I’m not a hardcore shooter fan, but I decided to give Ikaruga a shot because I was bored and it was cheap. I don’t have much of a basis for comparison, having never really played many top-down shooters, but I can say that Ikaruga is addictive and wicked hard. I simply do not have enough skill or fast enough reflexes to master the game. I would say, however, that if you like top-down shooters a lot, this would be a good game for you.
Ikaruga, like many shooters, is not about the plot. There’s some sort of backstory about Shinra, a pilot on some sort of revenge mission—well, you know how it is. The plot is not a reason to play this game. The game mechanics, on the other hand, are simple and engaging. You pilot a ship that can switch between two colors: light (blue) and dark (red) at the push of a button. Another button fires your guns, and a third can be used to unleash devastating homing-laser attacks, provided you have sufficient energy built up. When your ship is in light mode, it can absorb light bullets and will be destroyed by dark ones. When the ship is in dark mode, the opposite is true. By storing up the energy from bullets of the same color, you can unleash homing lasers to wreak havoc on enemy forces.
Graphically, the game is quite nice. Since so much relies on the player’s ability to distinguish light from dark, the backgrounds are generally dark and industrial-looking to offset the bright colors of the bullets. The enemy fighters and especially the bosses are varied and interesting-looking. Particle effects are nicely done as well, but can cause occasional slowdown (especially when you defeat the bosses). One complaint I have is that the game menus and occasional text in game are so small they are impossible to read. I feel like I’m missing out on something.
The music and sound effects are pleasing enough. Nothing particularly exciting, but they fit the mood of the game well and doesn’t distract, which is important when you’re trying to weave through webs of light and dark bullets without exploding. The sound effects are what you would expect. The bosses are announced by indecipherable robotic-sounding babble that may mean something, but if so, you can’t really tell—kind of the like text in the game.
This is definitely one of the hardest games I have ever played. It starts out pretty simply, but the learning curve is such that by the second level, unless you have super reflexes and concentration, you will die a lot. The game consists of five levels, which may seem short, until you realize exactly how long it takes to master each level. This game is all about timing, and it can take several runs before you get things right. Also, there are three difficulty settings, so once you beat the game once you can go back and try it on a harder mode. The replay value of this game is increased by the fact that you can have a second player.
As I said before, this game is really hard, and I would not recommend it to anyone who is not a big fan of shooters. It is not a game you can play while carrying on a conversation with anyone. It requires complete and utter devotion and will probably leave you with a headache. It is also addictive and gives a sense of extreme satisfaction when you clear an area you could not before. Definitely worth experiencing at least once.