Inside Pulse 12

Retrograding Review: Ikaruga (Nintendo Gamecube)

You know, I’m both happy and distraught right now. Happy because no one at 411 has reviewed this game even though it’s been out for a few weeks. Distraught for the same reason. This is Ikaruga people! Created by Treasure. The company who gave us Guardian Heroes and Radiant Silvergun, easily two of the greatest video games ever made! Ikaruga! The beautiful mixture between Radiant Silvergun, a game so near perfection that copies of it sell for over 150$ on Ebay and Silhouette Mirage, a game horrible ruined in the American translation by Working Designs, a company that usually gets things right. This is your chance America! A chance to play a Treasure Shooter in English! Without a mod chip or boot disc! A chance to play a REAL shooter instead of the FPS crap that so many of our brethren seem to enjoy! For god’s sakes I haven’t even begun my review yet and I’m already foaming at the mouth telling you to get off your asses, stop staring at the computer and run down to your local video game retailer and to DEMAND your own personal copy of Ikaruga before you have to rend the poor store worker’s head from his torso from sheer impatience and fanatical desire to possess this game.

So maybe I’m a little biased towards Treasure, shooters, and Ikaruga in general. At least I’m warning you in advance that I think this game is not only the best thing on the Game Cube to date, but that it’s reason enough to go BUY a Game Cube simply for the pleasure of owning this game. And for you to mock those who own a Game Cube but have yet to purchase Ikaruga, for one can not truly be video game fan without at least one game by Treasure in their collection, and let’s face it, not many people are going to shill out the cash for old Saturn or Dreamcast Games. But they should. THEY SHOULD!

Like I said, I’m biased and I’m not going to deny it.

Now, before I get into the actual history and review of the game, here’s a snippet of a conversation I had with my good friend (and fellow Treasure and shooter fanatic) Liquidcross.

LC: You better give Ikaruga a glowing review. You’re permitted to bitch about the analog support, though. :)

Me: The tagline: If there’s any game that should make you go up to your parents and say, ‘If you don’t buy me this game I’m going to hold my breath until I turn gay,’ THIS is the game!

LC: That’ll do. Are you doing the DC version, or the emulated GC version?

Me: GC. They need the US version reviewed. But rest assured I will be subliminally saying “IMPORT IMPORT!”

Me: Shit. Forgot to add. the GC does have some nifty new stuff the DC version didn’t have. Such as hidden mini games. So it does balance out. And they’re TREASURE made mini games. Like the original prototype for Ikaruga when it was RS2.

LC: Bah. DC’s still a direct arcade port. And supports the VGA box. And none of that analog bullshit. I can’t believe people complained about the lack of analog support on the DC version! Who the hell wants analog for a SHOOTER?!

Me: Dude, American’s don’t get shooters. They don’t. You, me and EGM are the only Americans I have ever met that appreciate Shooters. And their complexity. Remember WD’s bastard version of Sil. Mirage. They dumbed it down to the point of insanity and every VG magazine complained how HARD the game was. WTF?

Even Elisa gets shooters.

I swear, Almost all my DCD games were shooters and RPG’s. Mars Matrix, Gunbird, Ikaruga, and so on.

LC: I defecate upon the US release of Silhouette Mirage!

But good point. US folk think “shooters” are games like Doom, Counterstrike, Metroid Prime, etc.

Me: FPS sucks. SHOOTERS rule. I really suggest you get Robotech for the GBA. It’s the best non-Treasure shooter I’ve seen in years. And that includes the Capcom Shit.

Speaking of good Capcom Shooters: Cannon Spike. Short but beautiful.

I think American’s can’t handle the 100 bullets/lasers/missiles on the screen at once because they expect to be able to DODGE them all. Idiots.

God, Brian. We sound like crazy fanatics. I’m so putting this correspondence at the end of my review. :-)

But the truth of the matter is ladies and gents, I am biased. I got this game for the Dreamcast on its release day, and it proved to live up to Radiant Silvergun in every way it possibly could. I love this game and do admit, as it was designed for Naomi and Sega systems, it is better to import the game. After all, the story isn’t very important as it’s a shooter. How has ever really cared about the plot of the first Contra? And as you read LC’s comments, no analog. I agree that only in America would you find people actually wanting analog for a shooter. Or people actually preferring analog control sticks to the D pad for ANY sort of 2D scrolling game, be it shooter, platform or the like. But it’s a cultural preference. Just like America likes FPS shooters and Japan likes REAL shooters. Man, that makes me sound like I’ll endorse anything if the Japanese like it. But that would make me enjoy dating sims and anal rape games. I’m one of those guys in there mid 20’s that remember when shooters were played in the US as feverently as they are in Japan and were popular. But with the dumbing down of the difficulty and plots of games to attract a larger audience, shooters went to the wayside in America because they were just too hard for casual gamers. These games were made for a hardcore gaming audience, and like hardcore systems (Dreamcast. Saturn), they just couldn’t make money over here. So whenever one of these games hits stateside, you’re going to see me implore you to just bite the bullet and buy these types of games as they actually require SKILL. There’s no luck or memorization of a boss pattern. It’s you’re either good enough or you die. That simple.

