Ikaruga (XBLA)

Review: Ikaruga

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Shooter/Vertical/Bullet-hell

Prepare to lose with Treasure’s famous shooter.

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Rich

It seems that in the run up to a big XBLA release, the quality seems to drop quite noticeably. Between Boogie Bunnies (a game so awful, we actually weren’t able to review it properly) and TiQal (yeah, neither did I) it’s all been rather uninspiring. Shoot ‘em up fans certainly haven’t had much to look at apart from Triggerheart Excelica (which really wasn’t any fun at all) and that risible Rocketmen game (quick Peoww review score? Piss out of ten).

The barely worthwhile co-op mode.

So when a well-respected title like Treasure’s NAOMI shooter Ikaruga turns up you’re almost ready to spend those 800 points without looking at the demo. I mean Ikaruga’s great right? Well yeah… kinda…

It certainly looks lovely. Those lovely hi-res Dreamcast graphics have been further smoothed out and spruced up. It’s still pretty functional stuff, certainly not as interesting to look at as Omega Five but the sleek elegance of Ikaruga is part of its charm. It doesn’t need to throw huge explosions and gimmicks at you. Just that sweet contrast of black and white. Classic.

Of course, being a vertical scroller, a lot of screen real estate is lost to the side bars. A big hi-def tv is definitely the preferred option for this game but you also have the TATE mode if you want to play it as a full-screen horizontal scroller. I just couldn’t get on with this, but you might want to explore the option if you’ve got a small telly.

An early boss fight.

If you’ve not dabbled with the Dreamcast or Gamecube versions, Ikaruga is a ‘bullet-hell’ vertical scroller and takes place over five increasingly difficult stages. As with most of these type of shooters this game has a gimmick. Your enemies’ bullets are either black or white and you can switch the colour of your ship accordingly on the fly.

Opposite coloured bullets will destroy you instantly (no energy bars = win in my book) but if you match colours, you’ll absorb the damage and store the energy to release as a slightly underwhelming smart bomb. Accordingly, your bullets match your current colour and shooting a white enemy with black bullets, or vice versa, will cause them far much more damage than matched bullets.

Sounds simple enough? It should do, especially as the game offers you no further power-ups or upgrades. Just you, your ship, two colours and an inept smart bomb. Just think Flying Shark on the Spectrum.

The relatively useless smart bomb.

Fans of the series can rest assured, this is a fantastic port of the original. It looks great, runs smoothly and has some online functionality for the co-op minded and the leaderboard egotists amongst you. But what about those people who are undecided. The ones who were raised on games like 1942 rather than Dodonpachi? Well, and I don’t say this lightly, I’m not utterly convinced this is the game for you.

Now, I’m not a shoot-’em-up expert. I’m just a guy, like you, who plays them for fun (and achievements, of course). I too fell in love with R-Type and Gradius V. I too wasn’t massively fussed by Gigawing and Mars Matrix. But for me this game just overdoes the elite stuff a bit too much and ultimately, I feel, alienates certain types of gamers.

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Gareth

Secondary Review

I had never played Ikaruga before, despite owning a Dreamcast and a Gamecube, so once it was announced for XBLA (complete with online co-op) the points were already spent in my mind.

Has it lived up to its reputation? Not really. The main disappointment is that the online co-op (at the time of writing) is laggy as hell. It doesn’t affect your dodging ability so much, but your ability to change ‘polarity’. I’ll let Rich explain the basics of the game in the main review, but needless to say the ability to change polarity is incredibly important, and whilst online sometimes the game doesn’t register your button presses which leads to unavoidable deaths.

It’s not all bad news however. Offline play is very quick and smooth, and just as fun (and frustrating) as it ever was, I’m sure. The ability to download replays from people on the leaderboards so you can see how a pro does it is a nice touch, and once you’ve learnt a level off by heart it can become quite zen-like.

Is this for you? That depends on your ability, determination, and patience to learn a perfect path through each level. This is a game that’s less about reacting to what’s coming at you and more about knowing what’s coming and pre-empting it.Secondary Score: 7/10

For me, the classic formula for shooting games is you vs a horde of aliens, powering up to near-godlike levels over varied levels and, most importantly, if a bullet hits you, you die. None of this energy bar nonsense. 1943 has a lot to answer for. But you should always be able to avoid a bullet if you’re skilful enough and have decent reactions. It’s all about fairness.

Ikaruga just grates with me. I mean I love the visuals (no ‘what killed me’ shenanigans here) and the tight controls. I don’t even mind the colour switching, it’s a nice twist and adds some real interest to a fairly tired formula. My problem though is that this game just throws too much firepower at you.

Constantly the screen fills with streams of black and white bullets and asks you to find a path through it. This often seems impossible but isn’t as your ship’s hit-detection box is actually smaller than you think. So certain gaps actually can be made despite what your eyes may be telling you. You learn this through trial and error as your reactions go out the window and instead you end up sticking with bloody-minded repetition. It’s just not very intuitive.

Now that, in my book, makes for a tedious, obsessive shooter that you actively stops you playing on the edge of your seat and becomes a methodical grind as you learn how to complete each level without dying. I can sometimes get behind that type of game (Contra and Omega Five both pull it off excellently) but with Ikaruga you know that another apparently unfair encounter is always just round the corner.

Also, the co-op mode is actually a bit of a mess, plagued as it is by horrible lag. Still, you can blame Microsoft for that (Bomberman and Doom, of all things, have similar issues).

It’s still a sweet port though and probably worth the pointage but reviewing it this week has been a struggle as, ultimately, Ikaruga fails to deliver the adrenaline-pumping shooty action of other games on XBLA. If you’ve got a spare 800M$P and want things to shoot at, throw it at Rez, Omega Five or the newly price-slashed combo of Assault Heroes and Doom. They’re much more fun and don’t punish you for being human.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

7/10

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