Ikaruga is a traditional 2D shooter (similar to oldtime classics like Axelay, Gradius and R-Type ) with a twist. Originally released for arcades and the Dreamcast, it was later ported to the GameCube and has finally made it’s way onto Xbox Live Arcade roughly two weeks ago. Naturally, I had to check it out.
As mentioned, it’s not quite your typical 2D shooter though. Instead of gathering regular power-ups and weapon upgrades, you have to manage ‘polarities’. The entire game world is composed of two polarities: light and dark. Your ship can switch freely between the two of them. If you switch to light mode, you’re vulnerable to dark attacks and impervious to light attacks and vice versa. The same goes for your enemies. If you engage them with the opposite polarity, they take double damage.
This seemingly simple gameplay mechanic results in some incredibly intense moments where rapidly switching the polarity of your ship is vital. All bosses utilise both polarities to attack and sometimes you have to maneuvre through a maze where you have to expose yourself to one kind of energy in order to avoid the other.
The game looks great. It’s graphics are clean and crisp and are possibly the best ‘2D’ graphics I’ve ever seen. It also has the ability to rotate it’s orientation horizontally, essentially turning it into a sidescroller. If you so desire, you can then also physically rotate your TV, greatly increasing your playing field. It’s not something I’d endeavour, but If you’re a die hard fan you have that possibility.
Make no mistake, this game (in good 2D shooter tradition) is no cakewalk. From the start it defaults you at 3 lives, normal difficulty and no continues. I’d suggest upping that to 5, lowering the difficulty to easy and enabling continues. Once your skills improve you can gradually notch up the difficulty. This will also allow your scores to be ranked on the leaderboards.
I’ve always been a huge fan of 2D shooters. In fact I was contemplating buying a Wii just to get access to all those old school shooters via the Virtual Console (especially Axelay, one of my favourite games on the SNES). Ikaruga’s release on XBLA has temporarily sated my thirst for those old-time classics.
If you’ve ever played a 2D shooter and enjoyed them (and own an Xbox 360), you owe it to yourself to download this game. It’s challenging but immensely enjoyable.