Price: 800 Microsoft Points (US$10)
System(s): Xbox Live Arcade
Release Date: April 9, 2008, 9 am GMT
ESRB Rating: “Everyone”
Pros: Fast-paced classic arcade action and amazing graphics. Single-player and offline two-payer modes rock.
Cons: Reaction time for switching polarity is a little slow and online games tend to stutter.
Overall Score: One thumb up, one sideways; B+; 88/100; **** out of 5
I remember plunking in quarters to play scrolling shooters. Not those sneak-around-with-camo-characters-and-aiming-for-headshots kind of shooters. Ye olde arcade games with a dizzying barrage of opponents, hyped up soundtracks, seemingly impossible odds meant to suck up your supply of quarters as quickly as possible and a steady stream of machine-gun style laser fire.
Oh yeah, those were the good old days.
Of course, in the case of the Japanese arcade shooter Ikaruga, the “good ol’ days” were only about seven years ago and it wasn’t really in (many) American arcades. Even so, the game has had a few stateside console incarnations with the most recent being to Xbox Live’s Arcade.
Ikaruga is a vertical scrolling shooter, meaning you pilot a ship while the background scrolls down (from top to bottom) the screen. Enemy ships swoop down the screen in speedy formation to either look menacing, become Kamazee style (a la Space Invaders) or hurl a seemingly inescapable wall of gunfire. The twist with this game is that all of the opponents have two polarities, red (aka “black”) or white, which you can match or counter with a simple button press to either earn more points or power up a super attack.
With the Xbox Live version of the game, it is presented as full/widescreen although the action still takes place in a tall centered area. You can choose between three difficulty settings, number of lives, one or two players and online or offline cooperative games.
There’s a story in the game but, really, who cares – you get to shoot stuff and shoot a lot. Besides, the story elements are presented so quickly with with such tiny text you’d need to be a speed reader and sit a foot from your screen.
Nonstop Japanese Fun Time is Go
This game is a barrage of fun, both in terms of visual effects and gameplay. The action is constant with swarms of opponents and turrets that fire sweeping waves of gunfire to strategically avoid or absorb.
The need to flip between polarities adds a level of strategic complexity to an otherwise straightforward shooter. Flip polarity at the wrong time and instead of absorbing friendly polarity fire you’ll be in the midst of evil, nasty deadly blobs of color. There is a short bit of time between polarity flipping when you cannot fire, which also leaves you a bit defenseless. Probably meant to allow a moment to line up the optimum chains of opposite-polarity opponent kills to help maximize points.
The offline two player cooperative mode, which puts both ships on the same screen to fight the same opponents, extends the fun to two, so definitely get your batteries charged for both controllers.
Online, however, and the game is subject to the worst stuttering and server lag I’ve ever seen in an Xbox Live game. The good news is that the game never disconnected, but instead it jittered like a arthritic old man making a long trek to the mailbox in the winter. quite a shame since that would certainly have launched this already fun game to an amazing new stratosphere of fun.
You can also save your mission and replay it later but, really, it’s far more fun to just keep playing this arcade style gamer over and over. Besides the online glitches, the game’s only major flaw is that everything is highly patterned. Miss it the first 20 times and you’ll surely figure out ho to beat a level boss by the 21st and have likely have enjoyed every attempt.
Ikaruga is prime example of the glory ways of arcade games with seemingly impossible opponents, over-the-top explosions and constant action. If you already have this for GameCube, you probably won’t want to bother but for Xbox 360 owners, this is certainly a treat, even at $10.