I'm not going to do the typical "frothing demand" joke here or anywhere else in this review. I'm serious. As tempting as it is, I'm not going to do it. Really.
What you will see is me going on and on about how extremely tough this game is. I'm not saying that as a bad thing, mind you, it's just a point that requires emphasis. Ikaruga is probably the toughest game that most regular gamers will ever play, and it's that much better of a game for it.
Now, as a reviewer, it's my job to tell you exactly why to buy or why not to buy any particular game. In the age of the Maddens and the Tony Hawks and the Grand Theft Autos, does a top-down shooter still deserve a place on your shelf, let alone in your system? If you have an open mind and a high tolerance for a game kicking you in your special place, then Ikaruga definitely should.
Even if you're only the kind of guy or gal that sticks to what's new and hip in gaming, and doesn't venture very far into the dreaded "hardcore" zone, you're more than likely familiar with a game like Capcom's 1942. It's an older arcade game that let you navigate a World War II plane through some trying levels. You dodged enemies and bullets and it was all quite fun. Now do you remember? Good. Now, take 1942 and multiply it by 1000. Not only do you get 1,942,000, but you also get Ikaruga - the top-down shooter that laughs at how bad you are. There are no power-ups, no special items, and nothing else unnecessary here, just a lot of bullets, a lot of enemies, and a lot of times where you'll want to throw your controller at your dog in frustration. Ikaruga's beautiful simplicity is what makes it what it is - one of the most fantastic works of electronic art ever created. And I'm not just talking about the graphics.
From behind the wheel (or the stick, or whatever a space plane has) of the Ikaruga, a powerful ship built by a group of people of the same name, you're Shinra, the last of the Tenkaku, sworn to do what you can to put an end to the Divine Ones, who have used the Ubusunagami Okinokai, or Power of the Gods, to conquer other nations. That's a mouthful to be sure, but story just isn't the heart of the game, so don't feel like you have to commit it to memory. You'll be too busy trying to find your pride again to worry much about story.
Remember when games had little numbers at the top of the screen that represented how well, or poorly, you were doing in the game? Remember when these "scores" were something to take pride in, and something that you would work and work to improve? No? Well, go back to Madden. Only kidding, read on.
Aside from the scoring system, which although used before is quite unique these days, Ikaruga implements a few other new ideas. The basic premise of the game is that while there are several different kinds of enemies, they fall into only two different types: black or white. Consequently, the ship can alternate between the two with a press of the button. When you are in black form, your weaponry does more damage to white enemies, and when your polarity is white, the opposite is true. Born out of this concept is the Bullet Eater technique, which serves as a vital part of the game. As a black ship, not only do bullets from other black ships not harm you, but you can absorb them. Same with white bullets when you are white. Once you absorb enough bullets, you can release the stored energy in the form of an Energy Release, which destroys several enemies at once. Get hit by a bullet of the opposite color or come into contact with a ship of any color, however, and it's the trail of tears for you, my friend.
As you can imagine, switching from one color the another at the proper time adds a lot of challenge and strategy to the game, but absorbing bullets is also a nifty way to raise that score thing. Another is to perform chains. Chains begin when you destroy three ships of the same color in a row. The more chains you get in a row, the higher your score. Simple. It sounds easy, but when you're waist deep in people trying to shoot you, it becomes somewhat difficult to choose your targets. Rather than holding the fire button for a continuous blast, you'll have to tap the button a lot to send out smaller single shots. Single shots are more accurate, and so lend themselves better to creating chains, but aren't as conducive to keeping yourself alive as a single stream of fire. That all sounds fairly intimidating, but believe me when I say it's very simple. One go around with the tutorial will have you out there and dying repeatedly in no time.
To recap, Ikaruga is the most simplistic, and incredibly difficult game that's readily available. Don't let the challenge scare you away from trying it though. Too many gamers and game reviewers treat a challenging game like it had to have been some sort of mistake. We live in the day and age of infinite lives and continues, after all, so how could someone make a game purposely tough to finish? If you're bored with typical trial-and-error-ware, which is nearly every game of the past five years, you really need to give Ikaruga a shot. It's not often that a game comes along that's challenging enough to actually be rewarding, but Ikaruga nails it. Much In the same way that Super Monkey Ball and Stuntman proved that being a man wasn't always about killing the hooker, the challenge offered within Treasure's latest offerings will make you a man, and a proud one.
However, if Madden and Tony Hawk are all you need or want, then you might as well pretend that Ikaruga never existed. It would just be too much for you.
· · · AFX