08th Jun2018

‘Ikaruga’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Britt Roberts


Originally released in Japanese arcades in 2001, Ikaruga is often seen as developer Treasure’s greatest achievement. Over the years it’s been ported to several home consoles and the newest port to the Switch in 2018 shows that in seventeen years, Ikaruga has lost none of its charm or challenge.

A vertical shooter, Ikaruga has an extra layer thrown in via its ‘polarity’ swapping mode which hugely affects game play. Your ship (piloted by Shinra) can flip between black and white modes at the push of a button, this means that the shield surrounding the ship also changes and can absorb enemy fire from the matching attack colour; your ship can only be destroyed by the alternate colour, or by colliding with an enemy. Make no mistake, Ikaruga is HARD. I’ve played other bullet-hell shooters and sometimes, unless you have the specific twitch-tastic skillset, they can feel overwhelming, but what Ikaruga does is focus more on rhythm and patterns slightly more than pure speed which makes the game slightly more approachable and easier to play. Not only feeling satisfying as you make more progress but also giving it that crucial ‘one more go’ factor that these games need (still tougher than a frozen leather sandwich, don’t get me wrong).

The graphics in the game feel like they haven’t missed a beat, it’s a solid high-speed frame rate regardless of however hectic the on screen action is and in the parts of the game where the ship dives into a huge fortress, for example, still remain an awesome sight even after almost two decades. Accompanying the sumptuous visuals and silky-smooth game play is a driving sound track that keeps the energy up as you play.
As is par for the course in these sorts of games, naturally there are end of level screen-filling (and trouser-filling)boss fights that can result in some pretty tense palm-sweating battles as you deftly dodge waves of bullets whilst flipping between polarities. Some sections of the levels become almost puzzle-like as they make great use of this polarity-flipping factor.

Making use of the Switch design, the developer has built-in the ability to flip the screen to play as was originally intended, whilst slightly awkward due to the HUD not rotating with it, it’s still a nice touch that players can make use of. Ikaruga also has a two player mode which can get MANIC, especially on later levels when the challenge really ramps up.

Treasure have included some options to make the journey slightly smoother in the difficulty department including the ability to continue from the most recently unlocked stage, as opposed to playing through from the start each time, you can also add some continues to help you out. There is also a ‘Prototype mode’ which gives you limited bullets (I can’t even imagine how hard this would be) and the chance to up the difficulty even more, if you dare…which I didn’t, quite frankly.

Combine all of the above with an online leader board and you have the setting for one of the most celebrated arcade shooters of all time from one of the most revered developers at their peak. There are downsides, the game is relatively short at five stages and the screen rotation can be cumbersome in regards to the HUD, but these are quite minor in a game that gets so much right. It’s tough, but my word is it a hell of a ride.

Right, I’m off to one-life it whilst blindfolded.


Comments are closed.