Treasure is a belovéd Japanese gaming company that has produced many a memorable game from Gunstar Heroes on the Sega MegaDrive, to Guardian Heroes and Radiant Silvergun on the Sega Saturn, to the wonderful Yuke! Yuke! Troublemakers (Mischief Makers in the West) and Sin & Punishment on the Nintendo 64. In 2001, the team returned with the highly acclaimed Ikaruga on the Sega DreamCast – and now, thanks to Infogrames' newly acquired Atari brand name, the high-octane vertical space shoot-em up has come in for landing on the Nintendo GameCube.
Upon delicately sliding the tiny plastic casing out of its cool sleeve, then gently opening up the equally small manual to find out what the basis premise of the game was, I (of course) met with the completely indecipherable (to me at least) Japanese symbols that were emblazoned all over the many pages. As far as I can fathom, though, it appears to be a pseudo-sequel to Radiant Silvergun. By this I mean, despite seemingly being in a similar vein (heck, it even retains the working title of RS-2 on the intro screen!), there are actually enough differences to place Ikaruga is the elusive 'unique' category. The world is populated by 'Dark' and 'Light' forces, both of which appear to be hostile. Luckily, your craft is equipped with dark and light shield variations – but only one can be utilised at any one time. Thus the fun (and anguish) begins…
The vultures have been circling this game since before it was actually released on the GameCube. Many took one look at the pre-release, static screenshots and gasped at how much like the DreamCast they looked. This is an unfair judgement, because once you sit down with this game, you will undoubtedly be bowled over. The amount of action going on at once on-screen is absolutely amazing – and the effects of the laser fire and explosions will leave your head spinning. Treasure has truly become the meistro at producing high-quality 2½D graphics – and this game is indeed no exception. The general speed that your craft and the enemies around you go at is remarkable as you zoom upwards with 3D backgrounds swirling below you, and the 2D smaller enemies blasting balls of black and white energy in your direction. Things get frantic very soon, and just when you think you can rest, along comes a large-scale end-of-level boss, in full 3D glory, ready to show you what sort of power the GameCube can throw around (at your expense yet again most likely!).
Are you looking for the true arcade experience? Well look no further than Ikaruga. What you have is soft music that eases you into the level of play and then all of a sudden, along with the influx of opponents, a heavy beats kick in. But this will actually fade into the background rather quickly due to the fact that you will be concentrating on the oncoming hoards of enemies so much that nothing else around you will even register in your brain. This is a pity, because if you sit back and really listen, you’ll find that the music fits into the game perfectly. But, thankfully, at least the sound effects stand out, and significantly add to the exhilarating experience. The typical *pyoo* of your regular laser, the *hummm* of space-craft engines and the *ka-booms* from massive chain-explosions rattle you and will get your pulse going faster than you would think was healthy! To top this all off, though, is the piéce de resistance – the wonderfully cool robotic voice, which churns out the odd English phrase in its electronic monotone. An excellent touch to round of an excellent package…
You’d better keep the doctor on speed-dial…
…because if you’re not careful, you may end up getting far too over-excited playing this game. I wouldn’t say this was the sort of game where you’d sit for hours and hours on end playing it – but it is the type of game that you will not be able to resist playing in short bursts every single day. The game strips the usual extravagant features of most space shoot-em ups and leaves you with the basics, so those expecting the exploits of Gradius, with its multiple weapon upgrades, may be somewhat disappointed. But what is on offer here is gaming in its purity – just a normal shot and a super shot that builds up during play.
Despite this simplicity, matters are not as simple as you may think as your ship has two modes: dark and light, which can be switched between at the touch of a button. When in the former mode, your ship will be able to fire off black laser shots and will have defence capabilities allowing absorption of black enemy fire – whilst it is a case of vice-versa when in the latter setting. This is where the simple-yet-complex twist makes an appearance, since if you hit a white enemy with black fire then it will take double the damage, but if you get hit by opposing-coloured fire then you’re history after about one hit. On the other hand, when in black mode you can absorb hits from the same colour craft, resulting in your super shot bar, at the side of the screen, building up – leading to a highly-charged homing-missile suddenly being at-hand…something that you will need on several occasions!
Unfortunately, though, unless you are either Mr (or Ms!) Gaming Supreme, or simply one of the luckiest people alive, you will die frequently - and then once more it will be "Game Over: We’ll meet again someday soon…" This can lead to frustration, but after all, you can only get better the more you play! Hehe...
Whilst there are only five levels, it is not what you think, as the chances of you polishing off this game in a few hours are very slim to say the least. First of all the five 'chapters' are sectioned into smaller areas, so in total there are eighteen sub-areas. But you'll be lucky if you manage to get past the third chapter on the easiest mode!. Yes, this game is definitely as hard as the rumours have suggested. It will have you pulling your hair out in places. Apart from the difficulty (I'd like to shake hands with the person who can complete the game on the third difficulty level, 'Hard' - unless his palms were too sweaty, that is...), you can choose from a wealth of options – from the already mentioned three difficulty levels to the amount of lives you start with and how many points you need to garner before receiving an extra chance at being victorious. Also there are two challenge modes (one is unlockable), practice and tutorial sections, a conquest mode where the player must overcome each section within a time limit, four appendices to uncover and a two-player co-operative mode. This, along with the world-wide chart system that can be accessed via the Internet so you can enter codes gained from the game to compare yourself with other owners, means that you won’t tire of Ikaruga for a long, long time.
Superb, in almost every way. The simplicity of the controls and the whole game premise result in a title that you will be hard-pressed to put down!
Treasure mould 2D and 3D in such a way that you wonder why other companies don’t use this 2.5D style more often.
Although good, the in-game music fades into the background due to the fast-paced, adrenaline-filled nature of the gameplay.
Despite there only being five levels, the difficulty settings and the extra features more than help make this game last a long time.
Fans of Treasure’s other games and titles such as Axelay on the SNES will definitely fall in love with this game within seconds. As for the mass-market, there is no reason why people won’t enjoy Ikaruga – after all, it does provide far more of a thrill than GTA: Vice City...