Story

As I’ve said, the plot of shooters normally doesn’t matter. You’re spending too much time blowing everything on the screen up and avoiding death yourself to care about the plot. But here it is: Once upon a time a man dug up a strange object that held within it the Power of the Gods. He gathered some followers in true crazy cult like fashion. They began to conquer the world claiming to be Divine Ones, and of course the onslaught was carried out in the name of peace. Because when you’ve become gods, you know what’s best for humanity, right?

And of course, the people of the world don’t ALL take kindly to this attack on their free will. A group of Freedom Fighters united and built special fighter planes to attack and save the world from the Divine Ones…and got their keisters sorely handed to them. All but one of the Freedom Fighters died a terrible death. And guess whom you play as?

You are Shinra, the sole survivor and pilot of a new secret plane called the Ikaruga. This plane was specifically designed to combine the strange power the Divine Ones control and can shift between the two polarities that the Divine Ones use.

Confused by the polarity thing? It’s very similar to the aforementioned Treasure game, Silhouette Mirage. There are Black enemies and White Enemies. You need to use Black polarity to kill white enemies and vice versa. You can hurt enemies when they’re the same polarity as you, but you do double damage when you’re the opposite polarity of them. Sounds simple right? It’s just a matter of switching between the two. But here’s the catch. If you’re black when the enemy is white, you can hurt them, but they can hurt you. One hit and you’re dead. Same with if you are white and they are black. BUT BUT BUT, if you are the SAME colour as the enemy, you can ABSORB the attacks of the enemy and do a super power energy release. These energy releases do TEN times normal damage. TEN! Now here’s another plot twist. IF you blow up a ship when you are both the same colour, it will explode and release energy. IF you switch polarity, you die. But if you stay in the same polarity you can absorb that energy.

So as you can see, the game isn’t just avoiding zillions of shots and blowing everything that moves up, there is a lot of strategy involved. You have to decide how offensively you’re going to play this game, and the having to switch between polarities at a constant and sometimes mind numbing speed separates the men from the boys here. (Or women from the girls. Gender plays no part in shooter skill.)

And then of course there is the skill factor. There’s only five levels. So the game CAN be considered short by American standards. This is not a forty hour game. It’s about 30 minutes to an hour to beat. Now, put your tongue back in your mouth. I said to beat. To master this game? That takes longer than Persona. And Persona’s a 100 hour long game. Shooters are super tough. Just surviving the five levels isn’t hard with continues. But the point of shooters is to see how far and how high of a score you can get before you die. That sounds weird to a lot of you I’m sure. The point of the game isn’t to beat it? But for games like Ikaruga, it’s the truth. Each of the five levels of this game requires incredible attention to detail, incredible reflexes and lots of time to master the game and how to get high scores. There’s something in the game called Chain Scoring’ that allows you to rack up major points. The more ships of the same polarity you kill in a row, the higher the chain bonus. If you’re going for points and bragging rights you have to be able to chain shoot. And it’s damn hard to get down.

Now, after two and a half pages of prologue, let’s get into the actual review.

GAMEPLAY

The controls are pretty simple. The A button is to change polarity, the B button is to shoot and the control pad or stick is to move. This is a game that could be done on the old NES joysticks. But like everything else about Ikaruga, the guy is harder that you think. The important decision you have with the Gamecube is between the D pad or analog control. And most shooter fans will tell you the same thing: Analog and shooters do not mesh well together at all. The D pad is better for moving and play control, which is something most Us gamers can’t imagine. That’s not a knock, it’s just so many games use the analog stick nowadays that we tend to be jarred when a game plays better with the old classic pad. But it is a matter of choice. Some people do manage to use analog controls rather well with shooters, but those tend to be the exception to the rule. It’s a matter of speed and hair trigger reflexes which analog just can’t give you in games like Ikargua.

Ikaruga’s controls however are like any shooter: easy to learn, but damn hard to master. You will probably swear from time to time in this game, but as you get better, that profanity will go from anger, to ecstasy as you get better and better at chain shots. I found myself adapting from the DC to the GC joystick after only a game or two and after an hour, was loving the game as much as I did the first time I played it. Control is no problem. Treasure designed this game beautifully. It’s all going to be a matter of your own hand to eye coordination.

