Fun Fact: I love shoot em up games or as their known nowadays shmups. I have always felt this feeling of joy and adrenaline whenever I jump into a game like Raiden or Blazing Lazers and start blasting away drone fighters and big boss ships with lazers, missles and barriers galore! So I decided to do some research on what some of the best shmups out there are and I came across a little game called “Ikaruga”. Now I have not played this game before and only seen footage of it on Youtube. What I’ve seen…one impressive and difficult shooter!

Story: Believe it or not there actually is a story to Ikaruga albeit it is a brief and simple one. On the island of Horai the nations leader, named Tenro Horai, discovered the power of the gods. The energy from this object gave her unimaginable power and her along with her followers known as “The Divine Ones” began to conquer every nation they could find in the name of “peace”.  While “The Divine Ones” attack a freedom fighter force known as “Tekaku” is put together to try and take down the invaders but their efforts are shot down. One man ,named Shinra, survived the attack and landed in a remote village known as Ikaruga. The villagers nursed him back to health and entrusted him with their very own fighter plane also named Ikaruga. This ship was designed like no other because of its ability to switch between white and black polarity energy. With the ship in his possession Shinra is launched from the “Sword of Acala” and this is where the game begins. The story serves no purpose to the actual game but its interesting to see that there is one here. It gives the ship more depth and gives the player a sense of purpose.

Gameplay: Again I have not played this game but I’ve seen enough videos to know that its simple and at the same time complex. You fly the Ikaruga blasting enemies that fly at you but with a slight twist. To gain the highest score you have to chain 3 of the same color enemy together. Enemies will either be white or black so you can either chain 3 whites then 3 blacks or vice versa. If you shoot a white ship then a black on the chain is broken. Enemies will also fire off white bullets which you can absorb while your ship is white and vice versa for black bullets. This may seem easy at first but it can be a major challenge to not only keep a chain combo going but also continuously absorbing bullets. There’s also a meter that fills up as you absorb bullets. Once this bar maxes out you can fire off a volley of missiles that one hit kill your enemies or you can launch them off whenever you feel in danger for a quick save. As previously stated the gameplay is simple and complex and for good reason. Chaining combos of enemies together while also surviving an onslaught of bullets can be a difficult thing to master but it can be done. Ive seen more amazing play-throughs where the player survives all the way to the end without a single death! From what Ive seen the game-play is solid and fun which is the perfect mix for any game.

Graphics: Ikaruga was released on 3 different systems: The Dreamcast, Gamecube, and Xboxlive Arcade. As such with every system update the graphics are better by just a bit. For the time of its release on the Dreamcast the graphics were pretty impressive. The Gamecube did a great job emulating those graphics and enhancing them for the system. Hands down though the 360 has the best graphics out of all versions simply because its a more advanced system and it has higher graphical qualities. The point I’m trying to make is whether its on Dreamcast, Gamecube or Xbox 360 Ikaruga has some spectacular visuals.

Music: I cant tell you how many times Ive listened to the Ikaruga soundtrack on its own but here’s what I can tell you about it: It is good! Every level has a different vibe and emotion that the music transmits. For instance Stage 1 pumps you up and prepares you for the first onslaught, While Stage 2 calms down a bit so you can work better with the environments. The boss theme for the first stage is one of the coolest boss battle themes Ive heard and was even used for the nightmare hard game I Wanna Be The Guy. In short the soundtrack to Ikaruga is exceptionally composed and if you can find it I highly recommend giving it a listen.

Fun Facts: I honestly flat out love this game even though I haven’t played it yet and Ill probably love it more once I finally get my hands on it. So this next segment is going to be about the little facts I found while watching those videos. First off the name itself “Ikaruga” is actually the name of the bird “Japanese Grosbeak” as well as the 2nd player ship “Ginkei”. Interesting to note with that is that both birds have some shade of black or white on them, much like the ships being able to switch between black and white polarities and that Ginkei looks more birdlike. While the black and white polarity is a core focus I noticed that it has a connection with Yin and Yang in the sense that while their opposing forces they balance each other out. Theres also an enemy ship that is literally half a part of the yin-yang symbol and when the two come together the connection comes together. Theres also some interesting ties to Buddhism in this shmup and more then I expected to find. First off the titles of each chapter “Ideal” “Trial” “Faith” “Reality” and Metempsychosis” are a representation of the struggle man faces on the path of enlightenment. If thats the case then the aura enveloping Ikaruga could be a representation of the human soul. The Stone-Like at the end of the game is a bit more complex and has its roots in Vajrayana Buddhism and in all honesty all I could find was a story where a man tossed a stone at both a dog and a lion. While the dog tries to bite and chase the stone, allowing the man to throw another stone, The lion questions where it came form and who threw it and as such goes to the source of the stone being thrown. Now Im just speculating here but maybe the final battle with the Stone-Like could be seen as the lion confronting the man who tossed the stones at him.

Overall: This game looks great and fun to play and I hope that I get to play it sometime soon. Frantic but solid gameplay, slick graphics, amazing music and a unique polarity system for a shmup. I highly recommend adding this game to your collection if your a fan of this kind of genre