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ikaruga

In a day and age where realistic 3D graphics have become a norm, a valiant little company known as Treasure has step forth and shown the gaming community that 2D gaming will forever live. Ikaruga is Treasure's pseudo sequel to Radiant Silvergun; a shooter in the most traditional sense of the word. Ikaruga first emerged in Japanese arcades back in 2001. The game was highly praised and was later ported to the Dreamcast in Japan during the console's dying days. After a surprisingly successful run, Treasure opted to release the game for the GameCube in Japan. Thankfully, thanks to the help of Atari, this cult classic is now available for the first time in North America for the GameCube (sans the need of importing).

At a quick glance, Ikaruga appears to be a simple vertical shooter, and in a way, that's exactly what it is: You don't even collect any upgrades for your guns nor any power-ups for that matter. Instead, the game relies strongly on polarity: herein lies the body and soul of this little gem. The term "opposites attract" comes to effect and that's what makes this game so innovating and at the same time, challenging. Your ship is capable of transforming into two forms: white and black, a schism of pure and evil. Enemy ships are also equipped with this ability which makes things more interesting. When they are white, they will fire white bullets at you; when they are black, they will fire black bullets at you. Your ability to change between these two forms comes to play here. Your ship is capable of absorbing enemy fire of the same polarity as you. In other words, when you are white, you are invincible to white bullets and when you're black, the opposite is true as well. Engrossing enemy fire will increase your Energy Release Power Gauge, which allows you to use an alternate homing laser. 

The scoring system is fairly simple, yet effective. You earn points for every ship you destroy; double points are rewarded if you are opposite polarity of your victim. Additionally, you earn points for absorbing enemy fire. The last way to increase your score is what gives this game it's high replay value; the combo system. A combo occurs when three enemy ships of the same color are destroyed, regardless of the color of your ship. For every consecutive 3-kill combo, you add to your chain. Chains points will double-up until a maximum score of 25,600. If you break the chain, and trust me, you will, you will have to start the combo over.

There are five chapters (stages) in Ikaruga. Each chapter has a short, pre-stage warm-up, preceded with the actual chapter and then at the end of each one, you will face off with a boss. The first stage is quite simple and gives you the opportunity to practice your ships basic functions, such as shooting, morphing between polarities and using your homing lasers. As you progress through the game, the stages become more and more challenging. By the fourth stage, you will be wondering how people have been able to complete such a game. While the game is very hard, it's not frustrating. You have a fair amount of lives and continues and you will want to go at it again when you see the "Game Over" screen. Don't let the 5 chapters discourage you, there's plenty to do in this game. There are art galleries to unlock, three difficulty modes, training modes, a "High Score" password that allows you to enter your highest score on the official Ikaruga site to see how you rank against other gamers worldwide and more. Oh, and there's a nice two-player co-op option as well. The co-op mode is pretty straight forward; both ships are on the same screen at the same time. You can't shoot your partner but you may push him out of the way by bumping into him.

The graphics in Ikaruga aren't mind-boggling but for a 2D game, they are very good. The backgrounds are composed of a mixture between 2D and 3D graphics. However, all the action takes place in top-bottom fashion. With all the fire and enemies on screen at once, it becomes very pretty. Ikaruga supports progressive scan and widescreen. Additionally, there is an option to tilt your TV sideways so that you may have a full vertical view. The sound is unlike anything you'd expect from Treasure. With a history of using cutesy tracks in their games, it's quite shocking to hear the futurist techno samples that are used in Ikaruga. The game also contains robotic-voice samples for combos and certain items on the menu screen. Everything sounds very good, from explosions to fire blasts.

Final Verdict 

Overall, Treasure has created a very solid title with Ikaruga. A few extra stages would have been nice though. The extra little modes, challenges and the co-op make it a fun and addicting game. My only real grip with Ikaruga is the lack of in-game story. While most shooters have never really had good storylines, if you look at the art galleries and read the instruction manual that come with Ikaruga, it's a shame that Treasure botched this aspect of the game. It's nothing to lose sleep over but I hate to see such potential put to waste. I highly recommend this game to any shooter fan, and if you're not, you might want to rent this game anyway and experience Ikaruga for yourself. Just be warned, this game is not for everyone.


Rating 
Gameplay

9.0

Original and innovative. Hardcore gamers, this is what you've been waiting for.

Presentation

8.5

Very stylish. Clean and easy to use menus. Good use of 3D and 2D in between chapters.

Graphics

8.0

Screens are usually filled with enemy gunfire. Very pretty to look at. Lack of color-variation due to the two polarities.

Sound

8.5

Good ambiance. Music and sound effect fit well with the rest of the game.

Lasting Appeal

7.5

More stages would have helped. Art galleries, co-op and attaining high scoring combos will keep you coming back.

Overall

8.8

Terry Karavoulias


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