When it comes to 2D shooters, most people seem to fit into only two categories. There are those who look at them and remember a different era, one where gaming was simple, and not cluttered by drawn-out stories and endless cinemas. But then, there are those people who see them as nothing more than old school garbage that has no place in this era of 3D polygon driven shooters.
While Ikaruga is far from a revolutionary title, it does innovate enough to warrant a second look for even the most skeptical 3D gamer. The game is instantly playable, and incredibly easy to just ease into. But be warned, it's one of the hardest games you're likely to ever play.
The premise is simple, you're one ship who has two sides. There is a dark side to your ship as well as a light side, each acting exactly the same. As you pilot through each of the five levels, you will be attacked by enemies that are either dark in nature (shooting black bullets) or light enemies, which have white bullets. If you are flying with the light side of your ship up, you will be able to collect the white bullets, eventually amassing enough extra power to shoot a super attack.
It's your job to avoid opposite colors, so if you're dark, you don't want to be hit by a white bullet, and vice versa. This might sound simplistic, but it actually adds a great deal of challenge to the game. It also makes up for the fact that there is not one single power-up, extra weapon, or other trapping usually found in this genre. Ikaruga is exclusively about your skill as a pilot AND gunman.
Although they are best remembered for the Genesis classic Gunstar Heroes, Treasure has made a name for themselves by creating one great 2D action game after another. Ikaruga is no exception, and takes off right where Radiant Silvergun (for the Saturn) left off. If it weren't for the impressive list of games Treasure has given us in the past, most gamers would have likely ignored this title altogether.
The game manages to seem a tad short, which strikes me as being a little strange given Treasure's track record. Now, that's not the same that you'll have the game beat on your first try ... but with only five levels, it probably won't take you much more than a few dedicated hours to actually fly through the entire game.
There are only a few bosses, which also seems a little out of place. Generally when you get a Treasure game you expect four, maybe even five or six bosses per level. But here you only have one boss, occasionally two. Of course, each boss offers a new challenge, and requires some time to actually beat them. They are also impressive looking, for the most part, and tend to blow up REAL BIG.
The graphics in the game are surprisingly good, especially when you consider how old this style of game really is. The backgrounds have a funny way of twisting and turning around to show different angles and camera effects. But you never change positions, you are always right above your ship, so the control never changes. Critics of this genre often point towards the lack of interaction in the backgrounds, and how it's really just a memory game with you doing nothing more than testing your reflexes.
But what's wrong with that? Sure the game is old school, and likely won't attract gamers who aren't already into 2D shooters, but who cares? With even the worst games selling millions of units, there has to be a niche audience ready and willing to fork over their hard earned money for a game like Ikaruga.
The game offers an amazing amount of replay, even if it is just a test of your reflexes. With two players you can see the joy of taking on the thousands of enemy fighters and bullets with a friend, and the agony of having to share your hard earned credits. The more you play it, the more extra stuff you'll unlock, and the better your scores will end up being.
Ten years ago the market was filled with hundreds of 2D shooting games, but now gamers are less interested in space ships, and are more into the whole first person shooter craze. But there's enough room for a game like Ikaruga, a game that isn't the more revolutionary game you'll ever play, but does manage to remind you why you loved arcade shooters in the first place.