Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Ikaruga (Treasure)

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Ikaruga is shrouded in praise and wonder from those in the critical and shmup communities, but if you were to just pick it up and play you wouldn’t really see what all the fuss is about.  First off, it’s pretty freaking hard and absolutely impossible if you don’t understand the special gameplay mechanics.  Second of all, like so many other shmups, it started life in Japanese arcades so unless you’re lucky enough to get the US Gamecube version you will need to figure out how the game is played before you embark.  I don’t know about you, but most of the gamers I know tend to not do critical things like read instruction manuals before playing.  This is a big mistake with Ikaruga.

This game is the spiritual successor to Treasure’s Radiant Silvergun in that it borrows the ideas of color connection and polar opposites as its main gameplay style choice.  The plot is basically irrelevant, but you are fighting forces in a specialized jet fighter known as the Ikaruga.  Polarity, or opposites if you will, are the main objective in the game – you need to figure out how best to handle the light (white) and dark (black) polarities in enemies to plan your strategy.  Your ship is capable of swapping polarities at any time under your control with the same polarity granting you invulnerability and the opposite polarity dealing dual damage.  It’s a balance between a heavy offense or an unbreakable defense and trying to decide which is most important.  Mind you, even though you are invulnerable to bullets of the same polarity, you are not invulnerable to the collision of ships so destroying them should be a high priority.  Unlike other danmaku (bullet hell) shmups, you will be weaving in and out of enemy fighters just as much as bullets.  In addition, the invincibility option also puts you in situations where it’s not possible to dodge all the bullets.  In other danmaku shmups it will always be possible, no matter how tight or specific, to dodge the bullets if you know the pattern.

Naturally, this makes the game hardcore to the bone, especially when you consider that bosses shoot bullets of both polarities so you will be weaving bullets of a certain color while trying to disregard the others.  It sounds complicated and the action in the moment can be absolutely frantic, but despite the tension this is what makes the game so addicting and fun.  Even more impressive is that it was created with only three members to the development team at Treasure, resulting in some outsourcing to then small development team G.rev and a nearly two-year development time.  For an arcade shmup, two years is an incredibly long period of time, but the result is a full-featured intelligent shmup with gorgeous rotating backgrounds and a compelling soundtrack.  Many critics have praised this title as one of the best, if not the best, shmup to ever release and to think that only three people created it is even more astounding.  Although a decent arcade release in 2001, the subsequent console ports are what generated the more impressive sales.  While the game predominantly existed in Japan, there are  a few ways to get your hands on this solid title.


While it surprisingly has no version compatible with the Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii owners can easily get their hands on Ikaruga.  Originally the game was ported to Dreamcast in 2002 with a small print run of 50,000 and sold out quickly.  Although nowhere near as high value as the US version of Magical Chase, this little Dreamcast shmup is of the most valuable shmups in my collection.  The Dreamcast version is a direct port, which means it squeezes the vertical raster effects onto a standard definition screen so with the $75+ price tag it fetches may not be the best option these days.  I must admit that on my old school 38″ RCA VGA picture tube television along with a Dreamcast VGA box, the game looks stunning.  For the more practical gamer you can pick up the Wii-compatible US Gamecube version, which I’m fairly certain is just another arcade port, for roughly $30-$40 online and cheaper if you can find it locally.  While it’s a bit rare for a Gamecube game, it isn’t all that popular and with GameStop clearancing out Gamecube you can probably find a solid deal.  Finally the easiest way to get your hands on it is as a digital download on Xbox Live Arcade for 800 MS points ($10).  This direct port offers online co-op, leaderboards, importing and sharing of playthroughs (an awesome feature for watching the pros) and both a vertical and horizontal viewing mode.  I will admit that the horizontal mode turns the game on its side and makes it difficult to play properly, but then I’ve been playing this game vertically for years.  Either way, it’s so easy to pick up and play you really should appreciate what could quite possibly be the pinnacle of Japanese shmups.

Written by Fred Rojas

March 15, 2012 at 12:00 pm

One Response

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  1. The horizontal mode is so that you can turn your TV on it’s side and let the game use the whole screen instead of just the middle section.


    October 2, 2013 at 12:24 pm

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