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Game Profile
GENRE: Shooter
PLAYERS:   1-2
April 14, 2003

 Written by Ilan Mejer  on April 24, 2003

Full Review: One of the best shooters ever finds a home in the US on the Nintendo GameCube.

Being perfectly honest, there aren't a whole lot of shooters out there. Now, I know a lot of you are thinking about Halo and its upcoming sequel, Timesplitters, Red Faction, and of course the upcoming Half Life 2 and Doom 3, but this isn't exactly the type of shooter I was referring to. A long time ago, about the time when arcades were first coming into light with games such as Pacman and Missile Command, there was another genre out there presented appropriately to the masses referred to as the ?shooter? with its flagship game, Galaga, leading the charge. Later, these games evolved into table top form and an assortment of other styles including such titles as 1942, R-Type, and about a hundred or so other games that are still enjoyable today both in the few existing arcades and on consoles.

It was a time when popping in a couple of quarters to gain the highest score actually meant something and was regarded as a place of honor amongst other players. It was never easy and it always cost plenty to master them, but it was a ride from start to finish with no stops and a surprising amount of bumps along the way. Although this genre is all but dead today, that doesn't mean the shooting geniuses at Treasure still can't have their fun with a game or two paying homage to a genre of skill long since passed. With that said, here comes Ikaruga.

Taking place in the distant future, like most shooters, Ikaruga pits you as mankind's last best hope against an alien invasion bent on destroying the Earth. Given a ship with extraordinary power, it's your job to defeat said alien force using any means necessary. In typical Treasure fashion, that's just the tip of the iceberg as the story merely sits to wrap around the delicate yet deep gameplay experience that will surely contain all who are exposed to it in a degree of awe and wonder that makes them yearn for the games of yesteryear.

In Ikaruga, enemies come in two very distinct varieties ? light and dark. As might be expected, each enemy fires weapons of their particular color meaning light for light and dark for dark. Each ship in the game is vulnerable to the opposing color - light begets dark and vice versa. Your ship, which has been designed to save the Earth, is comprised of both light and dark including a shield of the same tone that encompasses the ship as it flies. Depending on which side of the ship is right side up, shots of the same tone are absorbed into the shield, increasing the ship's special weapon power. On the other hand, if the ship happens to run into a light shot while dark, the ship will be destroyed. Although that sounds incredibly simple, Treasure has added in a couple of little twists to make the game much more difficult.

As mentioned, each enemy vessel is vulnerable to the reverse color of their ship, but only to a limited effect. For example, when players use dark shots to destroy a light ship, damage will increase exponentially, but the player controlled ship is continuously vulnerable to enemy fire while using the opposite color. On the other hand, players who wish to keep it safe may use the same tone to destroy ships, albeit in a much slower fashion as damage dealt is significantly less. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on the situation, enemies destroyed with the same color will unleash a perpetual suicide attack of the same color. These shots can be absorbed into your special weapons meter, but those who switch colors before absorbing them will find themselves in a tough spot as the blasts will pass through them like a hot knife through butter. Mix these suicide shots with shots of the opposite color and you create a flurry of death that no one can escape from. It's a particularly evil scenario, but typical of Treasure's twisted style.

Shooters today, though few and far between, have always been a bit on the short side and Ikaruga is no stranger to this fact. Putting things into perspective, Ikaruga has five levels, meaning there's no extra level and no super duper ship to be unlocked after beating the game a million times ? just five. That sounds like a pretty unsubstantial amount given the myriad of levels that are encompassed in just about every other game, but given the insane difficulty and amount of skill required to play Ikaruga, players will never beat the game in their first sitting, but rather, In fact, it'll take them around four or five sittings just to rip past level three, and die hard on level four.

Even though the game relies primarily on pattern recognition and sheer skill to complete it, hardly anyone will shelve the game even after they've seen the ending and there are a couple of reasons why. First of all, Treasure has included a time based system that increases the player's number of credits with each hour of play, increasing the chances of completion for even the most challenged of players. On top of that, Treasure also included an Internet ranking system that gives players a code that they can enter on the game's website so they can track their progress in comparison to other players. Therein lies the beauty of the game's system as simply blasting your way through levels will earn players a C or B at best, but never an A or even an S or S++ ranking. The only way to achieve such a ranking is to utilize the combo system present in the game that can be achieved by shooting any three of a single colored ship in a row. Just shoot three lights or three dark ships in a row and the points earned will increase greatly, but the configuration in which ships attack can seriously hinder the score as the chance of accidentally nailing an opposite color ship while attempting a chain combo is great, especially with the ships special laser weapon.

If that weren't enough, Treasure included a cooperative two player mode where mankind's last hope grows by one to a total of two. Ok, that doesn't sound very impressive, but there's actually a lot of skill involved when it comes down to playing this game cooperatively. There are quite a few narrow corridors that can destroy your craft with the slightest nick and making it through them with one ship is challenging enough, but blazing through the same areas with two ships is almost unthinkable since your ships repel one another when the shields collide. It's an interesting dynamic and just that much more fun when new strategies come to fruition through careful planning or even from hapless accidents. One player can run a type of shield blockade and absorb every dark shot while the other, keeping pace behind, pumps the enemy with light shots. That's just but one example, but the game is chock-full of little ploys like this that increase the depth of the already finely tuned gameplay.

Graphically, Ikaruga is the basic definition of polish. It's not quite as beautiful as a lot of other games out there, seeing as how it is almost a direct port of the Dreamcast and arcade original released some time ago, but it definitely has a lot of style. The play on the light and dark undertones of the game are readily apparent given the number of weapons used against you and the creative ways each craft is designed despite it's adjustable letter box view, but that's hardly the showcase of the beauty of the game. Level design is also a key feature that will impress as each wall is just as deadly an enemy shot that simply needs to be avoided. Even then, with that said, we still haven't touched on the highlight of Ikaruga's graphical flair ? its bosses.

Ikaruga not only carries some of the most well designed boss encounters in gaming history, but they actually fit and deserve the title of ?boss.' These mammoths rarely ever take up any less than ? of the screen, but if and when they do, you can count on them dishing out just that many more shots to make up for their lack of size. Rapidly switching from light to dark and constantly moving about the playing field, players will be pushed to the limits when it comes time to really dish out the pain. Not only that, but each boss encounter is fought on a timer and missing an opportunity to destroy just one of them will cost players major points. Sure, you can tuck tail between your legs and eat every shot thrown at you, but even then, players will eventually break down and start fighting back and will be treated to a beautiful blaze of fire and destruction as the boss falls to its knees and explodes into flame.

The music in Ikaruga is quite good with some recurring themes throughout, but it's hardly the best our ears have been treated to on the Gamecube. There are also plenty of sultry explosions and reverberating blasts of energy that will definitely appease shooter fans and gaming fans alike. The whole sound package isn't even close to the greatness that is the rest of the game. Given just how wonderful the game is already, there's really no reason to be disappointed as it does get the job done.

Bottom Line
Just playing Ikaruga for the first ten minutes, I could already tell this game was destined for greatness. Even after it slaughtered me ship after ship, continue after continue, I still wanted more and I knew I had to come back again and again until I had beaten it. In fact, I had to go through the game several times before pulling away fully satisfied with my performance. Games like this rarely hit consoles in such a fashion and each should be cherished as if it were the last. Thank you Treasure for giving us gamers a real kick in the pants we seriously deserved and then making us ask for more.

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