I can’t believe almost 13 years have passed since Ikaruga was first unleashed onto arcades in 2001. This vertical shooter that later saw release on the Sega Dreamcast, only to find it’s true calling on the Nintendo Gamecube, became the mother of all vertical shmups in recent history, a deed that is worthy of praise considering its developer Treasure Software was compromised of a team of three people.
Ikaruga had a rebirth on XBLA and just a few days ago, PC gamers were caught by surprise on Steam when the revamped, reworked, and refreshed Ikaruga hit the store with achievements enabled for all the trophy hunters among us.
So what exactly separates Ikaruga from other shooters? It is a unique gameplay physic known as ‘polarity’. Enemies and the main ship have two polarities, light and dark, which you can freely switch between during gameplay to negate the bullets streaming at you. Basically, if you are in dark polarity, it means dark bullets can’t damage you and vice versa.
Additionally, Ikaruga has interesting gameplay mechanics entitled ‘chaining’ and ‘bullet eating’, where the former grants you a powerful homing laser after three successful polarity hits, and even an extra life if you chain enough shots together, and the latter theoretically allows you to finish an entire level without killing a single enemy, including the bosses.
These mechanics are accompanied by a robust engine, good graphics, a thumping soundtrack, and a melancholic story. Unlike many other shooters that were released with floaty controls and bad gameplay, Ikaruga, despite its age, still feels as awesome as the day it was originally launched.
The plot is pretty interesting for a game with such a simple premise. Several years ago, in the small island nation of Horai, the leader of the nation Tenro Horai discovered the Ubusunagami Okinokai — the power of the gods. This energy emanated from an object she dug up from deep underground and that granted her unimaginable powers. Soon after, Tenro and her followers who called themselves ‘The Divine Ones’, began conquering nations one after another. You play as Shinra, a pilot who was shot down near a remote village called Ikaruga, inhabited by elderly people who had been exiled by Tenro Horai’s conquests. Piloting a special fighter plane called Ikaruga, Shinra pledged to defeat Tenro and her forces.
This Ikaruga release is a great port of an already great game. It is gorgeous, fun, fast and a joy to play. Ikaruga is incredibly cheap for such an awesome package and I highly recommend it to anyone who have never played it before, especially new comers or fans of cave-shooters.
Ikaruga was re-released on XBLA and more recently on Steam (reviewed version)