Developed by Treasure and published by Atari, Ikaruga (pronounced E-ca-roo-ga) is a vertical scrolling 2D shoot-em-up. Treasure is a small Japanese developer who has gained a reputation for making excellent shoot-em-ups. They were responsible for Bangai-O, Mischief Makers, Silpheed, Freak Out and eBay favourite, Radiant Silver Gun, amongst others.
This GameCube version follows the Dreamcast edition released last year, both of which are based upon the Ikaruga coin-op. Ikaruga follows the traditional structure of the genre. You shoot your way through wave after wave of enemies before confronting the massive end of level Boss. However, the unique feature of the game is the Black and White system. All the enemies you face are either black or white in colour and fire weapons of a similar hue. Your ship can change from Black to White modes at the press of a button. In its Black form, it is immune to Black coloured weapons fire and does twice as much damage to White enemies, and vice-versa in its White mode. Also, your ship will absorb weapons fire of its own colour and convert this into homing lasers which can be fired to supplement your normal lasers. There are no other weapons, power-ups or upgrades to be obtained. Also, destroying enemies of the same colour in groups of three produces a chain combo. The longer the chain the more points you will receive and this will affect your end of level ranking.
Ikaruga has five stages, three difficulty levels, a simultaneous two player, practice and challenge modes and a number of unlockable extras. The extras are achieved by either completing the game or acquiring a certain amount of play time. They range from extra continues to art galleries to prototype versions of the arcade game.
The coin op had a stretch vertical screen and this is replicated in the GC version. In practise, this results in large black borders to the left and right of the play field. Via the main menu you can select to zoom in on the action and thereby reduce the size of the borders. Zooming in results in the play field changing from sixty-five to eighty percent of the television screen, but you do lose some of the play field at the top and bottom. There is also an option to flip the play field to the horizontal. This fills the screen fully with no borders. In this option, you can also flip the controls so Ikaruga can now be played as a full screen side scrolling affair.
Ikaruga is very difficult, with a steep learning curve. The easiest difficulty level is manageable but normal and hard are relentlessly punishing with a slightest mistake resulting in instant loss of life. As it is such a difficult game it will not suit everybody. Those with poor hand to eye co-ordination or a nervous disposition should think twice before purchase.
Aurally, Ikaruga is very deaf gamer friendly. The game has no cut scenes or spoken dialogue. There are also no game play important sound effects or prompts. There are only two in-game speech samples, one that warns of the presence of the end of level Boss and the other that counts how many chain combos you have. Both of them are also represented visually.
Graphically, the game is impressive. Although Ikaruga is 2D in nature, everything from the enemies to the background are made from 3D polygons. The various enemies have excellent character design and range from simple fighter planes to huge mecha. Unfortunately, the Black and White system which results in all enemies and their weapons fire being predominantly shaded in two colours, leaves the game looking rather muted when compared to its peers.
Technically, there are no load screens, and slow down only occurs briefly during the massive explosions, signalling the death of an end of level Boss.
On the positive side, Ikaruga's use of the Black and White system is well thought out and executed. This system requires an element of strategy and fast reflexes which will provide a lasting challenge to most gamers. The two player mode and the unlockable extras also ensure good replay value.
The game is not perfect. There are only five rather short stages. Also, there is a distinct lack of variety in your ship's weapons; only the main and homing lasers, with no power ups or smart bombs to collect. Additionally, the chain combo scoring system doesn't really add to the game, just making it more difficult still if you try to follow it. Finally, the very hard difficulty level makes Ikaruga an acquired taste. Progress will only be gained after your ship is destroyed again and again, and learning the subsequent enemy attack patterns. For some gamers this will prove a challenge, but for others it will prove too frustrating.
Game Rating: 6.5/10