Note...this was originally intended to be a dual review, with both Vince and myself taking different views. However, Vince's review was destroyed. What you see here is my take alone. Time willing, Vince will add his impressions as an addendum.
Ikaruga. We’ve waited so long…and treasure has finally delivered. The first true sequel under the Treasure name. But you knew all of this, so allow me to tell you something you may not expect; I like this game more than Radiant Silvergun. By many that game is considered Treasure’s masterpiece, the best shooter ever, perhaps even the Saturn’s finest title. For my taste none of those statements are true. I was never the biggest Silvergun fan. Give me Darius Gaiden, give me Mars Matrix, or to delve into the deepest parts of my shooter’s heart; Soldier Blade or Gate of Thunder. Yes, I’m a straight-ahead shooter guy. I like games where the object is not to chain, but to blow things up and to not get blown up yourself. ‘Twitch gaming’ as it’s sometimes called. Radiant Silvergun was about deciding which enemies to hit when and with what. Ikaruga is about shoot, move, shoot, move, switch, move, shoot. Or should I say it can be about that.
The gameplay has been simplified; there’s not much you can do. You can shoot, you can switch colors, you can bomb. If you’re the same color as the bullets shot at you, you absorb them, if not you die. If you’re the opposite color of your enemy, you deal twice the damage. The chaining essentially consists of making sure you hit enemies of one color in groups of three. Gather enough enemy shots, and you can release a homing bomb. That’s as much strategy as you need to employ. So what’s left? Lots of people loved those aspects of Radiant Silvergun. Well…think of this as a different game. Ikaruga is a straight ahead shooter. The simple elements I just described are woven together in such a way that I feel like I’m figuring out a puzzle in a platformer. The java game that was circulating a while back…that gives you a good idea of the type of puzzles you’re up against. Dots and lines of white and black travel across the field in simple - yet complex patterns, walls close around you, enemies explode in an array of yellow and orange. The screen becomes a jagged tapestry, with you the weaver.
The graphics do feel like Radiant Silvergun 2. It almost seems as though you’re playing a 2D game, given the level of detail and care put into the ship models. The second level boss is particularly beautiful. And the explosions are gorgeous…extremely nice. The number of frames is very high for the fire effects. This is not the prettiest 3D shooter I’ve ever seen, but it’s very high up there.
The music is nice and unobtrusive. It’s nothing groundbreaking, nor it is classic shooter fare (what’s classic shooter music? The first stage of Thunder Force V is shooter music). I’m sure I diverge from Vince when I say that I prefer the score of Ikaruga to that of Radiant Silvergun, which I actively disliked. Sound…not much to say. It’s polished and professional, but nothing new by any stretch.
The bottom line is this: look at your shooter lineage before you purchase this game. Do you want a thinking-man’s shooter? Was Radiant Silvergun your be-all end-all shooter-of-shooters (hyphenate-hyphenate!)? If that’s the case, I can guarantee you some measure of disappointment. You may end up enjoying the game, but you’ll need to look at it a different way. Pretend Psikyo made it.
Or; are you like me? Do you long for a return to the days when PC Engine was king? Don’t get me wrong…this isn’t simply a ‘blow $#!+ up’ game. You do have to think, but not with your head. You think with your thumbs - use body memory to invoke Dodonpachi. It’s true – if you want to chain, you’ll have to know when to shoot what. There’s an aspect of memorization to it. This is likely the way Treasure wants you to play. But they don’t make you play that way if you don’t want to, as Radiant Silvergun did. When I play, the game is action-reaction based. This is a game of feeling and rhythm. Not like Rez, like VibRibbon. You know what you have to do…you can see it. But you can’t think. You have to ACT.
I’ve always preferred Treasure’s platform games. I like them for Silhouette Mirage, Gunstar Heroes, and games like these. So think of that while reading the following: Ikaruga is my favorite Treasure shooter thus far. I’ve probably already played Ikaruga more than I have Radiant Silvergun, and I’ve owned RS for nearly four years. It’s a hard game…but worth the effort. For the unlockable secrets, for the excellent character art, for the Treasure legacy, buy this game. Buy it before some jerk tries to sell it to you for $90 on ebay. No, it’s not my favorite shooter. But I got my money’s worth. It doesn’t matter really…you’re going to buy this anyway. Aren’t you?