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
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
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
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
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.