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Game Review #155: Ikaruga (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: Chad M.

Developer: Treasure

Publisher: Nicalis, Inc.

Category: Action, Arcade

Release Date: 05.29.2018

Price (at time of review): $14.99

Buy Ikaruga from the Nintendo eShop here.

Switch Is Bringing The Shooters

There seems to be a huge resurgence of shoot ‘em ups—also known as SHMUPS. This a genre has a large following, sometimes even cult-like, depending on the game or series in question. All the classics seem to be making their way over slowly but surely. One of the sub-genres inside the SHMUPS genre is called bullet hell games. You can’t talk about bullet hell without someone mentioning Ikaruga, so it’s only right that this all-time great makes its way over to the Switch—but it wasn’t overnight that this happened.

Ikaruga is the spiritual sequel to Radiant Silvergun (1998), and was developed by the studio Treasure. Treasure is a Japanese video game developer based out of Tokyo, founded by Masato Maegawa in 1992, with the company being made up of former Konami employees. They went on the have a handful of critical successes, with one being Ikaruga. It was originally released to Japanese arcades in 2001. In 2002 Ikaruga was ported to the Dreamcast in Japan, where it grew a cult following of gamers importing it worldwide.

It was later released in the West in 2003 on the GameCube, receiving positive reviews. Critics praised the graphics as well as the art and sound design. This is where I first played Ikaruga, and my god it was so difficult—It wasn’t until I was older that I finally started to enjoy the SHMUPS genre. Well, it has finally made its way to Nintendo Switch by way of the good people at Nicalis. Does it hold up after all these years, and is it worth your money? Let’s dive into it.

A Shoot ‘Em Up Like No Other

Masato Maegawa was a programmer at Konami before he left to form Treasure. This all came about because he had been rejected when he tried to get the concept for Gunstar Heroes approved but Konami rejected the idea. He became frustrated by Konami’s reliance on focusing on IPs that were already established with sequels. This is when Maegawa decided to leave and form Treasure. What came from him leaving was Ikaruga amongst other classics.

The first thing you notice while playing Ikaruga is that the gameplay is like nothing you’ve seen before in the bullet hell genre. At the time of its release it was breaking boundaries and innovative, though some hardcore fans knocked it for being such a departure from normal shooters. They toyed with the idea of bullet absorption to replenish ammo, but instead landed on the idea of a ship that can flip between two polarities, black and white. This is the games key gameplay mechanic and what makes it different, as it is the foundation for enemy and stage design.

Work It Out - Audio & Visuals

The controls are simplistic in design, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy by any means. You only have normal movement with the left stick, and then a button to shoot and a button to switch back and forth between black and white. Also simple is how to avoid damage, if you’re white then the white bullets won’t hurt you, as you’ll just absorb them, and vice-versa when turning black. Now that that’s out of the way, it is hard as hell, as you’ll be constantly switching back and forth and moving all over the screen like a mad man, dodging ships that are trying to kamikaze you and structures all over that you can smash into.

Of course, you can just turn on free-to-play and beat the entire game in about 30 or 40 minutes, which is fun to see it all in its entirety, but that’s not where the game shines. It shines when you play it as intended and work hard to get as far as you can, getting better and further each time you play. This will be a game I don’t think I could ever in a hundred lifetimes beat with only three lives—even on easy mode—so for me, this is a game to always have and play from time to time, getting better and just enjoying the brilliant stage design and puzzles. There are a couple different modes, like level select and local multiplayer co-op, but as nice as they were, it was just all gravy on top, as the core game—and the added option of free-to-play if I wanted to see the ending—were all I needed.

The soundtrack for the game is perfect in old SHMUPS-fashion with a high-paced energy throughout. The visuals for the game at the time of its original release were considered high-quality and well-crafted. Even after all these years the game still is gorgeous to me, though it of course will seem dated to some, but it didn’t bother me at all. This is a SHMUP that begs to be played in vertical mode*, which the Switch does support.

*Extra Tidbit - This does support the FlipGrip. I used it and it worked brilliantly.

It’s A Wrap!!!

So writing this from my viewpoint, one of someone who is only marginally decent at SHMUPS but has a newfound love for them, with all the classics making a resurgence I can see how this was criticized for being hard, as it is hard as hell. If I didn’t know better, I would say no one can beat it with three lives, but those maniacs do exist in our world. Now I may never be one to be that good at Ikaruga, but I’ll still enjoy it for years to come, as I play it many times over trying to beat my last score and get that much further into the game.

Score: 9/10

Buy Ikaruga from the Nintendo eShop here.

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*Review Code Provided by Nicalis

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