Ikaruga is the guilty pleasure of arcade shooters - it is the ultimate in style and difficulty.
Levels and enemy waves are designed to follow paths which, over time, are meant to be learned and used to the players advantage, since all of this takes a huge part in the games core mechanics: polarity.
Players will spend a majority of the game switching their polarity to absorb enemy bullets. In lamest terms, a player switches between "black" and "white" colors. If a player gets hit by enemy fire of the opposite color, it results in the destruction of the player's ship. At first this may seem relatively simple concept, and it is. However, the sheer amount of stuff going on in the game at the same time will be overwhelming in nearly every level.
When enemies are destroyed, they explode in fragments of their color (basically into clouds of enemy fire) which forces the player to make quick decisions about which enemies to destroy based upon their current polarity. Players will be sorry when the begin taking out enemies of both polarities, only to learn that a wall of black and white fire is coming down the screen, forcing the player to dodge around preventable annoyances.
Absorbing fire of the same polarity works to your advantage, as it fills, what I'll call during this review, "a missile gauge." At it's max, you'll have the pleasure of releasing a volley of 12 missiles, which is useful for taking out enemy groups and quickly defeating bosses.
Bosses are memorable and beautiful, if not difficult. The bosses in this game are creative, and force the player into a suicidal battle of wit. Upon a bosses defeat, they are destroyed in a series of beautiful explosions unequaled in any other arcade shooter.
However, if you manage to actually beat this game, it is very short. With only 5 levels (chapters), experienced players will find it worthwhile to replay the game time and time again to learn new strategies in attaining combos and new high scores.
This game is very difficult, even on easy settings as you near the end. It is not for the faint of heart, and I have to consider it one of my favorite games of all time. Released years ago for the Game Cube, I'm happy to see it's return on the XBOX Live Arcade.