One of the many games available to try at Microsoft's booth on the Tokyo Game Show floor is Ikaruga, the old-school flavored shooter from Treasure recently announced for Xbox Live Arcade. The game was released in arcades on Sega's NAOMI arcade hardware in 2001 and then brought to home consoles in Japan in 2002 on the Dreamcast. A GameCube version was released in Japan, the US, and Europe in 2003, giving players around the world a chance to revel in the polished shooter. The demo on display in Microsoft's booth offered a short sample of what to expect from the XBLA version, but what was there has us pleased by how it's coming together and anxious for the final game.
The demo in the Microsoft booth let players tear through the first level of the game, which offers a nice introduction to the vertically scrolling space shooter's simple but addictive gameplay. Your goal is to survive wave after wave of enemies then make your way to a boss who needs dispatching. Although the game has a decidedly old-school feel, the big twist to Ikaruga's gameplay is its polarity-shifting mechanic. Besides having a basic array of blasters and a powerful super attack you can charge up that lets you shoot out up to 12 homing missiles, the most important ability your ship has is the ability to switch polarities on the fly. The polarity mechanic is tied directly to the enemies you face, which will come in two different color varieties denoting one of the two polarities, white or black. By shifting the polarity of your ship as you play, you'll be able to absorb the bullets from enemies if you match their color. So shifting to white lets you absorb white bullets and vice versa. You can also choose to attack enemies while using the opposing polarity because your shots will do significantly more damage to them. The deceptively simple mechanic adds an impressive amount of depth and strategy to the experience, which is compounded when the game is played in two player co-op. Control in the game seems fine with the default control scheme being offered, although you'll be able to customize your button layout if you see fit.
While Ikaruga is still in the early stages, the game's presentation is looking and sounding top-notch. The visuals in the demo were stunning as ever and crystal clear in HD. The game's visuals always stood out for their sharpness and smooth scrolling but all of that bumps up several notches when it's running in HD. The crisp detail and vibrant color popped on the 360, which certainly bodes well for the final game. As with the previous versions of the game, Ikaruga on XBLA will offer horizontal and vertical display modes so players can re-create the arcade experience on their HDTVs. Although it was a little tough to make out the audio in the game due to all the ruckus in the Microsoft booth, it sounds as though the game's soundtrack and effects are on point. The soundtrack offers a solid complement to the action, while the various effects for explosions and weapons fire are a good punctuation to all the craziness.
Based on what we played, Ikaruga should rock on Xbox Live Arcade especially with the co-op mode being expanded to include play over Xbox Live. Although Ikaruga is still without an official release date in any territory, it's expected to be available sometime next year. Look for more on the game in the coming months.