Give this masterpiece of a shmup a chance, you won't regret it
On the surface you have a shmup with a twist. You can absorb the bullets of the same color, and switch between the two different polarities in order to not die. All the while building up a reserve of a classic "Bomb" that you can use to clear the screen of minor enemies. The game itself is fairly short, with five different levels broken up into smaller sections leading up to a boss battle at the end of the stage much like every other shmup out there.
If you pop the hood however, you find that there are a number of things that were implemented into the game that makes it extremely complex yet elegant at the same time. To quote gamestops Good and Bad emblems that they give this game is "Better than the sum of its parts" which is in every way accurate.
To explain this how this game is better than its sum of its parts, look at the chain system that the game has in place. If you were to kill every enemy in front of you, you gain points like any other game. However, kill 3 enemies of the same polarity (white or black) and you are awarded with a chain bonus all the way up to the Max Chain bonus, which awards a lot more points than if you were to murder everything in your path. This also helps with achieving a good grade at the end of the chapter, as the game grades your performance based on a number of factors including: your total number of points, if you destroyed the boss in time, and if you used a continue or not. Grading starts at C and goes all the way up S++, which, if you understand how the game works, is an extremely hard yet prestigious grade to get on any chapter.
Like most games, Ikaruga gets progressively harder as the game wears on (left to some speculation, lol as anyone who has played the big satellite Misago and not died can agree). However, to achieve a grade above a B, chains are a must, and it gets harder and harder to keep your chain while switching polarities and avoiding the bullets fired back at you from the enemies. If you are to achieve a good grade in each chapter, memorization is a must as enemies always come out the same way and usually attack in the same general pattern, leaving the mistakes entirely up to you.
There are several difficulty levels, where on Easy enemies do not fire back, on Normal enemies are somewhat aggressive, fire back, and when they are defeated they release bullets only if you are the same polarity as them. Hard however is a completely different story, be prepared to die a lot (more than usual if you haven't played the game much), enemies fire back regardless of your polarity, and the bosses release more bullets and are extremely aggressive. There is a fourth game type that takes a different twist on the normal game play and can be quite fun, labeled Prototype, this mode has the pilot on a limited supply of bullets, which are only restored when you absorb the bullets therefore forcing you to be a little more strategic on your shot placement. One final way to play the game, although not clearly stated is the cleaverly named "Dot Eater" grade that you can earn by not firing a single shot throughout the entire level, as bosses leave after a set amount of time.
The Xbox version of this game includes a feature that allows you to save your replay so you may watch it later and learn from the mistakes that you made in the level. The top 100 pilots are able to upload their replays to the leaderboards (mine included, THE USF DON) so that players may watch the best of the best have at it, not missing a single beat but at the same time, showing you how simple and fun the game can be with a little memorization and a lot (a lot!) of practice. Xbox Live also allows you to play with a friend (because nobody seems to try and play together), which you would think would make the game easier as two pilots are firing. This is not the case however, as you must coordinate your attacks because one pilot might be a different polarity and one stray bullet is all you need to die. Also, bosses have increased health due to the fact that two ships are firing on them.
I will not lie to you, this game can be very frustrating, it can be very little fun, and this frustration can double if you and a buddy are trying to tackle Tageri as a team. On the flip side, if you have the patience to sit through each level, learn the ins and out of this game, and even try to get the chain system down, this game is one hell of a ride. What makes it even better, is that its an arcade game that can take you hundreds of hours to master (with such a small price tag why not?)
In my opinion one of the best, if not the best games (next to Castle Crashers of course) on the marketplace. And as a top 100 player (not to brag, I have LOVE this game lol) I highly recommend you take the time to sit down and enjoy this game. Well done Xbox for bringing such a classic game to the Marketplace. I suppose my review should include controls, music, replay value and whatnot but I think that the gameplay pretty much speaks for itself.
I do not doubt that you will play the game again after trying it out. Give it a chance, try to clear the game (with or without continues) on any difficulty. Then we will see if we will meet again, someday soon :)