I wasn’t sure if I should do a review of Ikaruga. It’s a shoot ‘em up I originally played on the GameCube in 2003, but recently picked up again on PC. Ikaruga is generally regarded as one of the best of its genre, but it’s not a genre I’m particularly familiar with – so keep that in mind, because this review is going to be written from a more casual point of view.
Ikaruga is a game that’s easy to beat, but very hard to master. There are only five levels, and each can be cleared in about five minutes. If you’re new to the game I highly recommend heading straight to the settings and enabling infinite continues for your first run – by default, you get zero continues.
It won’t record your scores if you alter the default, but you really shouldn’t be worrying about score, but about learning each stage and becoming familiar with the mechanics. The game won’t teach you as you play, so it’s also worth watching the ‘How To Play’ video, found in the options menu.
Your ship has two polarities – white and black – which can be switched on the fly. Enemies also come in either a white or black variety. By firing bullets of one polarity, you can do more damage to those of the other, but if you’re struck by a bullet of the opposite polarity you’ll be destroyed.
So far, so simple, but this is where things get more interesting. You can also absorb the energy of the bullets matching your current polarity, charging your special attack – a multi-missile strike. So it can actually be beneficial for you to soak up enemy fire in order to use it against them.
But learning the mechanics is only part of the challenge. You can also be killed by coming into contact with enemy ships, or by crashing into pieces of scenery – and on a couple of levels, it’s attempting to navigate the constantly shifting/rotating scenery that can prove as difficult as dealing with the hundreds of bullets heading your way.
Ikaruga requires time, patience and dedication if you want to ‘git gud’. Memorisation of each level is key if you want to aim for higher scores. You can multiply your score by building ‘chains’ – destroying multiple enemies of the same polarity in a row. If you want to do more than simply ‘beat’ Ikaruga – which you can do in about thirty minutes – and achieve the highest ranking, then be prepared to replay every stage multiple times. As I said – time, patience and dedication.
And that’s why I wasn’t sure if I should do a review of Ikaruga, because I just don’t think I have the patience for it. I’ve played through the game four times, clocking up a couple of hours play. I’ve tried replaying the first chapter several times to improve my score and hit a higher rank, and whilst I am getting much better at building my chains, the system is pretty punishing to the point that a single slip can ruin an entire run.
Fans of the genre seem to love it, and I can certainly see the addictive appeal. The short levels do encourage repeat play, but as someone who’s not really a fan of the genre, I don’t really feel the need to do so. Visually, the game looks great, and it has a suitably killer soundtrack. I do like the mechanics and think the polarity system is pretty clever, but I just don’t know if I want to keep playing for score alone.
I might keep jumping into Ikaruga to see if I can hit those higher ranks. I’m already watching videos of people who know what the f**k they’re doing to see if I can pick up a few tips. Hitting those higher ranks is a challenge that appeals to me, but I’m just not sure if I have the patience to keep at it.