Chances are you’ve never heard of Omega Five. It suffers the unfortunate fate of being an anime style shoot ‘em up released on Western shores; a genre the general Xbox population does not enjoy. On the surface, Omega Five may look like “just another” anime shooter, but it’s actually built for a more casual audience. Read on to find out why.
So what exactly is Omega Five? It’s a shoot ‘em up (shmup) developed by Natsume, a Japanese powerhouse responsible for quality titles such as Harvest Moon. The title takes its name from the five protagonists who are fighting against an evil empire (out of these 5, 4 are playable, and 2 are secret characters).
Typical shoot ‘em ups will have buttons (usually “A” or “X” on the Xbox controller) dedicated to your basic attack. Omega Five uses the right analog stick to control the movement of your weapon, and the left stick to control your hero’s movement. Left and Right Bumper are used to trigger an evasive maneuver, the Right Trigger uses your special attack, and the Left Trigger “triggers” an all-encompassing bomb. None of the face buttons are used. Even if you don’t use any of the special attacks, the most casual of players can operate both sticks with ease.
Natsume did a great job making this game look gorgeous. Enemies will sway back and forth between the background and foreground seamlessly. All of the bosses look unique, and most of the bullet effects look stellar. The game is very bright, and all 4 stages are vastly different from one another. As expected, Omega Five has no story. Natsume doesn’t even try, other than insinuating that you are fighting an evil empire. Two characters are selectable at the start: Ruby, a scandalous, futuristic woman, and Tempest, a four armed alien. Beating the game as Ruby unlocks R.A.D, and beating it as Tempest unlocks Sensei.
The breakdown of the playable character’s weapons are as follows:
- A-Type – Spread Shot
- B-Type – Laser
- C-Type – Lightning Hose
- Special Ability – Lock-on Satellite that attacks enemies
- A-Type – Flame Thrower
- B – Type – Acid
- C – Type – Molten Metal Burst
- Special Ability – Secondary Fire for all weapons
- Identical to Ruby
- Sword Attack
- Special Ability – Dog attack
After analyzing all of the characters, I came to the conclusion that Ruby’s weapons are very imbalanced. Her B-Type, the reflective laser, is extremely powerful, and at its highest upgraded level, shoots 3 separate beams, and bounces off walls. Don’t get me wrong, Ruby’s B-Type weapon is one of the most unique shmup attacks ever conceived, but it feels pointless to use her other two attacks. Tempest plays very differently, and he feels more like the gameplay from Radiant Silvergun. All 3 of his weapons are formidable, and his secondary attack allows alternate fire from any one of the types. Tempest also has an alien bullet shield, which allows him to reflect bullets back at enemies so long as he isn’t shooting. The game is easier to beat with Ruby, but is considerably more fun with Tempest. Sensei has the most powerful basic attacks, but takes some getting used to due to the short range of his sword. All-in-all, at least 3 of the characters are different enough from each other to warrant multiple completion runs.
When it comes to the overall difficulty to the gameplay, it felt a tad on the easy side. On the bosses, it looks like Natsume went for the popular “bullet hell” effect, but came up short, and ended up in what I call “bullet purgatory”. While the battles will feel hectic in Omega Five, they could have been a bit more eventful. That being said, the stages scale perfectly. Stage 1 is particularly easy, and then the difficulty ramps up appropriately. Casual players may have trouble at first, but then they will realize the basic tenet of shmup games: memorization, and keep your power-ups. If you can stay alive, you’ll keep your best weapons and upgrades, making the game considerably easier.
I don’t say this often, but the soundtrack is something to write home about. Hiroyuki Iwatsuki, a loyal Natsume employee, composed the tunes. Iwatsuki did a perfect job of balancing retro and modern music styles. The sound effects are very well done. When using a bomb, your character will laugh, or speak, and all of the weapons sound superb. The bosses could have made more unique sounds, but there isn’t really much to complain about in this department.
The biggest disappointment with Omega Five is its replay value. As mentioned, there are only 4 levels, each of them lasting from 10-15 minutes. After you beat them, you are given the option to play each stage separately, if you have favorites. You also unlock a “challenge mode”, where you are required to complete a level with only one life. Previously mentioned, if you beat the game as Ruby you unlock R.A.D, who, unfortunately, is just a faster clone of Ruby. If you beat the game with Tempest, you unlock Sensei, who uses close combat attacks, is incredibly fun to use. Average players will beat the game once as Ruby, then Tempest, then maybe again as Sensei.
There is a multiplayer mode, but only for two players, and only offline. The lack of an online mode severely decreases the replay value of this game, unless you have local friends. If you’re having trouble with the game in general, keep playing. After an hour of gameplay (no matter what the outcome), you will unlock 5 continues to use, making the game considerably easier to beat.
After completing any level, you scores are uploaded to a leaderboard, which may increase the replay value of Omega Five for a few competitive shmup fans, but most likely will not keep casuals staying for very long.
Omega Five is a very unique, fun game that suffers from a lack of options. If R.A.D wasn’t exactly the same as Ruby, and there was one more selectable character, the game would have a significantly higher replay value. The lack of an online option also gives you another reason not to keep playing. If you can get past these flaws, the actual game is a blast to play. You’ll have a ton of fun, and there is nothing wrong with the core gameplay, other than the fact that it may be a little “too” easy. Make no mistake, Omega Five is not the easiest game in the world, but it isn’t impossible, like a lot of other shmups on the market. At 800 Microsoft Points, make sure you are comfortable with a short game before you purchase it, but make no mistake: this game is pure fun.
Top-notch graphics, especially for an XBLA game. The art style is unique, albeit very Japanese. There's no story, but that's not a big deal given the genre.
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Your character controls very well, and animation is fluid. It isn’t as challenging as you’d think for a schmup though, and many times the game tries for the “bullet hell” effect, but ends up looking more like “bullet purgatory”.
Quality soundtrack, with very detailed and diverse sound effects. This game will excite your ears whilst playing.
There are only two secret characters, and one of them is a clone of Ruby. You can go through the 4 levels again, in challenge mode, but there isn’t a huge reason to come back. No online play doesn’t help the replay value either.
A very unique game that is a blast to play. Be weary if you don’t particularly like schmups, however, as it won’t give you much reason to come back.