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Ikaruga (Dreamcast) artwork

Ikaruga (Dreamcast) review

"''It goes without saying that you can avoid and escape from trial. But the true meaning of trial is to overcome such your weakness.'' "

''It goes without saying that you can avoid and escape from trial. But the true meaning of trial is to overcome such your weakness.''

It is extremely hard to know where to start when reviewing such a title. Because, the genre of shoot-em-up (or 'shmup' as it has become generically known) is one that divides gamers like no other. Many people grew up on these games, and like to re-visit them. Others think that gaming has moved on from such days, while still others demand ever more challenging shmups with ever more inventive combat systems. Some merely hate the games outright, claiming they are just too hard. Some would take one look at a 2-dimensional game and laugh out loud at the sheer outdatedness of it all. Oh yeah, and it is also on the DreamCast, that famous dead console that SEGA used to make.

''Sorry, what did you say about shoot-em-ups?'' Oh yes, did you not know? Ikaruga is a 2-dimensional shoot-em-up, viewed from above your craft, vertically scrolling, and played for a high score. If such a concept offends you, then I suggest you go back to your Tom Clancy's Boredom Seven stealth simulation right away. For the rest of you, who don't care about anything other than sheer gameplay, then please read on.

Quite some time ago, a company called Treasure released a shmup for the SEGA Saturn called 'Radiant Silvergun.' Today, this game is legendary, with copies selling on ebay for $200 a throw. The game is widely regarded as the best shmup of all-time. When Treasure made a game for the NAOMI board that was subtitled 'Project RS2', then rabid fanboys everywhere went INSANE! And, because it was so easy to convert a NAOMI game for the DreamCast, Treasure found themselves deluged with requests to do so at once. And, to their immense credit, they gave in to the pressure. Which is pretty much why this game even exists.

But, forget why it exists, and just be thankful that it does.

Shmups tend to follow a basic pattern, and have certain rules to them. Enemies have patterns, and memory helps you bypass them all. Mostly, they are reliant on increasingly awe-inspiring power-ups, and making mass destruction as loud and colourful as possible. It is here where Ikaruga is an exception to the rule. And, it is because of this that the game shines so.

In Ikaruga, you never get to power-up. You never collect a new weapon. And, you don't get screensfull of multi-colour spacecraft. Instead, you have to rely on a basic ship, against enemies that are either black or white. But, this is the stroke of genius that makes this game. By stripping the game of all over-complicating factors, Treasure have crafted a title where the entire emphasis of a genre has been shifted. From offence to defence. Such is the nature of Ikaruga that it is entirely possible to complete a level without ever once firing a single shot.

How this is possible is by the way of a unique play mechanic. See, in Ikaruga, all your enemies are either Black, or White. And, you are able to change the colour of your ship to match them. Now, here's the twist : White shots from white enemies don't hurt you if your ship is also white. Black shots, however, are lethal. Of course, you can always flip to black so as to be safe from them, but then the white shots become lethal. While white, you can absorb the energy of white bullets, and release it in the form of up to 12 homing missiles. Obviously, to absorb black energy, you must also be black.

To further complicate things, black shots are doubly effective against white enemies. What this all leads to is frantic colour flipping so as to merely survive the barrage of bullets that are thrown at you. There are times when you will simply stare at the screen wondering just how on Earth you are possibly going to survive THAT! Some sections will have you staring at the screen wide-mouthed. Learning to dodge, and to flip, is of absolutely paramount importance if you hope to get anywhere. The difficulty level is frightening at first, but it is actually possible to survive without prior knowledge of the level if your reactions are fast enough. And the feeling you get from surviving some of the games more fiendish set-pieces is one of sheer exhilaration. At times, this game makes you feel like you are in the midst of an epic encounter. Special mention must go to level 3, for the sheer invention that is showcased.

Just surviving to the end is but one way to play a shmup, though. And, for sure, that is amply catered for here. But, the other main way to play shmups is to chase a high-score. And this is where Ikaruga comes up trumps once again. By the implementation of a rather nifty 'chain' system. If you shoot 3, or any multiple of 3, enemies of the same colour, you get a chain. Each succesive multiple of 3 same coloured enemies shot adds another 1 to the chain. Each chain doubles your bonus, thus adding to your score. The problem comes with keeping the chain, as the screen is usually too full of enemies for you to even care what colour they are. Stick with it, though, and it soon becomes a matter of greed. You find yourself holding off randomly blasting, as you try to build ever-higher chains. So, you eventually start leaving blacks on long enough to fire at you while you are white, and vice versa.

It is this element of risk equalling reward that is the crowning achievement of this title. Where other games are happy to reward patience, Ikaruga rewards skill. For make no mistake, the only reward to having your name at the top of a high-score table is having your name at the top of the high-score table. If you don't comprehend that viewpoint, then this is really not going to be the game for you.

A word on the graphics -AWESOME! This is quite simply the finest looking shmup of all time. A word on the sound - SUBLIME! It fits every level beatifully. A word on the controls - PERFECT! When you die, it is always your own fault. And all in 3 buttons, too.

If I had to find a fault with this game, it would be that it is possibly a little short, being only 5 chapters long. But then, it is only short to people who don't play it the way it was designed to be played. Treasure are the last old-school purists making games, and this game should be treated like an ARCADE game. One where your only reason for playing is to improve your skill at the game. The story is merely a canvas on which to hang a true work of the art of gameplay. A canvas painted in black and white, in a minimalist style. Less truly does equal more in this instance.

Now the bad stuff. This game will never see the light of day outside of Japan, at least in it's DreamCast incarnation. However, it is set to be released worldwide for the GameCube, so I expect each and every person reading this review to buy a copy. Because, such craftsmanship sould not go unrewarded. And, we need this game to sell. Then, and only then, will we get more games like it.

cheekylee's avatar
Community review by cheekylee (January 08, 2003)

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