By Justin Guillou / June 22nd, 2018
|Release Date||May 29th, 2018 (NA),(EU)|
For shoot-em up fans, Ikaruga is a title that does not need an introduction, but for those of you who are unfamiliar, Ikaruga is a classic arcade shooter developed by Treasure of Gunstar Heroes and Radiant Silvergun fame. The game was originally released in Japanese arcades in 2001 where it really made an impression on fans of the genre. The simple yet complex gameplay challenged as much as it fascinated. Eventually the game was brought to an even bigger audience through the Gamecube port in 2003 which would only further cement this game as a timeless classic. Ikaruga has also been released through online services such as Xbox Live arcade and Steam. Today we are finally able to bring that experience with us on the go with the Nintendo Switch.
Ikaruga‘s gameplay appears very straightforward at first. One button shoots, another launches a special attack and finally one switches your ship’s color. Now here is where it gets interesting. Treasure took a mechanic that originated from one of their earlier games, Silhouette Mirage, and innovated it. When you switch your ship’s “Color” you are switching its polarity between black and white and your bullets will change polarity based on this as well. Every single enemy ship in the game is also assigned a polarity which determines which kind of bullets they will fire. Black ships will shoot dark red bullets, while white ships will shoot blue-ish white bullets. Your ship can in fact absorb these bullets provided you currently have the same polarity selected. Doing so will raise your special meter. Raise it high enough and you can launch a powerful homing attack that can make quick work of whatever happens to be on screen. Enemies are weak to shots of the opposite polarity and will be destroyed very quickly while being destroyed with the same polarity will make them fire a barrage of bullets as they explode, which can be absorbed by you.
This polarity mechanic also works into the game’s scoring system. Destroy 3 enemy ships of the same color to start a chain. Keep it up to keep the chain going and score massive points and be awarded a high rank at the end of the stage. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Well here is the thing. Ikaruga has all of these mechanics, except that it’s applied to a game that is essentially a massive bullet hell shooter. Each of the game’s 5 levels do not hesitate to throw everything and the kitchen sink at you. The bullet patterns will have you switching polarity all of the time and requiring some incredibly precise maneuvers if you wish to survive. The action is fast and unrelenting but a pure marvel to look at. The colors of the bullets add so much personality to what is otherwise pretty generic visuals but it all looks so beautiful and abstract that it truly is a sight to behold in motion. Treasure is known for their boss battles and Ikaruga doesn’t disappoint in this regard. The bosses are huge and have multiple segments to them. If you want a chance at conquering them you really need to be on your toes and be able to decipher their patterns and find all the safe spots.
Unfortunately due to all of this, Ikaruga has quite the difficulty curve and I can imagine many players being turned off, but if you don’t like playing it, I highly recommend watching a video of someone doing a “one-credit clear” run as it’s truly something to watch. Admittedly I have always been really bad at this game despite putting in a decent amount of time with it. I had trouble getting through level one on my first try. But thankfully the game does offer some easier difficulties and the ability to turn on infinite continues so I could progress.
There are also some achievements for you to gain if you are looking for some extra replay value along with a “prototype” mode that limits the amount of ammo your ship has, adding a whole new element of resource management into the mix. Ikaruga also has a two player mode which is straightforward enough, however there is the option of playing the 2-player mode with ONE controller provided it has two analog sticks. So if you thought the game was too easy, there is nothing stopping you from trying this mode and beating the game while controlling two ships. As one would expect from a modern shoot-em-up release it does feature “Tate” mode or the ability to flip the screen to give you a viewpoint closer to what you would find in a Japanese arcade. Worth mentioning is that the music in this game is excellent. All of the tunes fit the action really well and get you excited for the level. The final boss theme in particular is one that I found memorable since I felt it really captures all of the emotions from the player when they get to that point in the game. It’s an intense fight, and the music definitely portrays that.
The physical Gamecube release can be a bit pricey these days, so the $14.99 Switch price tag is not much in comparison. If you can get over the initial learning curve, Ikaruga is a game that will truly challenge your reflexes and abilities to think on the spot. The game may only be about 40-minutes long, but you will more than likely be coming back for more to see how you stack up against the world in the online leaderboards. One of the biggest problems Ikaruga had was that it was not the most accessible game as physical copies of the Gamecube version are a bit uncommon today and the Japanese Dreamcast release is just as sought after. These days, the game has been released on enough platforms via digital distribution that a wide arrange of players can now experience it. If you like shooters, Ikaruga is a no-brainer. I do hope Ikaruga is just the beginning of releases like this in that if this release does well enough, Treasure will be motivated to port over some of their other games from their catalog of excellent titles.
Review copy provided by the publisher
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