“We will meet again someday soon” is written across the screen in neon orange. Haunting words, and what makes it so chilling is that that this statement is something you will come across many times whilst playing Ikaruga — it appears once you’ve lost all your lives and it is game over.
Developed by Treasure, Ikaruga is a shoot em up and is quite often looked at as a pedigree example of the genre. It was released years ago on the ill received Sega Dreamcast and has been ported a number of times since then. Now it has made its way to the Switch and will most likely be the cause of many cries of frustration.
Like any good shmup you shoot, dodge, die, and scream. Rinse and repeat until instead of screaming you destroy your controller instead. Honestly there isn’t much else to say about the backstory of the title and the reason you are doing what you are doing. I believe it has something to do with a guy named Shinra crash landing in a place called Ikaruga and thus receiving a ship named Ikaruga.
Gameplay – The Ikaruga
Being a vertical shmup some might be curious as to what sets Ikaruga apart from its competition and the main attraction is its “polarity” system. Swapping between black and white will allow players do to more damage to enemies of the opposite colour and absorb shots of the same. It sounds remarkably simple, but as things get even more intense it becomes a key mechanic, but one that will also cause you to stumble a number of times as your brain short circuits and you fly directly into the wrong colour laser. The Ikaruga can also unleash a homing missile attack after it has absorbed enough shots and of course all it takes is one hit for the Ikaruga to be blown out of the sky.
Gameplay – The Levels
Most likely the biggest flaw in Ikaruga is how many levels the game has. It only comes in at a very low five. I got to be honest though I’ve never seen the final level and have sunk a fair bit of time into the GameCube version and the Switch one. The content is certainly lacking, but the design is on point. Each level feels finely tuned for high score chasers.
Scoring points is simple on paper, but tricky in practice. The primary way is to score chains of combos. To do this you must kill three ships of the same colour in a row. The first level keeps things relatively simple (It must be simple to get high scores on the first level, cause I am currently number 1), but as you reach the second you can see that reaching those top scores is going to be tricky and addictive. To beat the game requires blasting whatever you see, but to reach those high scores forces the player to step back, then pick and choose who to shoot.
Then there’s the enemies you come across will vary in shape and size, but all are set on thwarting your mission. Visually they aren’t fantastic having to keep to the black or white palette can make them feel a little bland, but in terms of gameplay they serve their purpose. Now finally come he boss battles each one as sadistic as the last, the first features three parts that will push you to your limits and of course the following levels will make you realise the first boss was a cakewalk. In fact this pattern is consistent throughout, but it sure is satisfying when you win.
The game features a standard arcade mode where you play through the levels in succession. It also has a chapter select which will allow you to start from previously reached levels. All pretty standard stuff, but one very interesting mode is “Prototype Mode” here you will fire play the same levels, but this time roud have a limited amount of shots and the only way to replenish them is to absorb bullets. Finally the game also features co-op which will surely be a quick way to end friendships. All these modes then of course feature easy, medium and hard difficulties.
I can’t remember the GameCube version having this as getting online wasn’t exactly simple, but Ikaurga for Switch does feature online leaderboards which is an excellent feature for a game of its nature. Not only can you see where you rank, you can also download the replay of those on the leaderboards to help you learn the tricks to pass each level.
Another nifty feature for the Switch is the ability to play in vertical mode, I certainly found this mode to be my preferred way to play whilst undocked. It is also worth noting that the visuals are for the most part pleasing to the eye, some aspects of the menu look dated, but the actual levels hold up well for a 17 year old game. Also the soundtrack and sound design is pretty good as well.
Ikaruga is hardcore shmups dream. At least if you are a massive shmup fan you most likely already know about it and decided to purchase it the minute it hits eShop. It is a title that offers a challenge to just simply beat and then to get the high scores demands speed, precision, memory and patience. Oh…so much patience. It succeeds in most areas, but it should be worth noting that it’s difficulty is unforgiving and more importantly a couple more levels would be appreciated.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review copy for Ikaruga was provided by Nicalis.