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Ikaruga

Review By:  Siou Choy

Developer:  Treasure
Publisher:  Atari
# of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Shooter
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  7-30-03

Gamer’s tastes change faster than a bullet.  If asked to list their favorite shooters, most of today’s crowd will hit the usual suspects: Halo, Doom, Timesplitters 2, Perfect Dark or this week’s James Bond tie-in.  Few and far between are the fans of earlier favorites such as Xevious, First Life, or Gradius.  The classic 2D top-down or side-scrolling shooter has been all but replaced by the First Person Shooter (FPS), and very few are looking back.  For those who still crave to shoot down countless planes and such in glorious 2D, albeit with a “modern” touch, Treasure and Infogrames may have what you’re looking for in Ikaruga for the Nintendo GameCube.

Ikaruga is a fairly traditional 2D style shooter incorporating a few new perks and extra features to bring a classic genre entry kicking and screaming into the present.  For one thing, you’ll notice that there are no power-ups.  That’s right, 2D shooter fans, you heard me.  No super weapon to fire scattershot or mysterious lasers to cut through any enemy in seconds time.  The graphics in Ikaruga have also been updated: in spite of the traditional top-down view, the action takes place firmly in 3D territory.  In an interesting twist, your ship has two polarities and depending on which you choose at any given moment, you can either absorb enemy lasers and bullets or cause double damage.  In other words, if your ship is polarized to positive (white), you can take as many white projectiles as you want, but will have to avoid the negative (black) ones.  On the plus side, having the opposing polarity will allow you to cause extra damage to negative ships and destroy them faster.  Absorbing similarly polarized bullets and projectiles will allow you to build up the meter found at the side of the screen.  Once said meter is completely filled, you’ll find yourself able to unleash homing missiles (the only ostensible “power-up” in the game) on an enemy of the same polarity.

Gameplay in Ikaruga varies between fast and even faster.  Quick reflexes are essential for survival, as the gamer is forced to not only maneuver his/her way through each level, but also switch polarities back and forth as s/he goes.  Mind you, the screen is often filled with so many projectiles, ships and general obstacles that you’ll find yourself wondering how you’ll ever get through.  On the plus side, each ship does fly in a given pattern, and after playing for a bit the average gamer should be able to figure them out and find a way to maneuver around them.  With three levels of difficulty (easy, normal, hard), the avid shooter fan should find themselves spending a lot of time messing around in the world of Ikaruga.  As an interesting aside (and in a throwback to the days of the Nintendo, or at least Final Fantasy VII), the longer you play, the more extras are opened up in the game.  For every hour of play, you’ll be given an extra credit to continue, until you reach free play (which allows for unlimited continues).

One of the game’s more interesting (if bizarre) features is its support of true vertical display.  This means that, apparently, you can actually turn your TV on its side to play the game.  Those insane enough to do this can experience how the game was supposedly “meant to be played”.   Just be sure to drop us a line here at the site letting us know that you’ve done this successfully.  We’ll be sure to send the nice men in the white coats for you.

In tried and true shooter tradition, Ikaruga strives for a futuristic feel.  Robotic voices mumble incomprehensible inanities at you throughout the game (I picked up a few of these computerized mumbles, which appear to be a running score commentary) as explosions fill the screen.

While there’s little to recommend it to those not overly enamored of the traditional top-down or side scrolling shooter game, there aren’t too many things actually wrong with Ikaruga per se.  One minor annoyance is how when you lose all your lives, you have to manually input your initials each time.   For whatever reason, the game doesn’t appear able to recall that info, despite the fact that you are continuing from a previous game.  A small price to pay, but when you’ve just been taken down and are itching to get back into action, having to manually input your initials into the top score slot is the last thing on your mind.

Highs:

  • It’s retro, dude…totally frickin’ retro.  But like, new, too, you know?
  • Manna from heaven for 2D shooter fans (like Pinball of the Dead was to frustrated pinball wizards)

Lows:

  • No power-ups
  • Little to offer the uninitiated

Final Verdict:

Fans of the classic 2D shooter genre should be very happy with Ikaruga.  It’s a nice blend of traditional style with a few new innovations to keep the more modern gamer mollified somewhat.  The overly fast pace and less than over-the-top graphics may turn away gamers who aren’t diehards of the genre, but the faithful will appreciate it for what it is, a solid 2D shooter beefed up slightly for the new millennium.

Overall Score: 7.5

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