Friday, April 11, 2008

The "Last Great Shump" Returns.. The Ikaruga XBLA Review

Ikaruga is quite arguably the last great 2D shoot-em-up ever having started in the arcades, then came console versions on Dreamcast and GameCube. While few have appreciated this classic of bullet spamming, polarity switching, and tons of deaths, those few have made it one of the forgotten gems of the last generation for consoles. Now Ikaruga gets another chance for the world to witness about amazing and challenging this game on Xbox Live Arcade for 800 Microsoft Points (10 dollars), and if you never played Ikaruga ever or just a hardcore fan of its past releases, buy this game as soon as possible because the online support makes it a much better version compared to its previous versions despite missing modes.

Developer Treasure is known for making their games really hard with lots of pattern memorization for perfect play and Ikaruga is no different. This game is simply one of the hardest games this decade, but still plays amazingly well with its polarity switching concept. For those who never seen or played Ikaruga, this polarity switching mechanic is a matter of black and white. Your ship being black protects yourself from black bullets while white protects from white bullets to be absorbed in an energy bar to be used for the missile attacks. This concept seems easy to understand, but in battle, it is a matter of survival at most points. With tons of bullets thrown at you on the screen, twitch reactions will separate the hardcore from casual players and why Ikaruga is notorious for its difficulty at first glance. The chain combo system for high scores is another simple concept to understand of hitting the same color enemy with the same color bullet. All these simple concepts together make Ikaruga truly an unique shoot-em-up compared to other games of the genre, but Treasure, being known for testing you in tough situations, make the challenge even more rewarding when beaten.

The XBLA version of Ikaruga offers the regular single-player game of five levels, which is the average length for a 2D shooter, but considering how challenging the game is, you will play play those levels multiple levels to hopefully master enemy and bullet patterns. Once each level is unlocked, they can be played one at a time instead at once if you're interested towards mastering a certain level. Multiplayer-wise, there is two player co-op locally and online, which is cool especially for online co-op making its debut in this version. Online performance works fine depending on the connection of both players, but teamwork and coordination is required for success for the insanity this shooter provides. Other modes are the Live Arcade staples of replays and leaderboards to compare high scores with friends and top players as well as downloading replays of other players to hopefully learn something. Especially watching replays of top players is truly amazing and make this game look easy compared to most of us.

Graphically, Ikaruga remains unchanged from previous versions, but with high definition, the game looks significantly better on a HDTV. Even though it is unfortunate that only a third of the screen is used for the action to remain true to the genre, you can change to tate mode, a staple of Japanese 2D shooters, to play the game horizontally instead of vertically if that is your preference. The only sense of slowdown during the game is when bosses explode after being killed. Other than that, the game runs at a a smooth framerate and you can only blame your skills if you keep dying. Sound-wise, this port is unchanged as well with the same songs from previous versions and the same sound effects of explosions and other stuff.

Ikaruga still remains as an amazing experience despite its challenge, which will likely overwhelm causal players, who never heard of this before. For hardcore players, this is a must-play to appreciate its greatness as a shooter who never played or owned a copy for the Dreamcast or the Gamecube. Even for 800 Microsoft Points, this is a steal at this point considering used or new Dreamcast or Gamecube copies go for more for your money. Add along arcade stick support (Hori EX2 specifically), online co-op, leaderboards, achievements, and downloadable replays makes this port the best version of Ikaruga available. As a complete package on XBLA, Ikaruga is one of the best games available for the service and a good contender for best downloadable game of the year.

Score = 9/10

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