Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sega Ages 2500 Vol.16: Virtual On Review

Volume 31 in the Sega Ages line-up is Virtual On (aka VO: Operation Moongate, OMG, Dennou-Senki). The game had a limited arcade release in the U.S. and is most known for the Saturn version, where many, including myself, happened upon the game.

The first time I played Virtual On was at a Saturn demo kiosk at Toys R Us. Being a big Mechwarrior fan, I saw fighting robots and decided to give the game a whirl. I walked out with a copy that night and I've been hooked since. While the Saturn was still Virtual On, it was cut down graphically from the Model2 version and the gameplay was tweaked for the control pads with pauses removed after dashing. It didn't matter - the game still rocked.

So now Virtual On finds its way to the PS2 by way of the Sega Ages series.

The Sega Ages line-up began as a thought. "Nobody plays old games because of the old graphics. If they had better graphics, people would play them." So the series started off as Sega classics on the PS2 with new graphics, effectively alienating people that wanted the original and others that were interested in a new game. Regardless, the line had a reputation for not being too good. As new titles came out, this has started to change.

Virtual On hits the Ages series on a high point. The game is (from what I can tell and hear) nearly arcade perfect. The emulation is top notch. Now running at 60 (or 57.5) frames per second and at a higher resolution, it is much better looking than its Saturn and PC counterparts.

It controls well, too. While I hear many people say the only way to play the game is with the twin sticks, I never had the arcade experience. I thought the Saturn pad did a good job. VO:OT on the Dreamcast, not so much. The dual shock on the PS2 holds up well. While the analog controllers may feel a bit soft and the shoulder buttons squeak, this a problem with Sony's controller itself, not how the game handles.

Virtual On holds up well, even today. I really would consider this the high point of the series, with Tangram being a close second. There are eight playable VRs, ranging from the speedy (Fei-Yen, Cypher) to average (Temjin, Apharmd) to heavy (Dorkas, Belgdor, Raiden) to just plain sucky (Bal-Bas-Bow). After playing Marz, I'd forgotten just how fast this game is. Robots speed around firing at each other, ramming swords, tongfers, and anything else they can. Basically, it's what you'd want in a good arcade game - quick fights full of fun.

I probably would've been happy with just the game itself, but what would a good re-release be without extras? VO comes with a gallery including original artwork for the game. There's a robot viewing mode to check out the animation for the VRs, but then there's some weirder things. There's the big-head mode, which plays the same, but VRs look... odd. Extra options for an infight and ranking mode are included. If you wiz through the game there's a new boss and oddly enough, for the first time ever, Z-Gradt becomes playable.

As with other Sega Ages titles, for the dedicated arcaders, there's three resolution options, settings for game's speed in frames per second, and even the option to link up with another PS2 or, for full effect, even four to have multiple battles with separate spectator screens.

Is it all worth it? Definitely.


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