I've long heard great things about <a href="http://www.gamecubicle.com/screens-ikaruga_gamecube.htm">Ikaruga</a>,
an old-style vertical-scrolling blaster which achieved
great success on the Dreamcast platform, and today I finally got hold of a copy for the 'cube.
Now, throughout my gaming career, I've never particularly liked scrolling shooters, with the possible
exception of the classic R-Type, and I'd always preferred side-scrollers even then. Thus, I didn't expect
to be hanging onto this game for long, but based on various reviews I thought it was worth a try.
And the verdict? I absolutely <em>love</em> it.
Ikaruga's most unique aspect is that your ship has a "polarity" associated with it: either white or black.
You can switch polarities at any time, practically instantaneously. Now comes the clever part. All enemies
are either white or black, or in some cases have parts of both, and they shoot bullets of the same colour.
You cannot be harmed by bullets which are of the same polarity as yourself. Instead, you absorb them, eventually
building up enough stored energy to release a single, homing laser blast.
If that makes the game sound far too easy, think again. You see, hitting an enemy with shots of its opposite polarity
cause <em>twice</em> the damage. The game is also brutally difficult. There are sometimes upwards
of a hundred or more bullets on screen at once, with waves of alternating polarities hurtling towards you. Only by constant
careful weaving and polarity-switching can you stay alive. Furthermore, there are no power-ups of any kind, nor any weapons
available save for your bog-standard energy shots (except the homing laser blasts I mentioned, but they're few and far between).
Oh, and did I mention that <em>one hit</em> means death?
This is perhaps the most instantly addictive game I've played in a long time; and I mean since my earliest console days.
Something about the formula just works so brilliantly. Ikaruga was originally an arcade game, and it shows: the playing
area is vertical, leaving large black bars on either side of your screen (though you can move the various HUD readouts
into this area to free-up the primary playing "corridor" in the middle). The whole thing just smacks of frantic arcade
- It supports 2-players simultaneously in the classic way; at any time during a 1-player game, just press Start on controller 2.
- Continues show up as "Credits".
- There's a big, neon "GAME OVER" screen.
- The music and soundtrack are pure coin-op.
Yet, it supports autosaving to the memory card, tracking of the number of hours you've played in order to unlock additional modes,
and a system where your ranking and progress can be represented as a (fairly long) alphanumeric password, which can be fed
into the official website in order to gauge your progress against other gamers worldwide. The game also allows you to
flip the screen ninety degrees, to play horizontally (with or without also flipping the controls).
After playing for about three hours, I've just managed to reach the third level (at which point I was promptly destroyed).
I haven't lost my temper with it once, despite the relatively cruel difficulty level. Nor have I minded replaying the same
stages over and over again. There's just something about this seemingly-simple little game that has already ensnared me.
If you've been holding off because it's "yet another bloody old-game-ported-to-the-cube", make an exception. This one is
something very special indeed.