IkarugaIt's hard to be a shoot em up fan these days. What, with a large emphasis on first person shooters and all, and most shoot em ups that pop up nowadays are... how can I put this lightly... not all that great. Another shitty part is that if you live in Australia, good luck getting a decent chunk of these games, because most of them were released in Japan and North America only. Again, though, they don't feel right. So out comes Ikaruga, ready to raise your spirits... yes, I know it's a rerelease of a Dreamcast game, but honestly guys, just take what you can get, especially since this version is not only dirt cheap, but also *bleep*ing intense and will kick your ass until shit comes out of your ears. Are you man enough to take the challenge!?
Story: It's a revenge story about Shinra, the only survivor of a battle several years ago between some freedom fighters (Tenkaku is what they call themselves) and the Horai. The Horai massacred the freedom fighters, killing all but Shinra. Shinra crash lands near a remote village, and as soon as he regains his stength, the villagers allow him to combat a ship they built known as the Ikaruga, which is able to utilize both energy polarities, and switch between the two. Nothing too special, though it at least sets up the scene fairly well. It's a shoot em up (from 2001, at that), so you can't really expect a storyline at the same quality as some epic movies.
Gameplay: At its heart, Ikaruga is a vertical shoot em up - that means, scrolling upwards while shooting every other ship that dares show itself on screen. That also means that you can expect tough as shit difficulty, so if you're utter crap at video games, Ikaruga will basically tell you to eat a brick and harden the *bleep* up, which is exactly what you should be doing when playing any good shoot em up! You'll be encountering sections with overlapping bullets, millions of bullets, laser beams, screen filling bosses that will beat you down until nothing is left of you, and other things, and on top of that, there is never a moment past the first ten seconds that has less than a hundred bullets on the screen at once. Breathe deeply, and prepare to tear shit down!
Ikaruga's main draw is the ability to utilize energy polarities. Once you've gotten a few seconds into the game, you'll see some dots, either white or black. You can absorb those dots, though you have to make sure your polarity shield is the same color as the dots that are coming your way. As you absorb them, you'll be able to power up the Ikaruga's all powerful set of homing lasers, which can destroy everything in sight if you absorb enough dots.
Another thing that makes Ikargua awesome is that you can use polarities in your regular shots! For one, if you shoot an enemy of the opposite polarity from what you're using, you'll deal twice as much damage, though you run the risk of getting blown up, since getting hit by a bullet of the opposite polarity can kill you in one shit. It's basically a risk/reward system, rewarding players for setting themselves up for suicide by giving them some benefits. It's something I love in games, since it forces me to go beyond my comfort zone in order to make victory easier.
The other thing you can do is perform chains. These are done by destroying enemies of the same polarity more than a few times in a row, allowing you to rack up points faster. You'll want to rack up a lot of points quickly, since a lot of points gets you a lot of extra lives, meaning you'll be able to survive past the first level a lot easier.
Want to give your friend some lessons in ass kicking? Give him a controller and let him join in, for there's a two player simultaneous mode. You and a friend will be eating dots and shooting ships down together, which will increase your chances of seeing the end of the game. That, and it's just a lot of fun playing together. Seriously, real life interaction on top of virtual butt kicking always manages to get the best of us into games easier than playing solo.
Controls: They're easy to learn and they respond immediately to your button inputs. The ship moves at a good enough pace to avoid shots, and changing polarities is as simple as 1-2-3. Simply put, you can't blame the controls for dying - just yourself.
Graphics: It's hard to really judge the graphics, since you'll be paying a lot of attention to the game and what's going on to really appreciate the look of the game. The colors are crispy and easy on the eyes just enough to allow you to keep your eye on your ship, which is surrounded by a glow that makes it stand out amongst the darker/paler backgrounds. Each graphic you'll see, except for the dots, have a stunning amount of detail put into them, almost realistic in fact. Where they could've just rushed some quickies on MS Paint since there's tough as crap gameplay for the player to handle, the artists paid a lot of careful attention to detail, making sure this is the best damn good looking arcade game out there.
Audio: The soundtrack is of a reasonable quality. With the exception of the boss track, none of the songs would be worthy of being in my iPod, but they're not bad by any means - they're actually good tracks... it's just that I've just heard better in this genre, that's all. However, each of the songs sound excellent while playing the game, since it amplifies the experience. Hard hitting tracks that also manages to create an atmosphere that screams "prepare for the end" manages to suit the intense gameplay very well.
Replay Value: Standing at 5 level tall, Ikaruga lasts only 30 minutes, but given the high difficulty, it'll take a much longer time before you win the prize. Replaying levels just to beat them, only to have to go through the next level and die heaps before getting the patterns down, always makes for top notch replay value, unless you don't like dying to learn your lesson before you finally win. Don't worry. You'll only do that 5 times, since there are only 5 levels. All of that, on top of a 2 player mode, gives this game a fair amount of replay value. Don't come crying to me when you have addiction issues with the game.
Overall: Ikaruga is one of those games that comes by, hits you in the nads, and provokes you into chasing it. You'll find yourself right besides the game over screen on multiple occasions, but due to its intense nature, you'll keep coming back. It pisses you off just enough to keep you coming back, wanting you to prove that you can beat it down, and no more, no less.