Publisher: Atari (Infogrames)
Developer: Treasure Video Games
Released: April 2003
Capabilities: Memory Card (4 Blocks)
Review Written: June 7, 2003
Ikaruga is a traditional overhead shooter (like
Gladius and Raiden) which has an interesting story on
how it made its way to America. It was first released in Japan arcades and
was one of the last Japanese Dreamcast games to be released in late
2002 (there still are Dreamcast games being released in Japan, but
it’s all those crazy dating sims that everyone overseas goes
nuts about). However, by that time there wasn’t a new game
released for the American Dreamcast in over half a year and there was
no chance that it would appear on the ill-fated console in America. The
media was buzzing about how this was one of the best shooters to appear in a
while and petitions popped up everywhere on the Internet to get this game
released in America. Infogrames was the publisher who reacted and
released this game under its subsidiary label, Atari on the GameCube.
I never really cared for stories in shooters, all you need is a setting and boom, and you’re good. It’s all about blowing things up that people care about in this dying genre, but I’ll give you an overview of the background for Ikaruga. You take the role of Shinra, the sole survivor of the freedom federation, Tenkaku. Shinra refused to lose and fought the battle alone. Suffice to say, he got shot down in quick order and crash landed in a tiny village of Ikaruga, the villagers trusted him so much they gave him a new fighter plane also named Ikaruga. So there you have it, the story that no one cares about, and to prove my point that storylines don’t matter in shooters just name a few shooters where cut scenes appear in-between levels? That’s what I thought. ;)
Ikaruga controls a bit differently from most of your average shooters. The main focus of it all is the two main polarities (colors): black and white. These are the colors for the enemies and your plane (polarity can be changed with a quick flick of the A button). The trick is to absorb all the enemy fire with the corresponding polarity of your plane, so absorb all white enemy fire when the plane’s polarity is white, and vice versa for black fire. There’s a meter of how much enemy fire you absorbed, and this attack (dubbed the ‘energy release’) can be unleashed at any level with a press of the R shoulder button. The higher your meter is, the more powerful your attack.
The whole polarity facsimile adds many twists and turns to gameplay. I found myself navigating around mazes of trapped doors, while blasting away enemies and quickly changing polarities to absorb as much enemy fire as I can to build up my energy release. This can prove to be rather challenging and cumbersome simultaneously. Keeping up with the polarities require quick wits at levels that were never dreamed upon in previous shooters. If this is too fast for you to handle, there is a ‘prototype’ option of gameplay available where it throws the polarity system away, and you have a specific reserve of ammo to use for each stage depending on the difficulty level you select. The only downside to this is that you must first beat the main game to unlock the prototype option.
There are also a few more extra ways to play Ikaruga. There is the standard ‘normal play’ mode which is pretty much a direct arcade port where you play through the game’s 18 stages. Then there is the aforementioned prototype option. The ‘practice’ and ‘conquest’ modes are identical where you have a single credit to play in any level that you unlocked in normal play, the only difference in conquest is that you have a few different game speeds to choose from. The last way to play is exclusive to the GameCube verion, and it is Challenge mode where you play through Ikaruga using a specific set of game options. Once you’re done playing you get a 12 character password which you enter on the official Ikaruga webpage that uploads your high score.
Ikaruga has your typical overhead 2D view used in shooters, but also mixes in some nice 3D backdrops for some sweet looking transition effects in-between levels and has some spectacular 3D models for bosses to boot. The thing I like about shooters is the massive explosions and blasts I come to expect out of them, Ikaruga has them in spades. Destroying a boss after a tremendous battle is a satisfying experience as I witnessed the huge explosion with a cool slow motion effect mixed in to up the cool factor. Even though the default camera is the directly-ported vertical view, there are a few extra unique camera options such as a horizontal perspective, and a view designed for you to play the game with your television tipped on its side.
A lot of gamers I know are saying that only the simple overhead view of action does so much for gameplay, as it seems the majority of gamers are shifting towards 3D shooters such as Defender and the upcoming Starfox. The sales of Ikaruga so far beg to differ. This is as good as your traditional overhead shooters are going to get, as a matter of fact I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the genres last hurrah either.
The audio has a personality of its own with a diverse array of sound effects for your fighter plane, and all the abundant amount of blasts and explosions that occur. There is this unique voice which has a rather “digitized” voice like the one found for the announcer in Capcom vs. SNK. The background music reminds me of what I’d usually come to expect out of your average RPG, but surprisingly, the upbeat orchestra tunes work quite well in Ikaruga.
The five levels consist of a total of 18 stages, and only takes an average of about five to six hours to beat. Playing it through with a friend in two player is also fun for a while. While playing it through a few times still isn’t all that long totaled up, the developers made sure to add a fair amount of extras to keep you hooked. The most interesting aspect is the Challenge mode to see how you fare against the world’s best Ikaruga players. There are a bit of extras to unlock such as the above mentioned prototype mode, some galleries of concept art, and a handful of other goodies too. They can be unlocked in by either beating the game modes with certain specifications met (like using only a handful of lives to complete the game) or by clocking in a certain amount of gameplay time that is kept track via the save/load screen.
Replay Value: 8.0
The GameCube seems to be the place for Dreamcast ports, and Ikaruga proves to be another great one in GameCube’s library. It’s hard to find shooters made like this nowadays, and made this well I might add. For anyone who remembers pumping countless quarters at the arcades into classics such as Raiden and Gladius, you owe it to yourself to experience it all one more time with Ikaruga.
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