Ikaruga (Xbox LIVE Arcade)ESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Treasure Video Games
Publisher: Treasure Video Games/Microsoft
1-2 players (online included)
HDTV - 720p
One of the most revered shooter games in history was created by one of the most legendary groups of developers of its day. This talented bunch was initially responsible for the Konami’s classic series Contra and most of the sequels that followed it. Years later, for whatever reason, they decided to pack up and strike out on their own and the development house Treasure was born. Soon after its birth Treasure released the absolutely brilliant Radiant Silvergun for the Sega Saturn. This game is so good it still commands over 200 bucks on the open market. Some years later Treasure came out with a shooter on Nintendo’s Gamecube. It was a pretty similar game, but it lacked a bit of the Silvergun flair. That game was Ikaruga. As with Radiant Silvergun it is still a tough find for the GCN, but fans of the game can rejoice as the game has surfaced on the Xbox LIVE Arcade line-up looking as good as ever. I remember it being an extremely challenging title but along with the difficulty it was every bit of fun and well worth the effort. I was very excited to delve deeper into the game and see what changes, good or bad, it has to offer.
For 2D shooter fans Ikaruga is an amazing example of what a top tier dev-team can accomplish. I was surprised at how good the game still looks today as Ikaruga came out in the Japanese arcades in 2001 and then on the Gamecube and Dreamcast a couple of years later. Most fans were looking for a Radiant Silvergun sequeal and Ikaruga delivered.
Treasure has updated the visuals to look slicker than ever. The two-dimensional top-down combat is accentuated by impressive 3D backgrounds. You can fly over sweeping cityscapes, see swarms of enemies arranged to destroy you, and spot space stations hovering in the distance. Huge boss battles are the norm with unbelievable clarity and depth. The graphics have definitely been stepped up from the Dreamcast and Gamecube presentations as the game is now in 720p making the visuals brighter and the rendering much cleaner. I must admit the attention to detail in the previous releases was impressive, but the visuals in the Xbox 360 XBLA version make it the most spectacular version to date.
I found a couple of hiccups in the framerate and some very minor clipping, mostly in the multiplayer online modes. Other wise the game moves with an incredible fluidity and grace and no gamer should be disappointed.
The other thing that hasn't changed in this Xbox LIVE Arcade version is the game's audio. The game's Director and BGM Composer Hiroshi Iuchi wrote and composed one of the most beautiful and memorable soundtracks ever found in a shooter. Also unchanged are the robust explosions heard whenever anything is destroyed, whether it be an enemy ship, a boss, or even yourself. When the game originally launched it was hailed for its magnificent explosions which were awesome enough to feel like a fair reward for beating each boss, and the sound each enemy makes when it's blown into oblivion is just as satisfying as ever. The only thing that could have made the sound any better would be to hear it in digital surround sound, and that's exactly what the team at Treasure did by including support for a 5.1 Dolby Digital channel audio system.
Ikaruga looks like a pretty standard top down shooter from the outside with five levels (covering 18 stages) of ever increasing enemies and virtual tapestries of enemy fire. The twist is that you are able to change the color of your ship and its bullets between black and white. You can absorb enemy bullets of the same color or hit enemies of the opposite color harder. To rack up the high scores you have to keep playing those opposites and hit a bunch of the same-colored enemies to keep a chain going all the while making sure you keep yourself alive. You could stay with one color and play that way, but that won't keep you in the game too long, since most of the levels have sections where you are required to switch colors often just to survive. The logistics are definitely tough to wrap your head around, but with some practice it becomes easier to look, find and dodge enemy fire throughout. This is a daunting task to say the least though as the game’s default difficulty is already extremely tough. With very limited lives and no continues you’ll be starting over quite often. The game can be configured to be easier, adding lives and continues but it takes away the ability to stat track and post scores. So practice will make perfect.
Without a doubt the XBLA version of Ikaruga is the best home version of the game. Most of the Gamecube and Sega Dreamcast version's features are here, minus the extra skill-honing modes like Practice and Conquest. The practice mode is going to be sorely missed, and it seems like a weird choose to exclude it. On the plus side Ikaruga now features online multiplayer and it also lets you submit or download replays from anyone on the leader boards. This could be a good tool for learning how to play better or just be entertained by some of the world's super gamers. I found playing with someone online definitely added lag during our games, but this can be the case with any online game. The lag issues fortunately don’t glitch the game to the point that is beyond playable but you may experience a minor delay of control. With the game’s hectic nature a delay means instant death if you are not able to compensate in the treacherous hail of gunfire. Rest assured though that despite this hiccup the online mode is still a blast. Two brains may not be better than one, but it will most certainly help here. One other item on the negative side is the occasional framerate drop. The framerate slowdown occurs most notably after defeating particularly large bosses. It’s not a big deal, but it’s a carryover from the older versions and I find it strange that this has not been corrected. Gamers can also tackle Ikaruga in a two-player system link.
One of the cool modes that I enjoyed from previous versions is also included in this iteration. Callled the TATE mode from the original release, it allows you to flip your TV on its side and play the game in its native arcade screen size (make sure your TV supports it!). It flips the game not the actual TV, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone to flip his/her TV. Another new addition to this port is the ability to save your replays, which is an awsome feature for anyone trying to show off things they thought not possible.
In my opinion Ikaruga is clearly one of the best values in the Xbox LIVE Arcade. For 800 MS points you can experience one of the greatest shooters of all time for a fraction of the original game’s cost. Ikaruga is extremely deep yet simple in its style of play. The mastery of it gamplay is the catch here and the road is long one. I can’t think of any other game that represents the shooter genre so well, except maybe Radiant Silvergun but thats a whole other monster made by the same development team. If you on the fence about buying this game play the trial I can almost guarantee you will want to buy the full version.