Gameplay rating: 10/10

GRAPHICS

A work of art. It’s the best way to describe Ikaruga. Now, there’s no CGI. No FMV. The graphics tend to be of a small space ship blowing up lots of other ships and some really really big and nasty bosses. And lots of displays of firepower. So it may not be impressive at first. But then once you play it and you realize there is no slowdown or glitches and everything stays at the warp speed you started playing in, you’ll understand how impressive the graphics truly are. The fact that so much can be happening on the screen at once without the engine slowing down or that each of the shots fired can stay crisp and clear without jaggies or blurring…well it’s a testament to the programmers that built this game. Seriously people, forget the showy effects or the 3D models of character that look real but never change their facial expression: THIS is what graphics are all about. Play the game and try not to be impressed.

Graphics Rating: 9.5/10

SOUND

This is what’s incredible about Ikaruga. And what you’ll see some really die hard psychotic fans do. They will play Ikaruga without any picture. That’s right. No picture. JUST THE SOUND. That’s how great the effects are in this game. If you are really good, the sound of firepower, planes and the like are enough for you to play the game. You can literally fly blindly. I can’t really go into any more detail than that, can I? Like everything else about Ikaruga, the sound is incredible. Again, this may be underwhelming at first until one truly appreciates the little things Treasure has done to make this game as close to perfection as possible. Appreciate the little things. The soundtrack is not akin to SOTN or a Shining Force game. There is no voice acting done by actual anime actors or movie stars. This game is based on substance over style and it is the sound from each and every missile and gun shot fired that truly brings this home to the player.

Sound Rating: 10/10

FUN FACTOR

The game is short but has more replay than most RPG’s. And the fact that there is more than one mode to the game means even if you buy a Game Cube just for this game and then never buy another disc for the system, you will still not regret it. There’s conquest mode, which is basically training mode. Conquest mode has two sub versions. The first is Demo mode, where the game plays itself at half speed. The second mode is Slow Play which is again, played in half the speed of normal mode. Anyone picking up this game for the first time, especially those who have never really gotten into the shooter genre are going to need this mode.

Then there’s normal play. That’s pretty much a given. It’s the bloody game played out right. What more do I need to tell you about it? But then my crazy video game loving friends, we have CHALLENGE MODE. I know ECM is creaming himself with delight that Atari brought this over. Challenge mode ends once and for all the complaining and bitter fighting between video game fans. Between the ones who think continues are for wussy little girls, and those that feel continue are needed, especially in games where the programmers purposely try to make the game as hellish as possible. Without continues they say, one can never get better. Well for the crotchety hardcore gamers, Challenge mode kicks them out of any conversation you’ll be having. And this is the version of Ikaruga everyone eventually calls their favorite. You get three lives, no continue and they are single player games only. Once your game is over, you get a 2 letter password and then your score will be entered onto the official Ikaruga web site. And my god are some of those scores high. Scary high. People have beaten Ikaruga without dying ONCE, and that’s a thought so creepy that you don’t know whether to bow down to them or run away fearing the sacrifices in both the realms of human contact and personal hygene that one would have to make in order to get that damn good at this game. Yes, Challenge mode. Even if you can beat the game in normal mode on super easy like 90% of gamers do, (Don’t lie. Most of us do it.) you still have the electronic version of Erebus to deal with.

Finally, there are two special modes you can unlock in Ikaruga. The first is prototype mode. In this version you have a limited amount of bullets. You can only gain new bullets by absorbing enemy energy. The max that you can collect are 999 shots and your super weapon costs 120 bullets. Yes, Prototype mode is mean mean mean.

The second unlockable mode is Bullet Eater. This is only for mental masochists with thumbs covered in calluses. There is only one level to bullet eater. And the object? To survive an entire level without firing a single shot. Now tell me that’s not a hard task they’ve given you! Treasure, how I love thee.

And remember people, they’re two player mode as well….
Fun Factor Rating: 10/10

The 411:

Bottom Line is this people. The US has been given a game that normally wouldn’t make it over here. An exceptional game that takes skill to play. A game that is beautiful to watch and a lot of fun to play. It’s reason alone to buy a Game Cube. I can’t stress enough how important it is that Ikaruga made it stateside and how important it is for you to support these localizations. Because if games like Ikaruga fail in the sales area, we’re going to be stuck with the same crappy platformers and churned out piles of crap from Electronic Arts that we’ve grown accustomed to. Supporting this game is telling distributors, HEY! We know that there’s lots of great games never leaving Japan, and we want some of them!’ So if you can, go buy this game. You won’t regret it for a second.

Overall Score: 9.5/10.0 (Hey! I NEVER give a perfect score.)