Review – Ikaruga

Is the game really about black and white or red and blue? It really makes you think.

Old-school shooters are a dying genre. There are only a handful of franchises left today, but there used to be countless shooters at your local arcade. Were they too hard for the masses? Did the arcades take something with them when they were given the final blow? It’s probably a combination of a lot of things, but at least one thing is for sure: Treasure knows shooters and Ikaruga is testament to that. Filled with excruciatingly difficult gameplay, Ikaruga makes you work for your fun.

If you’ve ever played Gradius or Galaga, you essentially know how to play Ikaruga. It’s an old-school shooter that pits you against an entire army of ships wanting to decimate you. The major difference with Ikaruga is its “polar opposites” gameplay mechanic. Basically, you have white and black enemy ships. Your ship, the Ikaruga, can switch between white and black affiliations, shooting the same respective colored bullets. White enemies die quicker with black bullets, and black enemies die quicker with white bullets. If you kill a ship with the same color bullets, the ship will burst into similar colored bullets that fly back at you. If your ship is white, it can absorb white counter-bullets and add them to an energy bar. Have enough energy and you can unleash a super shot with the R-button that destroys most of the enemies onscreen. But, if you run into a bullet that is the opposite color of your ship, you die.

Sounds simple enough, right? The problem comes in when there are literally hundreds of white and black bullets onscreen at once. It’s pure chaos. You almost have to put the screen under a microscope to truly understand what’s going on in the game. Switching your ship’s color is easy, all you have to do is push the A-button, but it still takes quick reflexes to dodge all the bullets that are coming at you. Rarely are you the same color for long, and trust me, you will die a lot. It’s going to take practice just to get past the first level. There are only five levels in the game, but you probably won’t see them all. Not until the game unlocks unlimited continues for you, that is. After that, you can take a more relaxed look at Ikaruga and enjoy it a little bit more. It’s still abnormally hard, but at least you can see the entire game in one sitting.

Treasure should do the character art for other companies’ games.

High scores are a staple of old-school shooters, and Ikaruga has them as well. If you kill three enemies that are the same color, you start a combo. Get more combos, and your points grow. The game tries to help you out with this as much as possible, putting three white or black enemies in groups when they attack you, so the mechanic isn’t hidden to the player. There are even some puzzle-oriented situations for creating combos that you will see later in the game. You still may not actually get the combo, but at least Treasure added these situations for experienced players. You can definitely tell they cater to a more hardcore group of gamers. There’s even an option to upload (manually, of course) your high score to Atari’s website. But if you’re going to play Ikaruga now, I wouldn’t even try. The high scores on there now are impossibly high to achieve. The game was released in April 2003, so you’re three years too late for that option.

When you look at Ikaruga, you’re not going to see a game with a lot of varied graphics. The game is based on white and black, so if there were a rainbow color scheme to the backgrounds, seeing those bullets would be even more difficult. Most of the backgrounds are painted with pale industrial colors and palettes. It isn’t the most beautiful presentation, but it gets the job done, especially considering you have no time or ability to actually check out the scenery. The enemies and bosses are definitely varied enough, and sport cool designs. I especially like the Ikaruga ship’s design; it has that cool look that some animes have with their epic, singular ships.

There is some slowdown, but this only occurs when each boss explodes. It actually makes it look better, with a Matrix-style slow-mo effect. The only real problem I saw was with some of the text that shows up during the brief introduction for each level and boss. It’s way too blurry. The only way someone can read it is if you go out and buy an HDTV, which I hardly suggest doing for Ikaruga. But if you do have an HDTV, preferably a flat-panel one, you can turn on an option that changes the viewing aspect of the game to go the length of your TV instead of the default letterboxed setting. Flip the TV on its side, and you get your own personal arcade-like Ikaruga display. Seriously, Treasure is just full of surprises.

In the future, many space ships will be yin yang brain shaped.

The music fits the game’s feel as well, with epic-feeling scores for each of the game’s levels. I personally loved the first boss’s theme. The game definitely makes you feel that you are a true hero going against insurmountable odds, and winning. Some level’s tracks I can easily suggest downloading into your libraries.

If you are on the lookout for a good old-school shooter or maybe a game to put hair on your chest, Ikaruga for the GameCube is a safe bet. It might be a little too hard for casual, and even some experienced players, but you will feel like God’s Gift to Gaming if you can get past the first level with at least one life intact.

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17 years ago

terrific game.  ive started playing more shooters (castle shikigami, gradius V, nanostray, etc) recently, and i think a lot of it is to try to recapture this game.  unfortunately most others (gradius is an exception) pale in comparison.  i played ikaruga orginally on the dreamcast, and, to me, it was well worth the trouble jay had to go through so i could play it.  the game itself is very tough, and  i didnt beat it until i earned quite a few continues.  the difficulty modes offer more than the standard "fewer lives or continues as it gets tougher" also.  the gameplay experience actually changes with each, as ships explode into bullets in the harder difficulties.  matt’s right though –  success at this game really can make you walk tall.  the kind of game people are talking about when they say games can improve hand – eye coordination.


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