Ikaruga - A Review
That this game was not released on the Dreamcast outside Japan was criminal.
And that it has now seen release on the GameCube in all regions, we have a very good reason to rejoice. This game is a true masterpiece, a phrase I reserve for only very best of the best. It is wonderful.
The premise of Ikaruga may, at first, leave you wondering why you should be so excited about it. On the surface it appears to be a traditional one-against-many scrolling shoot 'em up, as seen in just about every arcade in the world. But once you begin to dive beneath the surface, you soon see why this game has be so excited. After all, it's by Treasure - a company who've been responsible for some of the most wonderous experiences on whichever platform the develop for. They brought us the sublime (and super-rare) Radiant Silvergun on the Saturn - and this game is, by all accounts, its spiritual sequel. (This view may be influenced by the loading screen's tagline of "Project R.S. 2")
Ikaruga has a very novel concept, which it implements perfectly into the game. There are two colours of enemy ship, black and white. Black ships fire black bullets/energy beams/etcetra, whilst white ships fire at you with their own coloured attacks. Your own ship can be switched between black and white at the touch of a button.
Here's where it gets clever. When your ship is black, it is totally immune to black shots, and will absorb them to power up its super weapon (a barrage of homing missiles). Likewise, when white, it's immune to white attacks. However, your ship is vulnerable to attacks of the other colour. This can lead to a truly frightening experience as you are set upon by ships of both colours, having to switch between each colour sometimes every single second - and when you manage to pull off the seemingly impossible, you'll be left with a great big grin on your face.
The levels are linear - while you can move your ship anywhere on the screen, the movement of the background is controlled by the CPU (and the path taken is the same every time you play). However, this has little effect on the gameplay, in any case, as the scenery is strickly non-interactive. Whilst facing the same series of opponents every time you play through Ikaruga may seem somewhat repetitive, a large emphasis is placed upon learning their patterns. The difficulty level is quite shocking at first - the enemy is totally unrelenting, and by the time you reach Stage 2, you're already expected to be proficient in switching between black and white and superhuman speeds.
Perhaps the game's greatest triumph, however, is in the area of graphics. Absolutely nothing is held back - the full graphical prowess of the Dreamcast is unleashed, and while it may not seem like much on the GameCube port, on the DC it is simply stunning. I can honestly say that in this game, and this game alone, do you see the best graphics that are possible on the Dreamcast - and, save for cinematic effect upon beating a boss, with absolutely no slow-down at all. Treasure, you never cease to amaze.
A word of caution to the would-be buyer. This game is not available in NTSC-US or PAL versions on the Dreamcast, so you will need a modified console to play it. Also, although not strickly necessary, a rough knowledge of Japanese will enhance your experience greatly. If you lack either, the GameCube version is quite easy to come by, and well worth it. Saves modding your precious DC.
Overall, this game gets a 9.7/10, marred only by the almost insane difficulty level. Then again, if you're a dedicated fan of the genre and love a challenge, make it a full 10/10.