Come gamer to the dark side of the gamecube.
The basic game theory behind Ikaruga is no different than most other shootemups: you are a little ship on the screen, and the objective is to blow all the other little ships (and some big ones) to smithereens without getting offed yourself. Ikaruga sways from the beaten path, however, by doing away with powerups in the usual sense. Whereas many shooters allow you to upgrade your ship with new, often ridiculous weapons, you spend the entire course of Ikaruga with same high speed cannon. “Powerups” are often in the form of enemy fire. Yes, enemy fire. The key behind Ikaruga is the polarity system. All enemies (indeed anything that can be shot) are either white or black. When you are white your ship absorbs white bullets, but black is lethal and vise versa. Attacking an enemy of opposite polarity will deal out double damage, however. The absorbed bullets are converted into energy that is represented by a meter on screen. Stored energy can later be unleashed in the form of your ships only other attack, a homing laser strike. You can fire a max of twelve lasers when you have fully charged your energy meter. That is the gist of Ikaruga. Manage your polarities to charge up your homing lasers to dish out some serious carnage.
It gets deeper, however. Scoring in Ikaruga is pretty strict. You get a handful of points for landing blows on enemies, and a hefty bonus for defeating a boss, and points for absorbing enemy fire. But if that’s all you do, you’ll never rack up an impressive score. The key to topping the charts (and impressing your friends, and truly mastering Ikaruga) is the chain system. Destroy three enemies of the same colour and you receive a chain bonus. Do it again and you receive another chain bonus, this time twice as large as before. Also you don’t have to stick to a certain colour, as long as you continuously hit three in a row of the colour you hit first to keep the chain alive. As the chain grows your score will explode. The first chain is worth a meager 100 points, but every successive chain the bonus will increase, with a maximum of 25,600 points for the ninth and every successive chain after. If you can keep the chain going your score will sky rocket. The downside is that if you break the chain (two blacks then a white) even if your on your 99th chain, it resets it to zero.
The graphics in Ikaruga are very nice. There’s not much to see other than a lot of spaceships flying around in two primary colours, but the backgrounds are very well done, and the bosses are impressive. The pyrotechnics in this game shine, especially the phenomena…..phenomeno….pheno… the cool, massive explosions that slow the system to a crawl when you finish a boss off. There is no other noticeable moments of slowdown, despite the occasionally ridiculous amount of action (Chapter 4, I’m looking in your direction) that may be going on.
Originally designed as a vertical-screen arcade game, Ikaruga can be played in any of five video modes. You can have the screen horizontal or vertical; it’s really the player’s preference. There is one mode which gives you full screen on the horizontal. So if you can turn your television on it’s side your sorted!
Ikaruga has good sound, nuff said. The sound effects are loud and satisfying, from the rapid fire of the Ikaruga fighter to the rumbling explosions of the dying bosses. Enemy high powered whine with a high pitched fury and even minor enemies die with good, bassy effects. The music is also very nice and keeps up with action very well (not to hard as the game moves at a fixed pace) but still a good feature.
As shooters go Ikaruga is where it’s at. The shootemup action is relentless and action packed. In fact, it’s ridiculous at points. One thing that has made Ikaruga famous has been its difficulty level. Make no mistake; this is not an easy game, even though it only has five main levels. The difficulty comes from the sheer number of enemy attacks, as well as the game makes you do lighting fast polarity switches to navigate heavy fire zones without dying. Hitting you from both sides with different polarity attacks is like catching you between a rock and a hard place if you’re not prepared for it.
The game is divided into five chapters, each comprising from three to five parts, between which you pass transparently. Each chapter also has a final boss, introduced by the now standard red *WARNING* sign and a siren in case you somehow fell asleep at the helm. Chapters 1 and 2 are not exceedingly difficult, and shouldn’t be to much of a problem for your average shootemup fan. Chapter 3, however, ups the ante by forcing you into your first polarity puzzles and then finishing with a frustrating mini boss and a maddening end boss. Chapter 4 takes the game from hard to insane; you won’t stand a chance unless you have excellent polarity control and timing. This is the level where the game throws everything it has at you; and believe me this game can throw a lot of stuff. Chapter 5, the final level, is basically an end boss showdown, where a series of challenging fights is the main portion of the level. Usually everyone gets to chapter 3 with no problem, that’s where the problems start and discs start to mysteriously destroyed. Once you get to chapter 4, however, the men are sorted from the boys and beaten to a pulp.
You get three lives and three continues (AKA credits) to beat the whole game. There is no way that will be enough at first. The game challenges you to complete the game with one credit….put any thoughts of accomplishing that out of your mind for a long time! For every hour of play you log, the game rewards you with an extra credit. Until you get to seven hours when the game says, “If you aren’t going to beat me now you never will, here have unlimited credits”. How nice of the game, although it’s probably right. To do this the game unlocks the freeplay (paying homage to the game’s arcade roots) mode, but your score is always reset to zero after each continue.
In the end, Ikaruga is an excellent game. It is undeniably fun and undeniably addictive, and at the same time undeniably difficult and undeniably frustrating. It will beat you, whip you, bring you to the verge of tears, and you will most likely go crawling back for more of the same.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I hear the game calling, and it gets very irate when I don’t respond….