Who loves shoot-'em-ups? We do! In fact, we love them so much that this review of Hudson Soft's latest XBLA offering Omega Five is largely irrelevant; sure, we'd love for you to read, argue over the score, maybe even offer a counterpoint in the comments. Yes, we would appreciate that. But what we'd love even more (and by "we", I mean "just me") is if you'd just buy the freggin' thing so we can ensure a steady stream of shmups.
Geometry Wars opened a door that had been shut tight for US audiences for many years, a door leading to a magical world of high scores, crushing defeats and skill-based gameplay. This year we have plenty of shmups to look forward to as a result of the wildly popular downloadable content schemes available on every major console, Omega Five first among them. So how did the game fare with two of our most scholarly shmup afficionados, Topher and Mike Ferry? Hit that jump to find out. And then go buy the game, so we can have more shmups.
Omega Five (XBLA)
Developed by Natsume
Published by Hudson Soft
Released on January 9, 2008
If you were to ask any true shmup fan where to go for a healthy selection of worthwhile shooter experiences, Live Arcade would surely not be his answer. Given the service's fairly decent variety of genres and titles, anything akin to the arcade shooters of the mid-90s was not to be found before last week. At the very least, Omega Five has served as a way to begin patching a void in the XBLA library that's been empty for far too long. It's because of this fact that I find it somewhat more challenging to judge the game than I normally would. Even if I hated it, it's certainly a welcome addition to the library it joins, and a long overdue step in the right direction -- luckily for the good people at Natsume, however, it's not half bad.
Omega Five is exactly what we all expected it to be: a fun, addictive shoot-'em-up that takes a lot of the cooler aspects of the games which inspired it, rolls them up into a solid little ball, and polishes that ball to a very attractive shine. It's exactly what it should be. What I'm not sure of is whether the game is everything it attempts to be.
One major issue I have with the game is in its level of difficulty and its scoring. Omega Five is relatively easy as shmups go, and I was really hoping for more of a challenge. It has its tough moments, but nothing that stopped myself and several of the people on my XBLA friends list from beating it the day after it came out, and nothing that would stop a lot of players from thoroughly kicking the game's ass with a little practice and memorization. Regardless of how many points you can rack up, however, your in-game score isn't what shows up on the leaderboard; rather, your score is some odd figure calculated by taking into account several different factors, including a flat-rate score for completing the level, a bonus for how many times your special attack was used, how much of your health bar remains intact, and an added bonus for completing the level without taking any damage.
This is all fine and good, and still affords you an opportunity for some friendly competition with your buddy list, but I have to wonder why they couldn't just post our real scores, or why they bothered to incorporate a multiplier system if our final result will have a cap on it. The combination of those two things makes it feel a little too much like hand-holding for me. It's almost as if you could cruise through the level using almost no firepower and end up with the same score you'd get if you took the time and effort to destroy everything on the screen. It's the sort of overly-forgiving, soccer mom-ish, "anyone can do it" mentality that has infected video games in recent years, and something I personally feel has no place in a shmup.
I want to be angry at Omega Five for this. I want to call it a pussy and stuff it into its locker. I want to be mean to it, but I can't, because it's just so goddamn fun to play. Anything negative I might have to say about this game is overshadowed by just how addictive and entertaining it is. So it's not the hardcore shmup some people were hoping for -- so what? It's got a little something from all across the board to remind you of many of your favorite shooters, it's arguably the prettiest game on XBLA at the moment, the music has a great classic arcade feel to it, and it's more than worth the 800 MS points you'll pay for it. Sure, it's not "hardcore", but let's pretend for a moment that it wasn't trying to be. What better ambassador to the world of shmups for a new generation of players than a beautifully rendered, beatable game whose weapons use the same dual-stickery they've gotten used to with Geometry Wars?
For the true old-school shmup fans out there, please be nice to Omega Five. Don't hate on it too much. Enjoy it for what it is, and let's hope it sells incredibly well so that someone at Microsoft will see that shooters are a viable addition to Live Arcade and pick up the pace with porting games like Ikaruga and Trigger Heart Exelica. To anyone who is new to the genre, I hope you enjoy Omega Five. I hope you master it and seek out some of the more rich and complex shmups. To quote Contra, "Good job! Now try a harder difficulty!"
Remember the old days? The days you spent with your childhood buddies huddled around the NES trying to beat Gradius for the tenth time that week and ultimately resorting to using "The Code" when you got frustrated? Yeah, me neither. But, thankfully, those classic shmup memories ("shmupories", if you will) have finally found their way to XBLA in the form of the much anticiapted Omega Five.
Omega Five, to put it simply, is what it is. "It" being an undeniably polished, beautifully-detailed shooter with an overly familiar two-stick control scheme and a few minor hitches that prevent it from being an instant classic. First thing you'll notice straight out of the gate is the now infamous Engrish narrator announcing "Stage 1, The Gracial Fortwess." Once you recover from the initial "What the hell did he just say?" shock, you'll be thrown right into the thick of things and ready to shmup.
However, there's something wrong here. Any seasoned player who has dabbled with other shooters will notice that the pacing of Omega Five is downright slow. I mean, really slow. Granted, this is deliberate to lengthen the four very well-designed levels, but, you'll never feel that sense of overwhleming urgency that so many other shooters convey and thrive off of. Never once is the screen blanketed with fire, which will make Omega Five feel like the training wheels are still on for the more hardcore out there.
Then again, so what if the game is similar to your average hooker in Vegas; short, cheap, and easy? The game has an undeniable fun factor and, in my opinion, is a breath of fresh air on XBLA in comparison to the plethora of other shooters available. To put it simply, Omega Five's $10 price of admission is a bargain for such a wonderful title that literally oozes production value from start to finish.
Oh, and about that whole "no online co-op" thing? I wouldn't worry about it too much. The difficulty of the game doesn't change with a second player, so co-op really isn't even needed. All in all, Omega Five will keep you hooked for a good while and proves to be an excellent title to hold you over until Ikaruga shows up.
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