- "I will not die until I achieve something. Even though the ideal is high, I never give in. Therefore, I never die with regrets..."
- ―Text from the beginning of Ideal
Ikaruga (斑鳩, lit. Japanese Grosbeak) is a vertical shoot 'em up pubished and developed by Treasure. It was released in arcades in 2001 on the Sega NAOMI, then in 2002 it was released on the Dreamcast in Japan and worldwide on the GameCube in 2003, and was released on Xbox Live Arcade in April of 2008. It is a spiritual sequel to another vertical shoot 'em up game made by Treasure, Radiant Silvergun.
The gameplay consists of shooting two types of enemies that come in two colors, White/Blue and Black/Red. The player's ship is able to be either color or polarity and can switch at will. Ikaruga is known as a fine example of the "Bullet Hell" genre.
Ikaruga's gameplay centers around the polarity mechanic. Only bullets of the opposite polarity can destroy the player ship. Same polarity bullets can be absorbed by the player's ship and be converted into energy for the ship special weapon, a homing beam launcher. Switching the ship's polarity changes the color of the ship's bullets and enemies of the opposite polarity with suffer double the damage with your bullets if hit with them. Thus, much of the challenge of Ikaruga comes from careful polarity switching, having to choose between high damage to the enemies or (relative) invulnerability. This becomes esspecially true during boss fights as they fire bullets of the two polaritys in overlapping pattens. The game also presents navigational challenges where the player is forced to fly through a continuing stream of weapon fire where the player can absorb one color and avoid the other.
Skilled players may also perform combination "Chains" for points. A chain happens when the player destroys three enemies of the same polarity consecutively. The more sets of chains the player performs, the more points are acquired, eventually rewarding the player with an extra life. On the opposite of the spectrum is the "Bullet Eater" or "Dot Eater" strategy, where the player simply doesn't shoot enemies, including bosses, which will retreat after a set amount of time. Players are rewarded with the rank "Dot Eater" if it is done, as well as an achievement in the Xbox Arcade version. Despite the fact that only four people are responsible for it's creation, Ikaruga features full three-dimensional landscapes and a soundtrack by Hiroshi Iuchi. The home console releases also include TATE Mode - the ability to rotate the game's display by ninety degrees while the player's monitor rests on it's left side, for full screen arcade size. This same mode can be used without rotating the monitor by configuring the controls, in essence changing the game from a vertical scrolling shooter to a horizontal one. When the game is played with the normal orientation (YOKO Mode), the sides are blank because the game field itself is taller than it is wide. If it is turned to it's side, it takes of up the whole screen and still has the same aspect ratio. An interesting feature of the arcade release, which is also included with the home console releases, is the "Trial Game" mode, where infinite lives are awarded for a single credit on the first level, but only the first two chapters are playable, offering a way to practice.
In addition, the game features a two-player simultaneous mode, an in-depth slow-motion tutorial mode, with stage tutorial becoming accessible to players who reach them in the main game, and an in-game art gallery featuring character and mechanical designs by Yasushi Suzuki.
Many years ago on the island nation of Horai, leader of the nation, Tenro Horai, discovered the Ubusunagami Okinokai (lit. The Power of The Gods). This energy emanated from an object she dug up from deep underground granted her unimaginable powers. Soon after, Tenro and her followers, who call themselves "The Divine Ones", began conquering nations one after another. "The Divine Ones" carried out these conquests in "The name of peace".
Meanwhile, a freedom federation known as The Tenkaku emerged to challenge Horai. Using fighter planes called Hitekkai, they fought with the hope of freeing the world from the Horai's grips, but their efforts were in vain, as they were no match to The Horai and were almost completely wiped out. Miraculously, however, one young man survived the battle. His name is Shinra (森羅).
Shot down near a remote village called Ikaruga, inhabited by elderly people who were exiled by the Horai's conquests, Shinra was dragged from the wreckage and was nursed back to health. Shinra pledged to defeat the Horai, and the villagers entrusted him with a fighter plane designed by former engineering genius Amanai with the help of Kazamori and the village leader, called The Ikaruga.
Hidden in a secret underground bunker and launched via the transportation device called "The Sword of Acala", Ikaruga is the first fighter to be built with both energy polarities, and is capable of successfully switching between the two.
In the two-player game, Shinra is accompanied by Kagari (篝), a mercenary of the Horai defeated by Shinra. After Shinra spared her life, she decided to fight against Horai along side the resistance. Her ship, The Ginkei, was modified by the people of Ikaruga to give it the ability to switch between the two polarities, like the Ikaruga.
Development and release
Ikaruga was developed by a core team of only three people at Treasure Co. Ltd led by lead game designer, BG graphic designer and music composer Hiroshi Iuchi, along with programmer Atsutomo Nakagawa, and illustrator and character/object designer, Yasushi Suzuki. G.rev, then an upstart company attempting to raise funds to develop Border Down, provided several supporting team members on a contract basis. Development was long by arcade shooter standards, with over two years spent in development.
Ikaruga was the first game for which Treasure released an official Superplay video, the Ikaruga Appreciate DVD, before Konami released the Gradius V "Options" and "Perfect" DVDs. The print run for the Dreamcast version was a very limited 50,000 copies, distributed only in Japan. For this reason, the Dreamcast version is considered rare and fetches high prices on internet auctions.
An Xbox Live Arcade version was released on April 9, 2008, and included online multiplayer co-op, leaderboards, and two screen modes (horizontal/pillarboxed and vertical) supported.
Reception and legacy
Although it garnered modest sales, it is among the most successful and recognized arcade shooter ports of the 2000s. GameRankings places the average review score for Ikaruga at 85%. Metacritic gives the Gamecube version a metascore of 85/100.
On release, Weekly Famitsu magazine scored the Dreamcast version of Ikaruga a 36 out of 40, and in its first week (2002/9/2–8) the game sold about 18,596 units to debut 5th on the magazine's "Top 30". The following week it dropped off the chart. In its first week (2003/1/13–19), the Gamecube version of Ikaruga debuted at number 20. It sold about 6,916 units. By the next week, it dropped off the chart.
Though the official online scoreboard is now defunct, players to this day exchange high scores and game play videos in online forums.
ScrewAttack voted Ikaruga the 2nd greatest 2D shooter of all time, while IGN voted it the 3rd greatest. ScrewAttack also declared it #9 on Top Ten GameCube Games, along with Gametrailers rating it #5 on Top Ten Most Difficult Games.
Ikaruga was used in Trial Mode as a competition between two 2-player teams for the Final Round of the Omegathon at PAX East 2011.
The game is litered with symbolism, such as the title, as it's the name of a town with several Buddhist temples. Another example of this is the name of each stage in the game, which are named after the stages of enlightenment in Buddhism and represent a man's struggle towards enlightenment, with the Ikaruga representing the human soul.