Hands-onIkaruga

Treasure says farewell to the Dreamcast with a port of its vertical arcade shooter.

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We've received the Japanese Dreamcast port of Ikaruga, Treasure's Naomi-powered arcade shooter. Though the game was originally touted as a spiritual successor to the popular (and incredibly expensive) Saturn shooter Radiant Silvergun, the two games have very little in common other than a few similarities in level and boss design.

In fact, the two games are substantially different when it comes to the core gameplay mechanics. In Radiant Silvergun, you had access to several different weapons, some of which were simply variations on the three main weapons, but in Ikaruga, you have only one primary weapon and homing missiles that you can use only when a certain portion of the appropriate onscreen meter is filled. Interestingly, you have to absorb enemy projectiles to charge the meter, but to do so, you need to be the same color as the projectile, meaning you have to be either light or dark. You can switch between the two colors on the fly, but the real trick is getting the timing down so you can absorb the most enemy projectiles possible without making contact with those of the opposite color. Depending on how many projectiles have been absorbed, you can launch a barrage of missiles that automatically hit enemies in the immediate area.

Your primary weapon isn't as flashy as some of the weapons in Radiant Silvergun, but it's more than adequate for the game. If you tap the button, your ship will fire a single shot, but if you hold the button down, the ship will shoot two continuous streams of projectiles. There's no need to worry about running out of ammunition or anything like that, but it probably wouldn't be a shooter if there were. If your ship is light colored, you'll do much more damage to dark-colored enemies than you would if your ship were also dark. This mechanic comes in handy, particularly during boss fights, since it significantly cuts down on the amount of time it takes to defeat one, and the boss fights are timed, so you have to beat them within a certain amount of time or they'll just fly away. Though, it's also makes it significantly harder to stay alive, since you're essentially opening yourself up to the boss' attacks. It's an interesting mechanic that Treasure has used in some of its previous games, and in a certain sense, it requires you to think a little differently than in previous shooters, since you're actively trying to absorb enemy fire.

But the light and dark mechanic truly shines when you have two players playing the game at once. You'll learn how to switch to the appropriate color and block enemy fire while the other player switches to the other color and shoots at enemies. Indeed, some of the objects in the environment send out a steady stream of shots, but when you have two players, one player can maneuver him- or herself in front of these objects (while changing to the corresponding color) and essentially block the flow of enemy fire, making it much easier to navigate through the particular section of the level. The only problem with the two-player feature in Ikaruga is that the two ships can actually push each other around a little bit, so it can be difficult to move around in the more confined areas of a level if you're not really paying attention or working together.

The level design in Ikaruga is similar to the design in Radiant Silvergun and some other classic shooters. You'll have to navigate your way past all sorts of obstacles and even make high-speed runs as pillars come jutting out of the walls--much like in a certain level in Konami's Life Force for the NES. Like most Treasure games, the boss battles are probably the most intriguing aspect of the game, because they really force you to lean how to use the gameplay mechanics of switching between light and dark. In one level, you'll be confined to a center ring, and turrets will shoot streams of colored projectiles at you. Not only do you need precise timing for switching between the two colors, but you also need excellent maneuvering skills in order to avoid the windmill device in the center of the ring. It's a really tough battle, but it's also quite fun at the same time.

As far as graphics and sound are concerned, Ikaruga seems to excel on both levels. When hooked up to a VGA monitor, the full 3D backgrounds in Ikaruga look fantastic, and some of the texture detail-- particularly that of the forest in the early portion of the first level--is incredible. There is a little slowdown here and there, but nothing that actually affects the fast pace of the game. There's a generous amount of slowdown after a boss battle, but this was probably put in more for dramatic effect than anything else. The soundtrack is excellent and fits in incredibly well with the game. Each portion of the level has been perfectly synched to the action onscreen, so when you see your ship drift closer to the screen for the level introduction sequence, the music mellows, and then it picks up after a quick blast of the ship's engines. This is particularly cool in the first level, because the music following the engine boost is incredibly upbeat and makes it feel as though you're just about to take on a gaggle of enemies.

Ikaruga will probably be the last legitimate release from a third party on the Dreamcast, so anyone looking to dust off his or her system will probably find that this great shooter is a suitable reason to do so.

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