Ikaruga
Game Info
Platform(s)
GC, DC
Publisher
Atari
Developer
Treasure
Genre
Shooter
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Violence
 
Grade
The Good

• Awesome 2D shooter action
• Polarity system is a nice twist
• Addictive
• Can be played with 2 players

The Bad

• Hard difficulty
• Not really for non-shooter fans

 
Grade
A-

I'll save you the long song and dance about the history of how this Japanese arcade game finally made its way to the states and how hardcore shooter fans should be "honored" just to have it. The hardcore shooter fanatics (and fans of Treasure in general) probably already bought the version that was released on the Japanese Dreamcast rather than waiting for an American release that was really in doubt until the recent confirmation of the GameCube version. Ultimately, the 2D arcade shooter (not to be confused with the first person shooter genre) is a dying breed, so when a title like Ikaruga pops up, it deserves to be noticed.

The story behind Ikaruga tells of Shinra, a fighter pilot who is flying against the Horai, who have found the Power of the Gods (Ubusunagami Okinokai) and have used it to conquer and destroy Shinra's people. After being shot down near the village of Ikaruga, Shinra is given a ship by the same name and sent to fight the legions of the Horai. With such a sharp story and some fine art created for the game, I was kind of left wanting a little more story in the game itself, rather than just in the manual and promotional material. Of course, 2D shooters don't really need to rely on the story, but with what Treasure had done art and story-wise for this game it seems a shame not to make the best of it.

Ikaruga gives players five stages of intense shooter action. But, rather than focusing on power ups or a variety of weapons, the main concept behind the action is a strangely simple scenario - enemies are of two "polarities", black and white. During each stage, you can switch the polarity of your ship to either black or white, which allows you to absorb energy attacks from the color you are and cause more damage to the opposite color. Of course, you'll need to avoid the attacks from ships of the opposite color and there are physical obstacles and the enemy ships themselves that can do you harm. You also have a bar that stores energy you absorb which can be expelled in the form of a super attack. While you could tear through the levels with little in the way of technique, your ultimate goal is to improve your score and to do so, you must perform combos be defeating enemies in groups of three. The more chains of three similar enemies you defeat, the better your bonus score will be.

You will come to find that the further you get into Ikaruga, the quicker and more responsive to the controls you'll have to be. When assaulted with wave upon wave of black and white energy bullets, you'll have to be quick to switch back and forth to keep alive. One hit is instant death, so making good use of the few ships you have is essential. The control scheme (which is customizable) is simple as to reduce any unwanted confusion. You have one button to switch polarity, one to fire and one to use your special attack. The control stick moves your ship around smoothly, so much so that you might find yourself accidentally ramming into the scenery in some of the tighter quarters (like in the claustrophobic halls of the third level).

Along with the standard gameplay mode, in which the player can alter difficulty and the extra lives rate, is a practice mode, conquest mode (where you can watch a demo for techniques or practice at slow or normal speed), and a challenge mode, which will give you a code when you finish so you can post your score online at the game's official website. There are some unlockables that can be accessed by finishing the game or by the number of hours played. And, if you've got a friend around, you can play the game as a two-player shoot-em-up.

Visually, Ikaruga provides a finely crafted alien world for you to explore and ultimately destroy. While the bulk of the game is run along a 2D path, you'll be treated to some nicely crafted 3D backgrounds, which get featured during sequences where your ship flies from one area to another. While a number of the enemy ships tend to look nondescript and function more as a swarm than as detailed individuals, there is an overall design that works well throughout. It must be said that the bosses for this game look downright amazing and work wonderfully as a final punctuation to each stage. To be honest, you'll be so busy trying to not get killed that you may not get the chance to take notice of the graphics.

The musical score is sharp and provides a dramatic backdrop to the action. There are dramatically epic moments of the score that work in tandem with the more cinematic portions of each level. Throw in some crisp sound effects and a retro-robotic voice announcer and you have a nice audio package that aids in the experience.

Plainly stated, Ikaruga is hard as nails and although you only get five stages, only seasoned genre pros will be able to finish the game without a vast number of attempts. While some may complain that the game is technically short, where the strength of the game lies is in its replayability. Shooter fans will be addicted by the game, which beckons multiple play-throughs just to improve their score and hopefully their internet ranking.

Should you buy this? If you're an arcade, 2D shooter fan - without a doubt. In fact, you probably already have it and are reading this review to kill time. If not, you may want to rent it to see if you won't be turned off by the difficulty and the fact that it makes no excuses for being a hardcore representative of the genre.

- - Kinderfeld

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