by sunburstbasser

Ikaruga is a vertical shooter with a story. Unless you play the Gamecube version, you'll get this story in the game.

Treasure redefined what a shooter could be with Radiant Silvergun. So when they set out to make another shmup, they could have done like everyone else and modified an existing formula. Instead, Treasure scrapped practically everything that made Radiant Silvergun so great, and came up with a whole new game only distantly related to the first.

And they managed to set the shmup community on fire all over again.

Ikaruga is a spiritual successor to Radiant Silvergun, in case the "Project RS-2" on loading didn't give it away. But rather than a massive arsenal and tons of boss fights, you are now given two weapons, a shield, and levels that follow more standard stage/boss setups. The new mechanic Treasure devised is the Polarity system. All enemies and bullets are either black or white. At the press of a button, you can switch your own color and shots between the two. Bullets of the same color are absorbed, bullets of the opposite color destroy. Shooting an enemy of the opposite color does double damage to them.

The control scheme has been simplified and is much easier to grasp. In the original Arcade setup, button A would shoot, and button B would switch polarity. Pressing both together would fire the homing lasers, a powerful attack similar to that in Ray Force. On any of the console ports, you can map it so that each function has an individual button, which is what I do.

The enemy this time around is not the Stone-Like. Rather, an archaeologist named Tenro Horai has dug up the Stone-Like, and is using it to conquer nation after nation. You control Shinra, resistance pilot who is shot down over the village Ikaruga. Ikaruga is populated by former engineers who have devised a craft capable of countering the two types of energy Tenro has used to defeat the world. The Dreamcast port had the plot in short cutscenes between levels, the Gamecube got nothing. The XBLA release added that little bit of text back in and translated it to English.

Scoring is a streamlined form of the enemy chaining from Radiant Silvergun. Killing three enemies of the same color gives a score bonus. This time, enemies only come in two colors instead of three, and if you kill three whites, then three blacks, you keep your chain. The levels are designed to be chained from start to finish, with chains of over 60 (180 enemies) possible in the first stage alone. Your weapons are stuck at a base level, but are powerful enough for every situation. Scoring goes towards extends, which you'll probably need to get very far. This system is actually easier to get a hold of than Radiant Silvergun, and if you can't chain a section it's OK to sit back and dodge for a while with the only penalty being to your score. Treasure may have taken a note from Takumi's Mars Matrix, as killing enemies quickly will generate more so it's in your best interest to be aggressive.

The graphics are now all rendered in 3D, originally using the Sega NAOMI hardware (same as Dreamcast hardware, effectively). The colors are a bit muted, with a lot of browns and grays. The background still dips and twists, and while the muted colors aren't that great the models are all done very well and the texturing is good as well. The Gamecube port is pretty much identical graphically, while the XBLA gave it some textural upgrades, though I don't see a huge difference. Enemy shots all really glow, though with they way they weave in and out it can still be hard to see what exactly killed you. This is a game where you absolutely MUST rotate your monitor if possible.

The music was composed by Hiroshi Iuchi, who handled a ton of other stuff with this game as well. Apparently Sakimoto was unavailable during development. Iuchi uses a lot of sweeping orchestral passages like Sakimoto, but doesn't use any of the motifs from Radiant Silvergun, nor did he create a motif for Ikaruga. The music in general is more intense. Each song is also synced to the stage, to the point that a crescendo in the track will coincide with a barrage of bullets or a new section. The sound effects are all excellently handled. The enemy beams sound vaguely like old sci-fi movie lasers, an effect I really like.

Ikaruga has a rank system, but it's just a personal rank. You are graded at the end of each level, based on survival and chaining. It does not affect the difficulty in any way. This game is hard enough that it doesn't need rank. If you don't touch the fire button for an entire level, you'll get a DOT EATER rank.

The stages are now referred to as Chapters. The game starts in the stage Ideal. The Ikaruga is launched, ready to battle with the forces already swarming. This stage is very straight-forward. Enemies always come in groups of three, and you won't have to worry about overlapping bullets yet. The round, rotating enemies you face here are the popcorn enemies of Ikaruga, get used to smashing them. Even if they are the same color, they go down in one shot.

The Warning signal got revamped, and while it still says WARNING:NO REFUGE the BE ATTITUDE FOR GAINS part is missing, which is a bit sad. The text and/or robot voice may say the name of the boss, but I've never been able to make either one out. The first boss is a giant robot, complete with sword and shield. His sword fires white projectiles, but by tapping to the right you can defeat it while black. The shield fires black projectiles, and you might want to stay black as the bullets are a bit dense. Once these are down you can target the robot itself. It has a few attacks but none of them are really threatening.

