The best version of one of the Dreamcast's very best shooters. Essential.
Treasure’s classic polarity-shifting shmup, Ikaruga, may have started life on the Dreamcast, but it’s certainly no stranger to newer formats.
Following a surprise outing on the Gamecube, it’s also been made available on Steam, Xbox 360 and even Android, although the latter isn’t compatible with newer versions of the mobile OS and is no longer available on Google Play.
Even Though The Ideal Is High, I Never Give In
For the benefit of the uninitiated, Ikaruga is a shooter in the classic Treasure tradition, albeit with an ingenious twist. Your ship can alternate between black and white polarities, and enemies likewise come in one of two monochrome flavours.
You’re impervious to attacks from enemies of the same colour, absorbing their bullets to fill your special gauge, but do bonus damage to those of the opposite colour. While a very basic risk/reward trade-off at its core, this easy-to-learn-difficult-to-master mechanics gels brilliantly with Ikaruga’s expertly honed fundamentals, resulting in a truly remarkable SHMUP that is as great today as it ever was.
From a technical point of view, this Switch port is based on the more recent PC, Xbox 360 and Android reissues, sporting a ton of customisation options. It trucks along at an all but constant 60fps in both docked and undocked modes, with nary a jagged edge in sight. Models and effects hold up well, even if backgrounds are somewhat sparsely detailed.
With what appears to be a full 1080p resolution when docked and the Switch screen’s native 720p undocked, it’s a massive step up from the Dreamcast original, which tops out at just 480p in VGA mode, but very much in line with the aforementioned more modern PC, Xbox 360 and Android ports.
Ikaruga works brilliantly as a portable game. As we’ve seen with other Switch SHMUP updates (see our review of Zero Gunner 2- in Mega Visions issue 6), the myriad difficulty and gameplay options on offer here go hand in glove with the Switch’s casual, pick up and play premise.
You can approach the game however you want, and engage in anything from a hardcore single credit score attack to a brief, laid back firework show, where enemies don’t even fire back and continues are unlimited. You can even give one of the Joy-Cons to a friend and play cooperatively in both docked and undocked modes.
I Never Die With Regrets
Perhaps the most appealing addition here for genre devotees is Tate mode. In short, it’s possible to play the game with your Switch placed vertically, mimicking the screen orientation of the original arcade cabinet and doing away most of the otherwise necessary onscreen borders. Which is a good thing too, because they do take up a lot of screen real estate.
But would it were that simple. While hardly the fault of Ikaruga, Treasure or Nicalis (this version’s publisher), the Switch is actually quite impractical to use longways, because the kickstand doesn’t work that way.
Indeed, you have little choice but to perch the console on your knee, and you can’t even attach one of the Joy-Cons to the bottom, as the console just keeps prompting you to attach a second. That is, unless you use some kind of third party solution: we found an old iPad stand just the ticket for keeping the Switch safely held at a favourable angle, while using the Pro Controller for input.
Elsewhere there’s also a pretty cool gallery of artwork and renders, plus the ability to browse and listen to the game’s soundtrack at your leisure. You can even upload your high scores to an online leader board – assuming you don’t touch the difficulty setting, of course – or choose to tackle the main game with Geikei, the ship originally reserved for player 2.
While these features themselves aren’t new, they still round out the overall package nicely, and ensure that Ikaruga for Switch really is the definitive experience, whether on the go or at home sat in front of your TV.
There’s a ton more SHMUPS slated for release on Switch in the coming months, and our hope is that Ikaruga and the aforementioned Zero Gunner 2- will be the first of many Dreamcast ports. A Psyvariar redux is already confirmed, so here’s hoping Psyvariar 2: The Will To Fabricate, which came to Dreamcast first back in the day, isn’t far behind. And while we’re at it, what about Mars Matrix, Zero Wing or Border Down? If Ikaruga does the business, who knows?
While far from the first Ikaruga re-release, this latest for Switch is undoutedly the best yet. The ability to play on the go, in co-op with one set of Joy-Cons and in Tate mode, plus the myriad additional bells and whistles make Ikaruga for Switch easy to recommend unreservedly, and worthwhile even for die-hard Dreamcast fans that still have the original GD-ROM kicking around.
+ Timeless, polarity-shifting gameplay
+ Tate mode (some assembly required)
+ Local co-op with one set of Joy-Cons
– Most of the extras aren’t new
– Dull backgrounds
– Punishing difficulty unless lowered from default