Developed by Treasure and originally released in arcades and then the Dreamcast in 2002, Ikaruga is a mesmerizing shooter from the minds of some of the most talented game designers in the industry that brought us the likes of Guardian Heroes and forgotten Mega Drive gems such as Alien Soldier.
Unlike your usual top-down shooter that focuses on a variety of “options” that afford the player new weapons and thusly, new tactics, Ikaruga favours an ingenious mechanic that reverses the polarity of your shots. Your shots and your enemies are colour-coded light and dark. If you reverse your polarity to dark, your ship will absorb dark bullets and build up an energy meter while shooting an enemy of the opposite polarity, resulting in “massive damage.”
To say this kind of ingenuity in shooter design is refreshing is an understatement, and although it’s a port of a rather old game, Ikaruga’s uniqueness keeps it incredibly fresh today.
For the imaginative amongst us, the polarity mechanic creates opportunities for players to carefully consider their approach to battles. Will you hang back and absorb bullets until enemies disperse? Will you risk your ship engaging in high stakes polarity swapped combat? How will you overcome these energy waves of a different polarity screaming towards you? Ikaruga constantly provides new and interesting twists on the mechanic throughout the game it carries it very well.
Ikaruga’s control is fantastic and its combat remains frenetic and satisfying as ever.
Beyond the polarity mechanic, Ikaruga remains a very, very challenging shooter. It’s the good kind of challenge that pushes you forward and forces you to think.
With that said, I did find a few moments a little unfair, and, occasionally, I found myself coming to a jarring halt because a wall or stabbing column appeared out of thin air, but, generally ,the game rewards careful thought about what tactics you will use to engage your enemy. Boss patterns, for instance, are forgiving and although these encounters remain quite challenging by forcing yourself to focus and master the polarity swapping mechanic, you will find yourself becoming more and more adept at winding in and out of their reaching energy beams.
Ikaruga’s control is fantastic and its combat remains frenetic and satisfying as ever. Ikaruga is an adrenaline rush, and the slick control does not disappoint in maintaining that level of energy and engaging gameplay that kept me glued to my keyboard and mouse.
Speaking of which, the game using a keyboard and mouse combo with the keyboard used for movement and your mouse used to control your weapons and polarity shifting. This is an incredibly satisfying combination of control as you find that movement is generally very instinctive and natural, while having your weapon and polarity mapped to the mouse allows you to focus on that one simple input device for your crucial strategizing.
To make control more challenging, players can engage the PC’s “double play mode,” which essentially just adds another ship to the game playable with one control device. It’s an interesting gimmick and one that could spice up the game for jaded players.
Presentation is great on PC with a lightning fast frame rate and beautiful graphics. I was often distracted by the beautifully rendered 3D backdrops and elegant, dancing enemy designs. Sometimes, it actually does become a bit of an issue as I found myself dying a couple of times due to accidentally focusing on the environments. That said, the text is sharp, and every artistic element of the game seems to have had a lot of care put into it, providing players with a stunning game.
The variety in art design is something I really appreciated as a lot of shooters tend to focus on somewhat bland, military style environments or simple space station backdrops, but the gorgeous landscapes, cloudy skies and installations of Ikaruga all look and feel unique and are quite lovely at times.
Players can also indulge in an added side-scrolling mode if they feel the need to enjoy another twist on Ikaruga’s standard gameplay, which tilts the screen 90 degrees. It’s not purely cosmetic, as it really does add a new dimension to the gameplay.
Ikaruga is a beautiful, challenging game that effectively showcases how brilliant Treasure are at developing a sublime, unique gameplay experience that will fight you at every turn but keep pushing you forward to accomplish your goals. Varied level design, an innovative polarity mechanic and intelligent boss designs marry with stunning presentation and a bevy of PC enhancements, including Steam achievements.
Gamers not used to shooters may find Ikaruga far too unwieldy to enjoy, and, at times, it is a little unbalanced and unforgiving, but those of us who appreciate a good shmup-fest will love to come back to Ikaruga to fall in love all over again.