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It sure is grand to have Virtual On back

Even if it's a slightly eccentric return.

Has it really been fourteen years? True, the wait for an all-new Virtual On has been softened by home ports of Marz and Force, but even then we've been holding our breath for a while for the true return of Sega's mech-battling series. Well, it's here, I've played it and I know one thing for certain.

This new Virtual On is a bit odd.

That's odd in a good way, I must emphasise. I'd almost forgotten that Sega had announced a return for the series a short while back, a curious tie-in with A Certain Magical Index, a series of Japanese light novels that focus on a group of young students who possess magical powers and that has led to an even more curious name. A Certain Magical Virtual On.

Well, it's certainly got a ring to it.

That tie-in might have obscured the return of a beloved series, but now I've seen it running - and have spent a short while playing it - it's clear that Virtual On, as you know and love it, is back.

How does that tie-in impact Sega's series? From the short demo it's hard to say beyond the fact it'll offer a light framework as well as excuse a few special powers specific to certain characters, but once you're down to the action this is a surprisingly faithful revival of Virtual On from developer Access Games.

It might be considered a bit too faithful, seeing how similar in motion and in play it feels to Virtual On: Ortario Tangram, but that's not a bad foundation for what's being touted as an entry point to the series, and A Certain Magical Virtual On adds a few little wrinkles of its own.

There's a new transition that allows you to jump and attack while dashing in one quick flowing movement, a new points system that awards wins based on knockdowns rather than remaining hit points should the counter run down to zero and boost weapons that are tailored to each individual pilot.

Truthfully, though, after so many years away, Virtual On plays exactly as I remember - and exactly the same as the series I was once a little in love with, with its pacey combat and glorious mechs dancing around each other in small, simple stages. It's more than I'd hoped for, and the only real downside is the lack of a twin-stick controller to really bring it all home - although it's perfectly fine on a standard DualShock pad.

How exactly A Certain Magical Light influences the rest of this Virtual On package remains to be seen, but know that the core is very much the Virtual On you may already know, and its Japanese release on Vita and PS4 in Japan next February (there's no word yet on a localised release). It's a quite unexpected, extremely welcome comeback for one of Sega's dormant franchises. Now, how about Virtua Fighter next?

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