Monday, May 28

Review: Ikaruga [Nintendo Switch eShop]


The shoot-em-up (shmup) / bullet-hell shooter genre is a tough one to evaluate when it comes to scoring. Overall, it’s a pretty niche genre for a reason, and that’s because the tougher you make it the more its fans are pleased but the less accessible it then becomes. Probably more than any other game in the genre I’ve played on the Switch Ikaruga is the poster child for this fact. It’s absolutely a shmup fan dream, providing surprisingly involved and complex gameplay, but that also makes me question whether more mainstream gamers will be able to enjoy it much.


In Ikaruga you’ll take command of a ship that you’ll try to fly through waves of enemies of varying shapes and sizes, trying to evade their fire. While this describes pretty well every shmup in existence one critical difference is that there will be ships can be either white or black. Depending on which they are they’ll fire different colored beams and bullets at you. Where the complexity comes in is that you’re able to change the color / polarity of your ship as well, between white and black. Quickly you’ll discover that which color you are will dictate first what you’ll have to dodge, since enemy fire that matches your polarity won’t harm you. In addition, any enemy craft you hit with your firepower that doesn’t match their polarity will do double the damage.


The final piece of the puzzle involving switching of polarities is that your combo multiplier for scoring only continues to increase as long as you keep destroying ships of the same color, so chasing high scores to the fullest can actually mean trying to selectively destroy what the game throws at you. To say this all drastically alters the way you play the game would be an understatement. The aforementioned would be tough enough but across the game’s 5 levels the level of difficulty ramps up significantly with every new stage. While the first is pretty standard, with a lot of enemies, it’s also generally in open areas. From the second stage on you’ll find yourself trying to deal with both enemy fighters and environmental complications of various kinds as well. Expect to be thrown into the meat grinder, asked to avoid the walls in narrow spaces all while trying to additionally manage your polarity to avoid being destroyed. It gets intense.


To attempt to make things a little bit more accessible you do have some options at least. While Easy difficulty is certainly only a relative term you can go into settings and give yourself unlimited continues if you really want to see everything, just expect to die quite a lot. In terms of visuals note that this is a vertically-oriented shooter so you’ll either have bars on the sides or you can opt to rotate the screen if you have something to prop your system up and experience it the way it was truly meant to be. The ability to play with a friend is nice but given the utter chaos on the screen every second under normal conditions calling coop more insane would be an understatement.


There’s almost as high a degree of memorization to Ikaruga as skill as you can only improvise your way through challenges like this so much. True success will only come from having familiarity with where to go, what to do, and then almost a degree of muscle memory to help you perform ballet between bullets flying everywhere. If you’ve been looking for a game that’s somewhat light on total content but that compensates with a demand for approaching perfection Ikaruga is as tough as they come. But, if you were hoping for something a bit more light and fun you can absolutely pass, this is a game that revels in its brutality.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • Through and through a shmup made for genre fans and fanatics
  • The polarity system is simultaneously brilliant and insane
  • Allowing for ultimate continues at least opens the door to people seeing everything the game has to offer

Cons:
  • While a vertical TATE mode is supported by rotating the screen in docked mode only about half of your screen will likely be on the action
  • This is absolutely not an experience for casual gamers, there’s no avoiding that this is a punishing experience
  • Post-game synching with online leaderboards is pretty time-consuming overall