviate it. This is mainly the result of two factors, one being control, and the second depth. But before I get bombarded by fanboy e-mail berating my capabilities as a reviewer and lack of appreciation for subtle, grandiose gameplay, I ask you to take a deep breath. Then let it out while saying: ‘He is not implying that my life lacks meaning simply because I spend ungodly amounts of time memorizing every last movement of a polygonal robot...which is really just me in front of a television with a gray piece of plastic with a slightly glazed and decidedly vacant expression on my face.’ Feel better? I do. Anyway, spending an extra four or five hours desperately searching for elusive depth in a game simply because some guy in your favorite Sega diehard newsgroup said it deserves to be recognized is slightly less ignorant than telling the police officer your real name. But you’ll figure that out after you get your driver’s license. You know who you are.

The reason this game lacks depth is simply because most of the matches boil down to an insane battle of turbo-boosting all over the arena while unleashing one of your three available attacks in the vain hope that your opponent will either stop moving or change direction in time for your trailing projectiles to nail them. You see, there are three offensive techniques, and the attacks they generate depend on which direction you are headed on the horizontal plane. But only a handful of vectors have this altering ability, and half of this game is learning which one of the resulting maneuvers is most appropriate for the distance and motion of your target. While this is very strategic on paper, when you’re in the midst of a match, the only thing really on your mind is attempting to avoid the copious amounts of unfriendly fire and praying that when you do decide to fire, the automatic targeting is sufficient. Sure there are some sad people out there with nothing better to do than figure out and author detailed faqs regarding each of these moves and their implementation, but at the end of that road is the depressing realization that not a single person you know will be even slightly interested in playing with you a game that required a week of study just to obtain an intermediate skill level with a single character. Assuming, of course, they are even willing to pick up the controller after you demonstrate the manner in which it will be used.

Which is, of course, the first problem I had with the game. You see, VO:OT is an arcade game first and foremost, and designed for use with a dual-stick control that was part of the arcade cabinet. The control schemes provided for the standard controller are passable as input methods, but wholly inadequate if you wish to experience the same ease of use provided by most fighting games. Note that I said most, because as of yet, no way has been discovered to make any Toshinden title even remotely playable. The Dreamcast peripheral for use with VO:OT (called Twinsticks) is nearly impossible to locate unless you are willing to pay through the nose because it was only released in Japan. Partly because of the prohibitive cost, but mostly because it’s useless for any other game and Americans generally don’t leap at the chance to pay an extra $60-100 just to make one $50 game worthwhile. So it appears they dumped VO:OT on us to make a few bucks off of the hardcore community and the handful of suckers who didn’t know what they were in for until it was too late. Needless to say, the plan didn’t reach the ‘assume control of the free world’ stage if the bargain bins are any indication.

And this is a true shame because, underneath it all, there is a viable engine that could have been very enjoyable. There is also the astounding graphical prowess to consider, and I mean prowess in the raw, king of the jungle, take-no-prisoners polygon rendering way that only the best programmers are able to provide. VO:OT makes me want to suffer through the painful control and monotonous play just to see the winning poses, despite the absence of the female form, which is usually the only way to achieve that reaction. It’s also the only reason to ever use Cammy in a Street Fighter game, and anyone who’s tried it will back me up on that.


As for the It was there, in the same sense as my hangover is there the next morning. At first it’s something new reminding you that you’re alive, followed closely by being something unpleasant, and ending finally as a lifestyle feature you just don’t notice anymore. The black coffee of this scenario being the remote control, I suggest you brew a fresh pot and take the volume down a tad. Unless you revel in hearing your neighbors and, by extension through my precarious analogy; VO:OT’s music, through your fillings. Which is entirely possible.

On the other had, you could just as easily give your fillings a break to do the more important things like punish you for chewing ice, and leave this game in the store. It’s not that you can’t derive pleasure from a little virtuaroid action, I just don’t know how you would at this point. If there were Twinsticks or cerebral implants available in the US for use with the Dreamcast, then it would have scored higher. As it stands, it’s another in a long series of arcade games that have been shoehorned onto a console to make a buck.

Install:  Easy
Load times aren’t too bad, though there are a couple intro screens.

Gameplay: 6
This would have been an 8 or higher if the Twinsticks could be used (could I harp on this a bit more?). Unfortunately, you have to suffer with the five pre-set schemes. The control is still responsive, it’s just nearly impossible to make it feel natural. The move lists are also far too similar.

Graphics: 8.5 
Wow. Almost rivals Soul Calibur, except that it’s not as difficult to make metal objects seem real as it is for flesh. However, considering that this was a first-generation DC game, I’m impressed.

Sound: 4
Dull and repetitious sound effects, with a soundtrack easily forgotten.

Difficulty: 9
This relationship is the inverse of that seen under ‘gameplay.’ If the Twinsticks were available (apparently I can harp even more), this would be lower. Significantly.

Concept: 6
Robots fighting? Methinks this may have been done before. Still, the designs are tight, and the idea sound.

Multiplayer: Yes
If you can find someone willing to sweat and toil as much as yourself at perfecting their skills, this is one hell of a two-player game. If you can’t, it’s money far better spent on (-gratuitous Activision plug coming...) Tony Hawk 2 or the upcoming Spider-man.

Overall: 7


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