Review: Ikaruga (Nintendo Gamecube)

Game: Ikaruga
System: GameCube
Genre: Shooter (Old-School!)
Designer: Treasure
Publisher: Infogrames (Atari)
Released: 4/16/03

I miss the days of the old-school shooters. Games like Galaga, Galaxian, Gradius, Raiden, and others of that ilk kept me busy for hours at a time. Sadly, except for a few exceptions, these games nowadays seem to have all but disappeared. Thankfully, Ikaruga is one of those exceptions.

Originally, Ikaruga debuted in the arcades of Japan. It slowly found it’s way onto the dying Dreamcast, and then to the Gamecube via Inforgrames. Three months after the Japan release, the game finally made it to the US shores. But does this shooterlive up to all the hype surrounding it, and will YOU have fun with it? Let’s find out, shall we?

Gameplay

The first thing to note is that Treasure developed this game. Nearly everything Treasure has touched has turned to gold. Citing that, let’s move on…

Usually in shooters, the story isn’t that important. You want to be blowing things
up rather than reading, right? For the curious, however, I’ve whipped up a little synopsis here:

You are Shinra, the last of your people. The rest of your clan was wiped out by the Horai, a group of people that gain strength from a holy object
dubbed “The Power of the Gods”. You try and fight, but your plane was shot down in the village of Ikaruga. You survive the crash and heal your wounds. Based on your determination, the village trusts you with a special ship called the Ikaruga. With this ship, you might have a chance of taking down the Horai once and for all.

Now we get to the part about blowing things up.

In the main game mode, to start off with, you’ll have access to three difficulties (Easy/Normal/Hard), and two types of games (Normal and Trial). A Normal game will
take you through all 5 stages the game offers. A Trial game will only take you through 2 stages, but will give you infinite lives on the first stage.

If you’re expecting a regular shooter with power-ups out the yin yang, you’ll find yourself out of luck. What you WILL find, however, is a new twist to shooting genre while still keeping an old-school feel. Your ship itself is “bipolar,” meaning it can switch polarity between to colors: black and white. You can switch between them
freely, and will need to in order to survive. All enemies you fight are either black or white, and each fires bullets of their respective polarity.

Now here’s the kicker: if you’re hit with bullets of the same polarity, you won’t die. You’ll
absorb the energy to charge your laser cannons, which you can fire at any time. You WILL die if you get hit with shots of the opposite polarity, so watch out. The same principle works on enemies you’re fighting. If you hit an enemy with opposite
polarity shots, you’ll do double the damage. So, it’s to your benefit to change and absorb as the situation warrants.

The goal of the game (like most old-schoolers) is to get to the end with the highest score possible. To help with this, you’ll need to master a concept called “Chaining”. To chain, first you’ll need to hit kill three enemies of the same polarity in a row. That’s your first chain. If you repeat the process, you’ll add to
the chain and get more points. If you keep your chain going, you’ll find yourself gaining HUGE amounts of points, with the maximum being 25,600 points per chain. But if you break the chain, you’ll have to start from scratch. You’ll also be ranked at the end of each stage, so the more points you get, the better your grade.

All this stuff may sound simple by the looks of it, but it’s not. The game is VERY difficult to play through for beginners. While there are only 5 stages, you’ll find yourself dying on Stage 2 many, many times before moving on. The constant barrage of bullets becomes a major hassle as you keep changing polarity to avoid dying. You
might not be able to see that one black bullet in a massive set of white ones that seems to come out of nowhere to blow your ship up. As the game goes on, you’ll find that certain parts of a level are literal puzzles that you’ll need to solve on how to get through in the right polarities. This game really is a thinking man’s
shooter.

Every level has a boss, and there is a specific way to defeat each one. (I’ll leave it up to you to discover the patterns.) The catch is you have 100 seconds to kill each boss. If you don’t, the boss will simply leave the playing field, and you won’t get the bonuses for it.

The controls are very responsive. The control stick moves you anywhere, the A-button
changes polarities, the B-button fires, and the L/R triggers fire your cannons when
charged. The Z-button will turn on/off a chain display, citing how long your current
chain is. I personally never had a problem with these controls, as they are fairly
straightforward, and don’t take long to learn. To complete the game, however, you’ll
need split-second timing.

Graphics

This can easily be labeled as the best shooter graphic-wise. Your ship, your enemies, and each background are rendered in total 3D. You will really appreciate this when the level starts and your ship will fly towards you, and then blast away towards its destination. The big enemies look gorgeous as they fly past, and the bosses are simply a sight to behold. While there is some slowdown when you kill a boss (this might be intentional), there is never during the actual gameplay.

Hundreds of bullets will fly by you with twenty-thirty enemy ships on screen, and the game will still run at 60 frames per second. Seeing as this was an arcade game, Treasure/Infogrames did not take it upon themselves to adjust the arcade screen for your TV. So your viewing experience will be accompanied by two black borders on either side. The good news is that you can
adjust the size of the screen, as well as turning it horizontal. This way, you can turn your TV sideways and experience a better view of the game. While you probably won’t be inclined to do that, it’s good to know it’s there.

Sound

The sound is pretty standard for a shooting game with nothing out of the ordinary. Your standard blast off, firing, and explosions noises make the cut. If anything stands out, it’s the robot voice that tells you how many chains you have, and the
approach of a boss. The background music, on the other hand, is done very well. The action-oriented tunes really fit the pulse of a level, and it really helps you get into the game.

Fun Factor

While the game itself is rather short, there are a lot of modes that will keep you busy for a long time. Aside from the main game mode, you have a practice mode, which allows you to hone your skills. Then there’s Conquest Mode, which is
essentially an enhanced practice mode. In it, you will be able to see a demo of how a specific stage SHOULD be played in slow-motion, the option to play the stage in slow motion (to copy the demo), and finally, playing the stage normally. This can really speed up your mastery of the game. Finally, there’s Challenge Mode. This is
where all your training pays off. You get three lives, and no continues whatsoever.

It’s up to you to do the impossible and beat the game using ONLY THREE LIVES. I’ve yet to get halfway through Stage 2 in this mode. If you’re feeling competitive,you’ll be given a code after each Challenge run to enter into the Ikaruga website (www.ikaruga-atari.net) to rank yourself with players from around the world.

Of course this game wouldn’t be complete without extras. For every hour of play you log on in the game, you’ll be able to unlock an extra continue. After about 7-8 hours, you’ll end up with infinite continues. You’ll also be able to unlock new modes of play by either completing the game a certain way, or through time release.

There’s Prototype Mode to look forward to, in which you have a limited number of bullets, and you get more by absorbing enemy fire. Or, if you a REALLY feeling lucky, try the “Bullet Eater” mode. You don’t need to unlock it. You just need to go through a stage without firing a single shot. Trust me, it’s not as easy as it seems.

Ratings
Gameplay: 9
Graphics: 9
Sound: 7
Fun Factor: 10