Ikaruga is likely to be one of those games that many Kiwis will have heard of but not had the chance to play. Although this cult classic was originally an arcade game, its rise to fame was its release as a swan song for the dying Dreamcast. It was released for the Gamecube, although finding a copy in New Zealand was an exercise in frustration. Finally, however, Xbox 360 owners can experience what is easily one of the best vertical shooters of all time without even needing to leave their house, thanks to Ikaruga’s release on Xbox Live Arcade.
For the uninitiated, Ikaruga is about as old school as you can get. The game revolves around the concept of light and dark, with enemies coming in both varieties and the player able to switch between the two. When light, players will deal extra damage to dark enemies, but will also incur damage from dark bullets. The opposite applies for when the player is dark. However, when a player is either light or dark, bullets of the same shade will not cause harm and in fact will charge a super-weapon that can be unleashed in moments of trouble.
Ikaruga is simple in concept. However, it’s a classic for three reasons. Firstly, the game hates you and it wants you to know it. Ikaruga is hard from the word go and doesn’t let up ever. Enemies will constantly swarm the player, bullets will be everywhere, and it requires plenty of skill and talent to even finish a level. Switching between light and dark just at the right times to avoid death is key to survival, and often the mind just switches off and instinct takes over.
Secondly, the presentation is simply off the scale. The game is seven years old now, but everything holds up immaculately. The graphics are still divine, the soundtrack is some of the best in a video game ever, and the entire experience just grabs one by the collar and refuses them to let them go until it’s five in the morning and the birds are starting to sing.
Lastly, the game is made for high score junkies. It only features five levels, but merely completing the game is a feat in itself. However, players with real talent will want to make the most of the chain combo system. Killing enemies of one shade three times in a row will augment the chain combo by one. The higher the combo, the more bonuses to the player's score. Shooting an enemy of an opposite shade before each link is complete will reset the chain, meaning that holding down the fire button is a sure fire way to make sure one’s high score appears near the bottom of the leaderboard.
Along with being the easiest and cheapest way to obtain Ikaruga, the Xbox 360 version is easily the best. All in glorious HD, not only does it feature online leaderboards that really tap into the compulsive nature of gamers, but it also features a replay mode that allows players to save and upload their runs so that the world can watch in awe. In order to take replays, the player cannot continue, meaning that the best replays are that much more impressive. The game also features plenty of achievements that will reward newcomers but tax veteran fans of the series.
People have gone to lots of effort and paid lots of money to obtain Ikaruga in the past, so being able to purchase it off the marketplace and for a trivial 800 points leaves gamers with no excuses. It might not be the best vertical shooter ever – that honour goes to Ikaruga’s predecessor Radiant Silvergun – but it is easily the best game on Xbox Live Arcade and indeed the Xbox 360 itself. Purchase immediately.