In 1994 a revolutionary arcade game was released, it featured cutting edge graphics and the incredibly intuitive dual stick control set up. That game was Virtual On: Cyber Troopers. Enter 1998, Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram is released to great excitement in Japan, unfortunately only a few units(six - eight remain) made it to North American arcades. Most gamers had to wait for the Dreamcast port in 2000, a game that, for some reason, is published by Activision.
Graphically, Oratorio Tangram is an incredibly beautiful game; even though it was released in 2000, it continues to beat a lot of games released today (including its god-awful sequel, Virtual On Marz. If you haven't played Marz, don't, it's for your own good). All the environments and characters are sharp, and colorful. This is one game that has aged well. What makes the graphics interesting, though, is the mech design. The mechs artistic design is firmly rooted in anime, with mechs resembling anything from a sailor scout to any number of Gundams, far from the tank like look of a "realistic" mech from a game such as Mech Assault or Chromehounds. The levels, like the mechs themselves, are crisp and well designed, but they really don't look all that interesting. They have an almost utilitarian feel, nothing too special but more then enough to get the job done.
On its own, Oratorio Tangram was an innovative combat game in terms of the actual software. Sega did not see it fit to stop there though; they implemented the Twin Stick control system in both arcades and Japanese versions. The twin sticks are two flight stick-style joysticks with a trigger on each and as well as a single button on the top of each stick. To jump you pull the sticks apart, to move normal you push both in the direction you want, to turn you pull the sticks in opposite direction. You can also crouch, roll and access numerous special attacks by combining these moves with standard attacks (Temjin for example, has about 16 attacks). Now while that seems simple enough , it really is a steep learning curve, once you have a handle on it though, it feels like the smoothest most responsive mech game your ever going to play.
Getting a hold of a pair for your Dreamcast is certainly not going to be easy. These days most people are lacking a mom and pop game store, so a lot of gamers will have to go to eBay like I did. There you will face bid wars that can send the sticks over eighty dollars, and then expect to pay over 15 for shipping. Are they worth it? Hell yes they are worth it, Sega had a great selection of game specific do hickeys, this is up near the top. What's that? You don't have the Twin Sticks and have no intention of ever getting them? Well that's a shame, it's not hopeless for you though; the game offers quite a few button lay outs that an admirable job attempting to simulate two joysticks with only one analog stick. Most I assume, will find a setting they are comfortable with. I don't recommend settling for less then the sticks though.
The single player experience is set up like a fighting game, you face opponent after opponent with no story other then a few paragraphs in the manual to tie it together. Regardless for the lack of reason for your battle, there is certainly a good time to be had going through and learning the ropes of the game. That's really the main purpose of the single player, to ready you for live opponents, and for that it is more then adequate; featuring standard (but necessary) options such as match point, difficulty, time limit, etc. A couple of interesting options are present though. Fog Mode reduces visibility for a harder challenge, and personal favorite for me is the "Infight" mode which strips you of all but your close range weapons. Combine the two and watch your ass get handed to you.
You should go into Oratorio Tangram expecting what it is; a multiplayer experience and it is one hell of one at that. Now it goes without saying (but here I am saying it) that no matter how perfect the controls and arcade perfect the game is, you can't replace playing random people at the arcade, but this game does a pretty good job. Two players split screen is awesome, you will definitely notice your skills improve drastically if you play with a friend, but to be honest, it's really crampt. Luckily VOoT supports system link; hook up two Dreamcasts and two TVs and go at it, that's where this game shines. It really is almost as if you where playing in the arcade when you get system link set up. I should note though, that to access the system link you need to enter a code at the title screen. All I want to know is "why?" (The code: hold L Trigger, R trigger, and A then press start)
The team of Sega and Activision seemed to either have been out to get American gamers or just didn't care about them (and I assume the UK). They got rid of two of the things that made Oratorio Tangram so popular in Japan; online play and a home version of the twin sticks. Oh, and they hid system link, too! I'm not sure what went through their minds when they decided that they would take out online play, the Dreamcast certainly needed more online titles. On the Saturn Virtual on was one of Sega Net's flagship titles, no reason it couldn't have been the same on the Dreamcast. I'm sure there would be fan portals still running Virtual On online to this day like the Sega dedicated have done with a large number of former Sega Net titles.
There isn't much at all in terms of extras, if you beat the game with all the characters you get version 5.2 of the game (As opposed to 5.45, which is what the regular game is, and no I'm not 100% sure what that all means) You can also save replays to your VMU, why anyone would want to do that is beyond me.
Regardless of those glaring omissions which most certainly prevent a perfect score, Virtual On; Oratorio Tangram is a great and unique game that continues to be relevant, whether the main stream remembers it or not. Here we see a classic that is not outdated or surpassed, and until I get another good Virtual On game, it never will be surpassed (at least not to me and the Virtual On faithful).