There are games that come around now and then that totally change the way you perceive a genre. With fighting games there’s Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat.
With Sports games, there is Madden, and NBA Live. With Role Playing Games, you have Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy..These are the type of games that people rent via Gamefly or bring store traffic to a Gamespot owner.
But what about shoot em ups? There are legends such as Raiden, DoDonPachi, R-Type, Gradius, and ProGear, but never before has there been a shmup that was created so beautifully.
I’m talking about about Ikaruga. Treasure has created one of the most innovative, and beautiful works of art in this vertical shooting masterpiece.
Ikaruga Background Story
In Ikaruga, you play as Shinra The lone survivor of of the freedom federation known as “Tenkaku” who were fallen by the hands of Tenro Horai and his followers who call themselves the “Divine Ones”. Tenro Horai discovered the “Ubusunagami Okinokai” a.k.a. “The Power of the Gods” and begun to conquer other nations one by one.
Tenkaku emerged to challenge the Horai using fighter planes known as “Hitekkai” to try and save the world of Horai’s conquests. They fail, and only one pilot survives – Shinra, who refuses to accept defeat – even if it means attempting to destroy Horai by himself. He attempts this and is shot down. He then finds himself in a remote village named Ikaruga which is inhabited by a group of middled aged folk who have been sent into exile by Horai.
The leader of the village of Ikaruga, Kazamori, pulls shinra from the wreckage of his plane and brings him back to health. Shinra announces that he is determined to continue the battle against Horai and the villagers entrust him with a fighter plane they have built – The Ikaruga.
As you begin play – you pilot the ship Ikaruga which is a dual sided ship of 2 polarities – White and Black. The enemies come in more than one polarity as well – some enemies are white, others black. The Ikaruga is capable of absorbing the bullets of enemy fighters of the same polarity, and storing this energy which can be unleashed in the form of devastating homing missiles. However, the ship is unable to absorb the energy of an opposite polarity, and if Shinra’s fighter comes into contact with a bullet of the opposite polarity, he and his ship will be destroyed.
When Shinra fires his default weapon at enemies of the same polarity, it does normal damage. However, when he uses his default weapons on enemies of the opposite polarity, double damage is inflicted.
The Ikaruga can switch polarities at any time, making for some very interesting game play. It is an absolute rush of adrenaline when you find yourself on your last life of your last continue switching polarities over and over in an attempt to dodge enemy fire of the opposite color. On the surface, this doesn’t sound so special.
The thing that really makes this formula work is the beautiful bullet patterns that are created by the developers which force you to strategically plan a proper flight path For example, in one level you have a constant stream of black enemy bullets going clockwise, and a constant stream of white enemy bullets going counter-clockwise criss-crossing each other.. The only way to pass through these streams of fire is by switching polarity. In the middle of all of this bullet hell, are enemy fighters which also shoot at you, some of which fire bullets into your path upon their death.
This game is definitely not for the squeamish, as even on it’s easiest difficulty setting can turn the most hardcore gamer into it’s bitch. On easy difficulty, enemy fighters don’t fire back upon their death.. On Normal, enemy fighters of the same polarity fire back upon their death.. On hard, EVERYTHING fires back upon being destroyed. Imagine shooting a black group of ships, and having them fire back black bullets at you when you destroy them, as a white stream of bullets comes into contact with you at the same time.. This game requires more strategy than meets the eye, as every enemy fighter must be destroyed while realizing what the consequences of doing so are. This game will test your reflexes time and time again.
The Boss battles are very well done and make excellent use of the games polarity mechanic. The bosses in this game are not pushovers, and will likely have you wasting multiple continues before you master defeating them with only one life. The bosses are very memorable, unlike the bosses of some of the weaker games in the genre such as Chaos Field which you don’t even pay attention to which boss is which.
The sound effects suit the game absolutely 100% perfectly. The games soundtrack can only be explained in one word.. EPIC. There will be many times during this game that you may feel goosebumps rise up from your skin, as the music compliments the action on the screen PERFECTLY.
Ikaruga Game Controls
Play control is absolutely flawless – the Ikaruga is very responsive, and can switch polarities at the blink of an eye. The hitbox on the Ikaruga is right in the center of the ship – so if enemy fire passes through any other portion of your ship, you will survive, but if it hits the center hitbox which is only about a pixel in size – you die.
Even though the game is very lenient with the portion of your ship which can be hit without death, this does not mean that avoiding enemy fire is easy. It is not uncommon for the entire screen to be completely blanketed in enemy fire of both colors, so pinpoint precision is needed in dodging to avoid death, as well as the ability to remember which polarity you are while avoiding collision with opposite colored bullets.
Besides just trying to survive the games 5 levels – or 18 stages – the game offers an awesome chain mechanic, which offers the real meat of the game. The goal here is to destroy enemy ships of a certain color in 3s to build a Chain combo, which offers a score multiplier depending on how many chains you have built upon in succession.
For example, Destroy 3 whites = 1 chain, Destroy 3 Blacks = 2 chain, Destroy 3 more blacks = 3 chain, Destroy 3 Whites = 4 chain, Destroy 2 Whites and One Black = Chain ended. As if the game wasn’t hard enough, trying to perfectly chain an entire level of the game will increase the games difficulty 20 fold. At the end of each level, you are given a rank from c to s++ – which is basically dependent on how many chains you have accumulated in the level. If you can beat a level without firing a single bullet, you are given the “dot eater” rank.
The game offers a series of unlockables
1)For Every hour played you gain one continue – eventually after 9 continues leading to infinite continues
2)Artwork is unlocked after playing for “x” amount of hours, or completing the game in one credit.
3)The Ability to practice each section of a level once you get to it without using a continue – However, only of the same difficulty of which it was reached is unlocked
The Xbox 360 version that is available via Xbox Live Arcade allows you to save, and download replays which you can watch to get a better idea of what you should be doing to improve your gameplay. Trust me, your gaming skills will be humbled after watching some of the stuff these guys can do.
Is Ikaruga Worth the Price?
Ikaruga started out as an Arcade game in Japan, and then was released on the Sega Dreamcast, then ported over to the Nintendo GameCube.. However, finding it on these systems was rather tough – and prices on ebay reflected this. Now that Ikaruga is available on the Xbox 360 for only $10 via Xbox Live, the game has new life, and those who were unable to play the game before now have the chance to get their hands on this masterpiece.
It’s also worth noting that the prices of these games on ebay dropped a quite a bit with the xbox 360 release, so now would be a wise time to pick these games up if you’ve been craving them.