Omega 5 Xbox Live Review

It’s really nice to see a Japanese publisher’s name on an Xbox Live Arcade game. You kind of know from the off that the game is going to have a certain charm, no matter how obscure or hardcore. You could say that Natsume, the guys behind Omega 5, have been around the block a little. They’re well-known for their Harvest Moon farming series, and in 1992 they even released a title on the NES called S.C.A.T. (Special Cybernetic Attack Team – also known as Action in New York in the US). The title was similar to Capcom’s Forgotten Worlds in that your player flew around with two orbs that could rotate and lock onto enemy ships. It had four stages, and a level very similar to R-Type‘s stage three mothership. You were also quite a large target, given the amount of sprites moving on-screen at any one time.

Well, some of these traits have made it over to Omega 5. It sounds shit, I know – plundering some obscure shmup (sorry, shoot-’em-up) and bringing it onto Xbox Live. But let me tell you something: despite its homage to S.C.A.T., this game is anything but shit. Arcade shmups are often hard to describe without them having some god-awful storyline – but that’s with good reason, and one that must be understood if you’re going to enjoy the purity of most titles. So, here we go…

The game revolves around four characters who must fight through four stages of horizontal hardcore shooting action in order to reach the final boss. And that’s pretty much it. “Ooh, that doesn’t sound good”, I hear you cry. Well, look, 2D shmups are about as pure a video game as you can get. Since Taito’s Space Invaders landed, they have drawn a considerably-sized crowd and are the most prolific genre out there. I know I’m babbling on here, but it’s important to understand the attraction. Japanese programmers know how to program a shmup. They’ve all done one at some time. A good shmup should feature simple gameplay elements, nice explosions, and superb megaweapons that fill the screen. They make simple action feel satisfiying. The exact same reasons you probably play 3D games. They also feature one other important attraction that has enabled them to live for as long as they have – a risk/reward mechanic. That is, a method of having you exponentially increase your score by taking risks. A well known example is the ‘chaining’ mechanic, as seen in games like Puzzle Quest or Every Extend Extra Extreme. Destroying a certain object will cause others around it to explode. It’s very satisfying to pull off. But there are others, and this game’s core mechanic I shall explain now.

Omega 5 is based around a chaining system. Every time you either shoot an enemy or weapons pod, you increase your score multiplier, from x1 to x10 (in other words, if it’s at x10, you’ll get ten times as many points for each enemy you kill). If you don’t shoot anything for a second or two, it resets to x1. If you keep shooting things without getting hit yourself, it goes up again. Simple, eh? I mean, what possible strategies are available to you? Well, this is where Natsume really show their game. You see, they design the levels explicitly to take advantage of this. The enemies’ attack patterns, despite having been seen in countless other shmups, are designed towards making you exploit this multiplier and therefore increase your score. So what risk/reward system do you have to employ? Well, firstly you have to know your weapons.

Initially you have two characters, ‘Boobie’ (Sorry – Ruby [He’s not being a pervert, it really does sound like the game says ‘boobie’ when you choose her – Ed]), and ‘Tempest’, and each of them have three different weapons which can be powered up three times. Ruby is for beginners, really – she looks hot and she acts hot, and she fires either rapid lasers, blue laser beams, or electricity. Tempest, despite being a man, is actually for the more hardcore player. He fires streams of lava jizz, ice jizz, or ice blobs. The player can fire in 360 degrees using the right stick (which effectively replaces the spinner or paddle seen in similar games of old). Each of the 3 weapons also has 2 fire modes. Ruby has a claw that can be fired to grab onto enemies, causing her weapons turn up the heat and powerfully direct themselves towards whatever it is you’ve locked onto. Tempest has alternating fire modes and a shield which absorbs bullets, turns them green, and slows them down. They also have smartbombs, earned by collecting pink triangles, and a dimension warp which allows you to shift off the screen momentarily to avoid enemy fire (at the cost of health, which will effect your perfect bonus!). The characters are rather big for a shmup and have a large hit-box (i.e. the spot that’ll get you killed if any bullets touch it – in this case, the character’s entire body). But Ruby’s claw can be used to block enemy bullets, and Tempest has his shield to help you escape.

Graphically, it’s pretty obvious that this game is grade-A material. This is a new breed – a hi-res 2D shmup, and the level of detail is fantastic. I’m talking right up there with the top five best-looking Hori shmups. There are weather effects, and a whole load of stuff going on in the background. Some of the game’s enemies appear from the background as well, forcing you to think outside of what’s effectively a 2D plane. But the enemy structures, spaceships, organics and robots are the cream of the crop. There is nothing plain or barren. Everything has been lovingly designed, and the artists deserve credit for the immense graphical intricacies of the enemies. The level designs have been plundered from games of old – R-Type, Gradius V, Salamander 2, and so on… but it doesn’t steal without giving something back. This is an homage to those designs, not a disrespectful thieving of them. Robomuffets, giant worms, mechanical robots, organic brains. They’re all in there in hi-res detail. The weapon effects are also gorgeous, and their garishness fits perfectly with the colourful game worlds.

There are only four levels in the game, but they’re fairly big, and by God they’re lovingly crafted. Even the boss explosions are an homage to the forthcoming (and well-known) Ikaruga. They’ve taken them and made them bigger, all while your player stands back to observe the destruction and the game overloads the 360’s graphics processors with stunning effects.

And so on to the sound. And again, it’s an homage. It’s not hardcore banging techno, it’s futuristic jazzy music, and it’s been done superbly. Level three’s soundtrack is, yet again, top five material on a par with Satoshi Murata – all big chords and superb leads.

And sadly I have to bring this review to an end. You cannot help but notice this game has been lovingly crafted. Yes, it’s hardcore, yes the screen will fill with huge enemies giving you few places to hide whilst protecting your character from enemy bullets, and yes it nicks ideas from many classic games. But this game has heart and it has purity. Like any great shmup.

If you like shumps, buy this and show your support. Its only 800 points, which is very good value for this arcade classic.

Gradius V was a hint, but this reinforces the fact that we need more hi-def hardcore shmups.

8 out of 10
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