5MA – Ikaruga (2002, Dreamcast/X360)

This 5MA is a touch over a month overdue, but still bears articulating. Here’s a gameplay video (not mine!)

Playing Dreamcast Ikaruga for the first time on a 90-degree rotated telly, slightly drunk in a highly-competitive setting and BAM! BAM! BAM! getting it (mostly) right was a great experience. Vertical shooters are an arcade/oldschool staple and I’m always up for trying another one. As I recall I spent half the game giving a running commentary to friends who already knew about how-damn-cool the central mechanic is.

For the similarly-uninitiated Ikaruga is a world of black and white. What initially looks like unnavigable bullet-hell is an astonishingly clever mental/reaction challenge. Your foes are black or white and fire projectiles of the same hue. Your ship is vulnerable to the opposite colour and absorbs bullets which match its own; the press of a button inverts that colour allowing you to absorb the oppositely-coloured projectiles even as it makes you vulnerable to those which formerly assisted you.

I was only vaguely aware of the name before. Hell, I spent most of the day calling it “Ikagarooga”! Gameplay feels seat-of-your-pants dangerous, yet redolent with opportunity. Swap ship colour now to absorb some bullets in the hope that you’ll be quick enough to swap back to avoid the slower oppositely-coloured projectile headed your way? The ability to make such split-second decisions defines your performance and is reflected in your score.

Backgrounds are dynamic 3D in contrast to the simple 2D of battle. Levels are conceived of as “Chapters” with thin Rez-like strands of onscreen plot-lite holding them together.


Speaking as someone who enjoys vertical shooters but doesn’t particularly seek them out, I have to say that this one blew my mind. More than Xevious did with its *plink-plink*  indestructible panels and two planes of combat, more than SWIV with its Silkworm-repurposed differently-capable players, more than Warning Forever with its sequential, adaptive Boss fights.

Highly recommended, with one sole caveat in that whilst it is available via XBox LIVE you do have to contend with a portrait-shape-on-widescreen image. Also, having played the trial version both sober and drunk I find that I’ve never performed as well at the game as I did under Beginners’ Luck, but maybe that’s just me.

Some… say I have no direction, that I’m a light-speed distraction, that’s a knee-jerk reaction.


6 Comments Add yours

  1. acidbearboy says:

    You didn’t mention the music, which is as good as the graphics and the mechanics. I feel like there was some sort of option to rotate you screen but not your controls, so that you could maximise your screen usage and play it horizontally. Dreamcast VGA output was the shiznit back in the day, playing Ikaruga and Psyvariar 2 with an arcade stick in hi-res with my old pc monitor on its side. Happy Days!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stevenger says:

      Yeah, I didn’t really get a sense of the music what with the general hubbub, furious concentration and Da22 shouting advice. Horizontal mode sounds like a clever idea, wouldn’t mind seeing that as a standard option on scrolling shmups.


  2. acidbearboy says:

    I didn’t realise this post was based on the retro day playthrough. Have you got it on x360?


  3. stevenger says:

    Nah, didn’t in the end after a couple of goes on the demo and not doing half as well at it. Waiting for a sale or to get good again! First level’s music didn’t jump out at me then either though (I was mostly too busy swearing).


  4. Da22 says:

    Class game and xbox live sale, no excuse not to buy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stevenger says:

      Grabbed it dirt-cheap, still stuck on level 2. Apparently in good company per Retrolechuck.

      Liked by 1 person

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