Follow the path of light and darkness... Ikaruga is one of the best and hardest vertical space shooters ever created !
As we are dealing with an arcade space shooter here there isn't much story implied in these kind of games but anyway I think Ikarugas background story is actually pretty good for a mere shooter. Basically the plot goes like this... The world was taken over by a powerful organization under the control of Hourai Tenrou a man who found an artifact on the small island nation of Hourai, the "Ubusunagami Okinokai" also known as the "Power of the Gods", buried deep under the earth. After acquiring this ultimate source of power, Hourai Tenrou decided to take over the world by waging war against the ones who would oppose, little by little the world was devoured by the power of gods and so mankind decided to build an resistance to counterfeit Tenrous army. You play as a guy called Shinra, a member of the freedom force who is shoot down with his plane after an excessive battle with the Tenrou forces, however Shinra survives the incident and crashes with his plane on a remote island called Ikaruga. The townspeople of Ikaruga save Shinra and nurse him back to life, after that the towns eldest hands him over their most powerful and advanced space craft called "the Ikaruga". So Shinra once again sets off to settle the score with Tenrous space armada and of course to save the world. 8/10
Ikaruga is a 3D vertical space-shooter so you control your ship from one stage to another by pulling of very difficult and frenzy maneuvers. Your ship is equipped with a laser blaster as well as a missile launch device and whats the most important thing about Ikaruga is, its unique polarization system, means every enemy force you encounter will either be white or black. You can switch your ships appearance instantly by pressing the right trigger and this will turn your ship from black to white and reverse allowing you to absorb the enemies bullets to power up your missile attacks. Overall the gameplay is very decent and awesome even though most of the people wont like the switching between black and white, I thought it was a very good idea and supports the ideal this game is based on 9/10
The controls work like a charm for this game, they are very simple and easy to learn but trust me it takes a hell of a time to master your maneuvering and switching between black/white skills. You can use your directional pad to move your spaceship freely and by pressing two buttons you can either fire your laser blaster or commence your missile attack and of course you can switch between black or white polarization by pressing your gamepads trigger. And thats it, you wont have to bother too much with complicated button combos like in other shooters this is also due to the fact that this game was designed for arcade gaming and was imported to the dreamcast. 9/10
The graphics may seem outdated for our next gen standards but nevertheless the stages and level designs are very well drawn and the 3D effects and bosses are very smooth and colorful, I think this game fits perfect into the category game with perfect visuals and graphics. 9/10
The sound score is great as well and delivers what it should do also it is by far more memorable than other monotone tunes which are overused in most space shooters. You will notice a slight dramatical change in the sound when you advance from stage to stage, blasting your way through hordes of enemy spacecrafts. In short the sound is awesome and is perfectly implied in the whole game and delivers a very intense and thrilling feeling. 9/10
Before we talk about the game itself and cover the review with my thoughts and regards lets clear some things about Ikaruga first. Ikaruga was originally designed for arcade gaming in japan and wasn't even released in europe or the USA, it was much later that this game actually appeared for the Dreamcast console and was later also released for the Nintendo Gamecube and the Xbox360 download section but I cover the Dreamcast release in my review so I cant tell for sure how enhanced the Gamecube version is, nevertheless it should be on par with the original Ikaruga arcade game.
The first thing when you hear of the word "Ikaruga" and the game itself, there should be exactly three thoughts about this game... One, incredibly hard ! Two, addictive ! And three, very fun !
As you are about to start the first stage you can and should try practice mode before even attempting to clear the first level of this tense shooter. Practice mode is a small tutorial which introduces you to the controls and helps you maneuvering the Ikaruga, after that you can choose either easy, normal or hard mode (don't even think about hard mode for now lol) and start your epic flight to the sky. Its very simple and straight forward, you have a space-ship, you have lots of enemies in front of you and of course you have kickass background sound to motivate you shooting your way through them. What do you need more you may ask ?! Well... the magic words here are actually practice (a lot) and of course pure skill which will come handy if you wanna time your laser blasts or want to perform chain combos. One of the best and worse things about Ikaruga is actually the very high difficulty which makes this game a pain in the arse or one of the most challenging games ever, suit yourself. The difficulty is very punishing because one hit and your space-ship will explode to pieces and of course your replay credits are very limited which makes it nearly impossible for casual gamers even to reach Stage 4, at least with little skill there is.
The game uses a unique polarity system which is really easy to use but will put your reactions into a very heavy challenge. Everything in Ikaruga is based on black or white, means you can switch your space-ship from one state to another also the enemies themselves and the bullets they fire can be absorbed by your space-ship if you can synchronize your polarity with theirs. White enemies will receive more damage by black laser-shots than the white ones, your space-ship can absorb enemy-fire if is the same color an retaliate with missiles and so on. The key is to switch between black and white to either destroy your enemies fast or to absorb their bullets to power up your ship for some powerful missile blast. It will take you time and patience to learn how to react to the enemies attacks and this is why this game is so hard. Another cool thing about this game are the chain combos you can perform by blasting a repetitive amount of enemies without just shooting wild, again ... it requires lots of skill and lots of practice to reach very high chain combos (my personal record was 50 chains and it was very hardcore, I don't think I 'll be able to ever reach more). After completing one stage you are given grades from S++ (the best) to C (the worst), depending on how many enemies you have killed or for completing a high amount of chain combos and so on (my best try was an A grade and wow thats pretty bad lol).
The game itself offers only 5 stages and can be completed under 30 minutes if you are some hardcore shooter pro gamer which wasn't my type to begin with. As I said Ikaruga was designed for arcade gaming and has a lot of arcade features in it so therefore you will either get hooked up by the intense and flashy gameplay or you will swing your gamepad against your TV screen because of its difficulty. The main reason for people to play this game is in my opinion the soundtrack and the high amount of "try and fail" value this game offers, of course you will lose and of course you will try again to see how far you can get and thats all the charm about this game ^^.
Ikaruga is a very unique and tense experience if you are in for some insane and difficult space-shooter or arcade gaming, it offers all there is to offer for its genre and can be easily described as one of the best space-shooters up to date. If you wanna try this game prepare yourself for some serious practice lessons until you even anticipate to beat this short but excessive game because as I covered in my review this game is not for casual gamers and will require a lot of skill to master it, nevertheless Ikaruga is just fun to play and I very recommend it to everyone who actually owns a Dreamcast console system.