“Ikaruga” Xbox 360 Review
Whenever a list of the greatest Dreamcast, Gamecube, or space shooter games is created, there’s always one title that pops up: Ikaruga. Still, it’s a game that has lived in obscurity, and undeservedly so. When it was released a few years back on the Xbox Live Arcade, the veil of mystery surrounding this legendary game lifted just a bit, as many more people were given a chance to experience it. I was one of those people who hopped on to the Ikaruga fan train after playing this XBLA port, and I’m here now to tell you why.
The space shooter genre is now popular mostly among hardcore players who aren’t afraid of a serious challenge. I missed the Super Nintendo/Genesis/Arcade heyday of these games, and have never found them all too appealing. However, I was willing to give Ikaruga a look because of the fact that it was developed by Treasure, who I consider to be my favorite game developer. Sure enough, after playing the trial version of the game the week it came out, I knew I had to buy it.
Believe it or not, this is one of the easier parts
Ikaruga is unique from other space shooters in that there is a polarity system in the gameplay. Basically, your ship’s polarity can switch between black and white at the push of a button. The enemies are all a specific color, as are their bullets. Your ship is immune to bullets of the same color, and if you shoot an enemy of the opposite color, you do double the damage you would if you were shooting them with the same color. There is a lot onscreen to juggle when you play Ikaruga: first, you have to make sure you aren’t running into anybody or any obstacles. Second, you have to keep in mind what color your ship is and know when best to switch. It actually doesn’t take all that long to grasp the polarity concept, allowing new players to have an enjoyable time even when they are getting destroyed by the relentless onslaught.
As is the case with most of Treasure’s games, Ikaruga is not very long. It’s entirely possible to experience the whole thing in one session, although getting all the way to the end without seeing at least one Game Over takes no small amount of practice. Luckily, the game can be tweaked to accommodate players who haven’t yet mastered the art of a full-combo, flawless Ikaruga run. In the options menu you can choose from three difficulty levels, lower the amount of points necessary to gain a new life, and turn on continues (trust me, you’ll want to do that). Additionally, the more you play the game, the more continue credits you unlock. So while none of these things changes the fact that Ikaruga is a brutally difficult game, they keep it from becoming frustrating and unfair.
This is a game that begs to be played more than once. There’s almost always a better way to complete a level due to the combo system, which awards extra points for players who destroy ships of a single color three times in a row. Also, a hidden mode known as “Dot Eater” challenges players to make it through the levels without firing a single bullet, completely changing the way you approach each stage. The game can be played cooperatively as well if you plug in a second controller, where you and your friend will benefit from each other’s shared firepower while drawing from the same supply of continues. If none of your friends are up to the challenge, you can always look for a partner over Xbox Live, although it is very rare that I ever find anybody online to play with.
There is a reason Ikaruga is such a legendary game. Few space shooters are this challenging and yet so accessible, allowing players of all sorts of skill levels to enjoy the masterfully crafted levels. If you still haven’t given this game a look, try the trial version on Xbox Live or hunt it down for the Gamecube or Dreamcast and get ready for a crazy but satisfying ride.
Pros: Accessible yet challenging, well designed levels, unique polarity system, tight controls, great soundtrack, multiplayer
Cons: Short length, nonsensical story, requires more patience than some casual players may be willing to give
Final Score: 9.2 out of 10