You reckon you are a pretty good gamer, eh? You’ve collected all 120 Shine Sprites on Super Mario Sunshine, aced every stage on Super Monkey Ball, finished Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty on European Extreme mode and even completed every Final Fantasy game to date 100%. You are a natural born gamer. So, you shouldn’t find it too difficult then, to pass even the first stage of this trivial shoot-em-up. You turn on the GameCube, begin the game and effortlessly shoot down a few harmless spaceships that approach you. Then several more approach you, beginning with three at once…then nine…then double that…then double that again…then enough to fill the screen…all of which are firing lasers towards you like a snow storm at blinding speed, leaving you just about enough time to blink, before your craft is destroyed by an onslaught of evil beams. All of this by the way, has happened within a minute.
Ikaruga is a top-down scrolling shoot-em-up, with the same principles to other top-down shoot-em-ups like Tyrian, or the side-scrolling Super R-Type. Lots of spaceships to shoot down, lots of power-ups and lots of fast paced action; such was the way with retro games of its genre. The visuals are sweet. The highly detailed backgrounds look brill as do the explosions and the sheer amount of enemies and lasers on screen at any one time is simply breathtaking. However the advances in 3D graphics and special effects should be revolutionising modern games, hence the differences between Super Metroid and Metroid Prime or Mario Bros. and Super Mario 64. So, if Ikaurga doesn’t have incredibly lush three-dimensional graphics, then what makes it so special?
Well, the main feature of its unique brilliance is the puzzle element you have to concentrate on while trying to stay alive. Tapping the A button changes your ships colour between white and black, and your type of laser is dependant on your ships colour. The enemies themselves vary between black and white as well. If you are shot by an enemy of the opposite colour to your own, you explode and lose a life, but a laser from the same colour will become absorbed by your ship, which in turn charges a power bar; once full this can unleash a lethal laser attack. It all sounds simple enough, until you are attacked by both kinds of enemy at the same time. Absorbing all white bullets that you come across sounds like the best tactic, but then you need to consider the mass of black ones as well, hence the constant need to switch colours.
The real challenge of any stage though is the boss. A warning message flickers on the screen and at this point you know you are in trouble. A giant boss consuming the entire screen with enough firepower to crack the world in half suddenly appears and it’s that versus your little ship. Each fight is as much down to tactics as skill and the next one always makes the previous seem like a complete wimp. You can see that to succeed, you must be patient and your progress itself is dependant on how quickly you can learn the enemy patterns of attack and the most effective way in which to counter them.
But any game is not without its downfalls. In the olden days, games were solely about blowing things up, and when 3D arrived, everything suddenly began having a plot. This game is on a reflex level basis only, so if you are looking for depth then Ikaruga’s simplicity is not for you. Another downfall is the lack of stages. Although insanely long and difficult, there are only 5 and a handful more might have given this a five star rating. Plus, it is a little bit overpriced for an arcade conversion with a few new features. If it is released on Player’s Choice anytime soon, then you should definitely invest in this title, otherwise buy it second hand or at least consider whether it is really worth £30. Besides these drawbacks though, this is constantly testing your skills and is a pure gaming rush from start to…whatever point you can reach because it certainly will not be the end.
To cut a long story short, Ikaruga is the ultimate title for hardcore action junkies who love the games of old and if you haven’t lived through the retro shoot-em-up era, you should experience this genre before it dies out.