Ikaruga Xbox Live Review
I must say, being one of my favourite genres and despite the fact I’ve bought the game twice, I feel rather honoured to be doing this review. Ikaruga is looked upon as one of the de-facto shmups of all time and certainly one that has influenced a good few homebrew and douijn based shmup games available on the PC. Treasure themselves are an interesting company; one of few that dabble in mainstream games like Wario World, which will then usually go on to fund either surrealist titles, hardcore shmups and their staple run n’ jump platformers. However recent games have seen them delve into the good but reportedly unbalanced 2D fighting series, Bleach, and another quality shmup, Bangai-O-sprits. They have a huge fanbase too, as their games usually feature a mix of great concept, artwork or gameplay although I must stress that anyone new to Treasure’s games may feel short changed with this title as their games are notoriously hard to the average gamer. This game does not cheat, it simply requires pixel perfect shooting and dodging skills.
Ikargua originally came about in the Arcades of Japan in 2001, based on Sega’s NAOMI arcade system. It has since been ported to both the Dreamcast (Japan only) and GameCube (Worldwide). It was considered the spiritual sequel to the superb arcade and Saturn game Radiant Silvergun, but the two games are very contrasting. The ship in RS uses a 7 weapon battle system, whereby the Ikaruga (and Ginkei ship) uses only 2. But the game features 3 important concepts, all of which must be mastered for you to have any chance of scoring well. The first concept is that your ship can change polarities and by that I mean it can change shade from either black or white (this concept can also be seen in Treasure’s Silhouette Mirage – PSX, Saturn).
If you’re in black polarity your fire is more powerful against white enemies but white bullets will kill you. You can also absorb any bullets/lasers of any same colour ship so in this example, being black, you can absorb black bullets. The reverse rule applies if you’re a white ship. Absorbing bullets increases the energy for your second weapon – homing lasers. At first in appears to be a smart bomb for clearing enemies from most of the screen, but master this and you’ll realise it is in fact a secondary weapon because it can power up relatively quickly. Its effects are dependent on the energy you have absorbed; the more energy the greater the firepower.
That’s concept one. Concept two is a simpler chaining mechanic – simply shoot 3 enemies of either black or white to a maximum of 8 chains. After this, every chain completed (that is for every 3 enemies hit) will earn you 25600 points. The 3rd and final concept is simpler still. You have 2 types of fire – auto fire (hold down button), or single shots (tap button). Easy to learn, very hard to master.
The reason for this is that the levels and enemy attacks patterns are designed to allow you to massively exploit the polarity changes, homing laser attacks and the type of shooting. Initially enemies attack in groups of 3, but further waves will see you having to completely alter your thinking to achieve maximum scores. Simply put all 3 concepts must be exploited. Most enemies when shot will also release bullets of their colour and if you’ve changed polarity you risk being killed but you need to be in a position and colour to make the most of the chaining mechanic. So you can see the sub-layers this game offers in abundance. This is further strengthened by hidden enemy waves which only appear if the normal wave is destroyed quickly.
Graphically Ikaruga is one of the best looking shmups out there. It’s a 2D game with truly superb 3D backgrounds. Each of the 5 levels are mainly set around industrial planets or giant spaceships, featuring extremely detailed nut and bolt styling with miniature details visible on every single sprite and ship. Despite the black/white concept, the use of colour has been mastered too with blue and red outlined lasers filling the screen, along with yellows for the explosions. The backgrounds have shaded pastel colours, partly for atmosphere but to contrast with the foreground. The levels constantly barrage you with a stream of overlapping bullets and on first play these will simply dazzle to the point where you’ll die through lack of concentration. As for the bosses, well, they’re all works of mech art and are superbly animated. It’s nothing you haven’t really seen before but their detail is amazing at times. Even the large boss death explosions are slowed down to emphasize scale. The music too is superb with lush professional orchestral pieces highlighting the industrial and military pace of the levels, and a rather cool sonic alarm with manic robotic warning when a boss approaches.
To end, Ikaruga is well worth the 800 points, and like Rez before it, even if you have owned the previous version it deserves to be seen in HD. Replay modes are included and the Xbox 360 analogue stick works a treat. I just hope Treasure see fit to release more shumps and see XBLA as a home for their stunning games.