-Also on Dreamcast
A man named Tenso Horai had discovered the Power of the Gods. He and his followers, The Divine Ones, used the power and conquered many planets in the name of peace.
The Tenkaku, a federation of freedom fighters emerged to challenge them. Their efforts were futile as they lost nearly every battle. A young pilot named Shinra survived and crashed in a village called Ikaruga. The villagers nursed him back to health and gave them their fighter, the Ikaruga.
While en route to take on the Divine Ones, Shinra shot down the assassin Kagari and rescued her. She joined Shinra and had her fighter, the Ginkei altered with the same specifications as the Ikaruga. Now the two of them fly to destroy the Horai and return order to the innocent.
Things are usually not so black and white, but in Ikaruga, that is all they are. Ikaruga is easily the most original overhead shooter to come out in years. Hell, itís probably the most original overhead ever. It may be billed as a spiritual successor to Radiant Silvergun, but Ikaruga has a game mechanic not seen in any other shooter.
The concept is simple. You can change the polarity of the ship to black or white at any time. If the ship is white, you absorb white bullets. Likewise, black absorbs black. You can destroy enemy ships with any polarity, however, your opposing polarity will do twice as much damage to opposite colored enemies. This unique gameplay mechanic has only been seen before in Treasure's interesting little side-scrolling platformer Silhouette Mirage. You need to train yourself not to worry about the bullets that are the same color as your ship, but it is not easy. Things can go wrong at any time.
Sequences of the game require you to switch your color quickly and precisely. Of course, enemies will be attacking you while you do this so you'll naturally shoot back at them. However, when you destroy enemies that are the same color as you, they release a final burst of bullets that head directly towards your ship. It's usually not a problem since you're the same color, but since you have to keep switching your color just to survive the normal level dangers, those extra bullets coming at you that would have been absorbed just a fraction of a second earlier will destroy you instead.
There are times when it may be easier to not fire at all. I know it may sound crazy to not shoot in a shooter, but I found instances where I was able to get through areas a little easier by not firing a shot and just focusing on when to change my polarity. Like your ship, enemies are not immune to the stage walls or one another. They can collide with and destroy themselves. However, if you do take this non-firing route your score will suffer greatly.
You earn points by annihilating enemies and absorbing fire, but are also graded on your performance in each stage. If you breeze through the stage without dieing and quickly destroy the boss, that's great, but it probably won't get you a better score then a C or maybe a C++. Most of your ranking is determined on how big of a chain combo you can pull off. A simple chain combo is achieved by shooting three of one color enemy in a row. If you keep shooting three of the same colored enemy, youíll rack up your chain count. For example, you can shoot six white ships, three black, and three more white for a decent twelve chain. If you are freaking awesome you could technically do this through the whole game. Before that ever happens you'll see the immense bullet sprays and just shoot at whatever is firing at you.
Levels one and two are easy enough for any shooter fan to get into the game, whether you want to just fire away or practice on some chain combos. It is level three where the difficulty takes a spike upwards. Just the opening part alone can be more difficult than levels one and two combined. Like most shooters, the whole game is based on memorization and lightning fast reflexes, but Ikaruga also requires you to think about when to switch your color to best get through a field of fire.
The bosses take full advantage of the black and white weapons. Youíll need to bob and weave through them and their fire and switch your color at a split-second's notice. You will also need to destroy them within 100 seconds. If you fail in their destruction the boss goes on its merry way to perform other menacing tasks somewhere else in the galaxy. The bosses from stage three and up truly take some practice and figuring out to effectively destroy. The end boss requires some of the fastest button presses you will have to perform in a shooter.
Each stage has an opening, somewhat like television shows. After you fight some enemies, the fighter swoops upward and the level name comes in from the left of the screen. The fighter then boosts downward into the stage to face bigger and more difficult trials than what was seen in the openings. This gives the game a much grander scale and the feeling of a bigger war. The music is very cinematic as well and is paired with the action very nicely, especially between the opening and actual stage.
The visuals are not the typically colorful sort that you may be used to in overhead shooters. Rather, they have a dull brown or orange hue that makes it feel like this place has already seen it fair share of battles and that you are here to clean up the mess. Even with the muted colors Ikaruga looks fantastic and is no less detailed than other shooters.
The GameCube version has a few extra modes not in the original. You can enter practice mode to, obviously, practice any level. Conquest mode lets you refine your skills in slow or normal speed, or watch a video of an Ikaruga expert expertly pilot a stage. However, in these modes you can only play or watch the stages you have gotten to on a single credit. So if you constantly need to continue in stage 3-2, you won't be able to practice the level three boss or anything beyond it. Challenge mode lets you see how you rank against other Ikaruga players in the world by giving you a password to enter online.
As supremely great and addictive as the game is, I do have a couple complaints. First, is that there should have been at least one or two more levels. While five is a good number, I couldn't help feeling like I wanted to play at least one more before it was over. Second, is the unlockable gallery. Upon completing the game with meeting certain requirements or playing the game for so long, you unlock galleries that contain various artworks for the game. The art contains some great pieces that give you a feel for the characters and the story. The thing is, you never see this art anywhere in the game. Much of the art is for the characters that pilot the ships involved in the story, but the only time you ever encounter the story is in the instruction book and the only time you see the character Shinra is in the mode select screen. Itís disappointing to see all this art and not have anything shown in the actual game.
Itís too bad weíll probably never see a sequel to Ikaruga. Sure, Treasure may make a new shooter that could be the spiritual successor to Ikaruga, but that doesnít mean it will have the same color-switching gameplay. Ikaruga's unique gameplay easily makes it one of the best overhead shooters of all time and it would be nice to see it used again.