The second chapter, Trial, starts out with a bunch of airplanes flying everywhere. The pattern is a little hard to see, but by following a rough vertical figure 8 they can be chained. Most of this level is a dash through a block maze. Most of the blocks can be destroyed, just watch out for suicide bullets. To get the DOT EATER rank, there is just enough room between the hitboxes of the blocks that you can fit through if you are dead center. This stage has a lot of enemy formations that circle around you, which becomes the basis for practically a whole level.

The boss this time is a flying contraption that limits your movement to the bottom half of the screen. It has two points which must be destroyed, each protected by a shield. The goal is the shoot the shield with the proper color weapon, dive behind it and destroy the weak point as quickly as possible before the shield retracts and kills you. When you destroy a weak point, don't back up right away as the shield is still lethal if you touch it. Dodging room is very limited here but once I got this boss's patterns down it didn't cause me a whole lot of trouble.

Chapter 3: Faith is where the entire game really starts to pick up. Right off the bat, enemy jets slowly fly down, and turn to ram you. Dodge them, and they'll continue right into a wall where they explode. While the two bullet colors started overlapping a bit in Trial, here both bullets and enemies overlap constantly. Most of this level is a flight along a tunnel, with terrain which must be avoided such as closing doors. The Ikaruga is a bit slow, and you'll likely die several times before figuring out how to get past the doors. In one section, enemy planes come from above and below, and will explode when they crash into each other. It's a neat effect.

Exit the stage, and you'll fight a giant ring boss. This fight is like those Radiant Silvergun fights in which you are surrounded by the boss, and must shoot your way out. This boss has 12 turrets, alternating white and black. The best way to take this guy out is by destroying all the turrets of one color. When half are destroyed, the central turret activates firing beams. You'll have to switch polarity and hide between the rotating blocks. If you leave multiple colors of turrets alive at this point, dodging the different shots and the beams is harder than just having one color shot.

Chapter Four: Reality is Ikaruga's variation on the Giant Battleship. To me, it looks more like a huge space cannon than a battleship but to each their own. The chaining opportunities in this level are immense, at times huge numbers of enemies of the same color will all fly by in formation to be killed. A portion of this stage takes place in a rotating gun emplacement, with enemies flying in circles around while walls and bullets close and overlap. Reality has multiple midbosses, including one which places a turret in each corner of the screen. If you can make it through this stage on one credit, you can beat the rest of the game since this is the hardest part.

The boss is an air hockey puck. The actual boss takes up most of the arena you fight it in, while beams of white and black fire constant streams. They alternate, with each color lasting for about the width of your ship. To damage the boss, you have to open the panels on it and, in classic Konami fashion, SHOOT THE CORE! As the panels open, they fire constant white beams. The boss can also crush you against the wall.

Chapter Five: Metempsychosis is actually pretty easy. The bullet count is very high, but many of the enemies only shoot one color. It's quite easy to build up your homing lasers in this level.

Most of Metempsychosis is spent fighting the final series of bosses. The first part has four weak points, with two turrets firing streams of straight bullets. This part isn't too awful, I got killed by the bullets more than the streams. The second part has just two weak points. This portion sends out two little enemies that play Snake with you and leave a trail of beam behind them. I found it a lot harder to get around this than the streams of part one.

At this point, you get to watch a low-poly person jump into a big sphere. I believe this is supposed to be Tenro. Tenro fires some aimed bullets, but much deadlier are the aimed lasers. They are exactly the same as your own, and Tenro can switch colors as well. If you can get the pattern down, this boss is actually pretty short. If you've played the 3D Zelda games and played volleyball with Ganon's beams, this is the shmup equivalent.

The True Last Boss is the Stone-Like. This fight is based on the Radiant Silvergun fight, as your weapons are deactivated. You can still switch polarity. The ending isn't any happier than Radiant Silvergun, as you release all of the Ikaruga's energy in a suicide attack which does destroy the Stone-Like.

Ikaruga's polarity mechanic has become the basis for many more recent shooters. Along with being copied outright, it has also inspired other forms of invulnerability like beam blocking in DoDonPachi Dai Fukkatsu. Many more recent shmups have some kind of gimmick to go along with scoring, thanks in part to Ikaruga's success.

Ikaruga has not quite hit the price of Radiant Silvergun, besides the Dreamcast version. The Gamecube port can be had at a good price with some patience. The XBLA version is the best deal right now, and worth it to modern shmup fans. It still isn't perfect, with lots of puzzle aspects along with shooting mechanics, but it is a lot of fun. Give it a shot.

By the way, the word "Ikaruga" refers to the Japanese Grosbeak, a bird with black and white patterning.


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