Review: Ikaruga

Ikaruga, the Japanese arcade vertical shooter from developer Treasure, hit the Xbox Live Arcade on April 9th and is available for 800 points. While many shooters are finding new life on the XBLA, Ikaruga stands out from its contemporaries with challenging gameplay and a unique twist to the genre.

In the game, you pilot either the Ikaruga or Ginkei, ships with multiple polarities, meaning they can be switched between black and white. The dual polarities of the Ikaruga allow you to fend off the unrelenting waves of black and white enemies through five intense levels. By switching polarities, you absorb bullets of the same color while inflicting double the amount of damage to an enemy ship of the opposite color.

Another bonus to absorbing your enemies’ bullets is in the release power feature. This allows the Ikaruga to launch multiple shots at once. You can achieve additional points are through chaining, which occurs when you shoot three of the same color ships down in a row. Players will quickly want to understand the tempo of the game and memorize the polarity of the ships during each level. Not only are Achievements attached to scores of A or better in each of the 5 levels, but credits (i.e. lives) are awarded after hitting specific point tiers. If you are going after the Achievements, chaining will be integral in obtaining that score of A or better.

There is a cadence to the game that you will appreciate as you play through it. You must balance the polarities of the Ikaruga; deciding when to shoot, when to absorb bullets and when to simply move out of the way.

The levels in Ikaruga are not painstakingly long but what they lack in length they make up for in intensity. Each level is anchored by a boss battle, the 5 bosses: Eboshidori, Buppousou, Uzura, Misago, and Tageri all escalate in difficulty as the game progresses. As with the levels themselves, each boss battle has a cadence to learn and path to victory that may not be obvious during your first encounter. Remembering your ships polarity and utilizing the release power weapon during boss battles is a key element to quickly dispatching your opponent.

In addition to the five levels of single player, there is a co-op mode by system link or over Xbox Live. The multiplayer does not add anything new to the game but it is still a worthwhile play for fans of the game. You have the ability to save your replays after each level and there are also online leaderboards and 200 achievement points to earn. Most settings are customizable and for novices, it best to turn on the continue feature and even increase your lives to provide an easier playing environment while you learn the ropes. One caveat is that when continues are on, you will not be able to save your replays. Also, by changing the default settings of the game, it does not save your high scores to the leaderboards. Lastly, as a word of caution, you can only advance through the levels by playing through all of them: selecting only one level and playing through it is almost considered a practice round, you will get achievements and such, but it will not unlock the next level.

Ikaruga will frustrate some gamers with the intense and challenging gameplay. The payoff occurs when you find the rhythm of the game. With ships coming from everywhere and bullets flying at you from all angles, as you pilot your ship through the chaos, you will appreciate Ikaruga for the inventive and unique game it is.

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