It seems that the three original arcade games in the Virtual On series will finally be coming to the PlayStation 4 later this year.
This very likely means that the PlayStation 4 ports of the original Virtual On arcade games will be released around the same time.
Tanita is also planning on taking the twinsticks to the Tokyo Game Show and that they are currently around 30% complete. What’s more, Tanita meets with Virtual On series producer Juro Watari on a regular basis to get his feedback on these new twinsticks.
The news broke last October that Sega was planning on porting the original Virtual On arcade games. This makes the upcoming Tanita twinsticks so important, as these games need this type of controller to be played properly.
Talking of playing the Virtual On games properly, I thought it worth covering the original Virtual On arcade games again, as not everybody has managed to play these wonderful games.
This was the first game in the series and depicted the player as a virtuaroid, or VR, pilot undertaking a mission called Operation Moongate, with the first few levels being virtual reality simulations and the latter half being the actual mission itself.
The game was based around one-on-one arena encounters with other VRs and used a then new set of game mechanics to tie the game together. This is because the VRs mainly moved in fixed length vectored dashes.
To explain, you would initiate a dash and then be locked in on that trajectory for a set duration. At the end of each dash, there would be a small input freeze penalty. Coupled with all this was the fact you could also initiate attacks mid-dash, the behavior of these depended on the weapon used and the relative orientation to your target.
All this meant that while this was an action orientated multiplayer game; the restrictions enacted by the game’s rule-set meant you had to tactically plan ahead. Not only to ensure you were safe at the end of each dash but to get the relative movement with your target correct in order for your shots to land home.
What’s more, the game was broken into two distinct ranges. While the majority of the game was played at a distance, you could also get up close and deal damage too. The latter also changed up your weapons and functionality, allowing you to circle an enemy and do large amounts of damage.
The ranging was also beautifully linked together with the vectored dashes. That meant you could herd an enemy into close combat in a way that no other game really offered.
Much of this was down to the control interface though, with the game’s twinsticks being a key part to making the game work. This is because even with the tactical element, the game was fast. The sticks facilitated a higher reaction time on the part of the player, as well as made you feel like you were a pilot.
Over the years, there have been all manner of ports of the game, from the Sega Saturn to the PC but it’s only in more recent years when the game has finally been done justice. The PS2 port was excellent but the 360 and PS3 versions also finally support online play and are rendered in high definition.
To my mind, the original Virtual On is the definitive mecha game but what followed was equally as fascinating as it tried to build on that strong foundation further.
Virtual On Oratorio Tangram (1998)
Retaining the one-on-one gameplay, Oratorio Tangram mixed up a lot of the core mechanics and made much of the game more accessible as well as faster paced.
The two biggest overall changes were the addition of V-Armor and more automated movement.
V-Armor meant that at a range most shots would bounce off your target. This meant you had to get up close to deal damage, which solved the problem of opponents often running away in the previous game. You also had special attacks that would deplete V-Armor but the new design meant players had to get aggressive and up close.
The movement updates were also important; from Watari Dashing that allowed you to change dash direction perpendicularly to the updated Quick Step moves in close combat.
While the previous game was manual, especially in melee, Oratorio Tangram was more obviously defined. A single Quick Step around a target would always move the same amount in the same way and the input was simpler too.
Simply tapping the button on the top of one of the sticks and moving in a direction would initiate a Quick Step when in close combat range. You could also use the same button to cancel a dash, again more direct than what was in the previous game.
Coupled with the reduction in the freeze time at the end of each dash resulted in a more reactionary game with more precise input.
In terms of ports, the Dreamcast game from that era is still probably one of the best arcade ports I can think of. It even supported online play, so that is how far ahead of the curve it was. Following that, we had an updated version released on the 360 a few years back and that is excellent too.
For many, Oratorio Tangram is their favorite game in the series and it is indeed brilliant but I still think the first game is somehow mechanically purer. However, this was the last game in the series that really worked in a cogent multiplayer sense and that is because what followed was a misguided attempt at force escalation.
Virtual On Force (2001)
Much about what happened with Force was confusing. Gone was the one-one-combat that defined the two prior games and in its place was a new two-on-two team-based setup.
The problem was that the fixed length dashes only resolved properly against a single opponent, so Force had to loosen that up and the results were definitely mixed.
By loosen up, I mean that the penalty for initiating a dash was almost removed and guarding or avoiding close combat attacks became very easy indeed. The reasoning likely behind this was that now with an additional opponent around, it meant the game had to afford some concessions to survive attacks from two disparate points in the arena.
One good unifying aspect was that each team was split into a leader and a wingman, with the objective to win being to target and destroy the enemy team’s leader.
In addition, both team members could exchange health and that meant that while the mechanics were a bit vague, the team play element helped to bring the game together.
After Oratorio Tangram though, Force felt slow and sluggish. It was also confusing as the game’s logo had a massive “4” in it, to denote the new four-player setup, but many wondered what had happened to the supposed third game in the series.
Force had a mixed response with its community, not least because it used a new card system that awarded VRs through extended play. Unfortunately, the balancing for this was somewhat off too and it meant that experienced players would always have better VRs at their disposal. That, in turn, created a bottleneck for newer players to break into the game.
While Force wasn’t really very popular, it wasn’t only until recently that we received a proper port of the game. Released on 360 it had some visual upgrades as well as online play. The game was also one of the few region free titles released in Japan and as such could be played globally.
The PlayStation 4 ports of the original Virtual On arcade games will be released later this year, probably around the same time as the November release of Tanita’s upcoming twinstick controller.
Read my Forbes blog here.