That is, the distinctly Japanese vengeance of a laser-toting thong-wearing whore-bride, a four-armed goo-shooting alien, and an attack-dog-equipped flying samurai in the studio's upcoming horizontal shoot-em-up Omega Five (X360).
Natsume's old-school development team has gone entirely back to its roots for the title--quite literally, as the game seems like a 19-year sequel to Natsume's nigh-impossible NES shooter Abadox, the company's first game. But in addition to being a more accessible experience than the gauntlet of suffering most shoot-em-ups entail, Omega Five refreshes the genre with pleasantly logical updates and a ten-ton explosion of creative flair.
It's impossible to ignore the title's impressive visuals, even in the first few moments of play, as the developers made use of fantastic 3D visuals for the 2D horizontally scrolling action. Lumbering dinosaur-like robots steadily grow in size as they approach your horizontal plane of movement from the snowscape in the background of the first stage. The enemies throughout the game are a mix of organic and mechanical, with some sporting odd membrane-like coverings over pulsing organs, housed in machine-like chassis.
But what lends most to making each playthrough just as enjoyable as the previous one is Omega Five's freakish cast of characters. Each of the three main avatars (a fourth bonus character is essentially a powered up clone of one) differs from the others just as much in terms of gameplay as visually. Ruby, the aforementioned whore-bride, uses beam weapons like lasers, and has a special attack that latches her ever-present satellite helper onto baddies for automatic weapon-targeting and persistent damage.
Adding further differentiation to the characters, the game features floating items that give one of three different weapon loadouts--A, B, or C--to each hero. And each weapon can be enhanced up to three levels by collecting more of the same type, granting significantly increased abilities. Ruby can swap her rapid-firing vulcan laser cannon for a reflecting laser beam, which splits into two when upgraded once, and bounces off walls when upgraded a final time. Each character also has a dodge move that works in a slightly different manner, with Sensei's actually hurting nearby baddies.
With a pretty intense amount of onscreen action at any given time, Omega Five feels a little more like a vertically scrolling bullet-hell shooter than a horizontally scrolling one. It's got the mechanics as well--shoot enemies fast enough and you'll keep your score multiplier high by chaining kills together. Nearly every downed foe also provides tiny pink triangles called p-chips, which give you the power to unleash an "ultimate burst"--essentially a screen-clearing nuclear blast--once you collect 100 of them. You'll need to make use of this power to avoid losing all three of your lives through the course of the game, as each stage features a classically designed boss battle at the end, characterized by nicely crafted combat patterns.
Like WayForward Technologies' Contra 4 (NDS) or Namco Bandai's Pac-Man Championship Edition (X360), Omega Five should prove that modern updates to retro gameplay can be a beautiful thing when executed skillfully. And a digital distribution platform provides the perfect delivery system for these lower-budget, smaller-sized packages of nerdcore nostalgia. When this game hits Xbox Live Marketplace sometime this winter, you're going to want to buy it. It's really that simple.
Omega Five will be available for download on Xbox Live Marketplace later this year or in early 2008.