I’d seen a few shots & reviews of Ikaruga before, right back to when I owned an ill-fated Dreamcast, but I never really thought it was for me. A hard-core, vertically scrolling shoot-em-up - surely I’d outgrown those when I stopped regularly feeding 10ps into my local arcade machines? Surely there’s very little I hadn’t seen from this kind of game over the years - I understood about the white/black switching thing but I figured it was just a gimmick. I was wrong.
I downloaded the demo on XBLA a few days ago but hadn’t gotten around to firing it up - I happened to have a spare 30 minutes or so though so I decided to try it, fully expecting to be fairly underwhelmed and perhaps get it off the hard drive sharpish. Ho boy, that wasn’t going to happen - I was gripped right from the first 5 minutes. The white / black switching and lack of powerups makes it an incredibly tactical game, and at first the very task of switching off your twitch response to try to avoid all bullets flying around the screen, and just avoid the ones that can hurt you (those of the opposite colour) is enough to focus your attention utterly. There’s simply so much going on the screen it takes serious concentration to filter out the irrelevant (bullets of the same colour) from the relevant - it’s not that it’s hard to do so, the colour schemes are well planned so that it’s always very easy to differentiate dangerous from non-dangerous - it’s that you have to find a way to meld your subconscious reflexes with higher level decision-making in order to succeed. It’s certainly one of the more white-knuckled experiences I’ve had in a while. I played through the first demo chapter multiple times, enjoying every second of it even when I was getting my ass handed to me.
Despite being a re-release of an old game, all the graphics have been re-done in HD of course and look rather spiffing. You still have the option of turning your widescreen TV on its side and playing vertically like that, although my TV doesn’t have that ability without resorting to dangerous bodging. At first the slot-view seems a little restrictive but the game is so demanding of your attention that you soon don’t notice any more.
The inclusion of a 2-player co-op mode sealed the deal for me, so Ikaruga has joined the illustrious ranks of the XBLA games I’ve purchased, alongside recent acquisitions Rez HD and N+. Curse you 360, you always seem to pull more great games out of your hat when I already have more than I can cope with. 😀