9th Apr 2008 | 11:00
When it comes to vertical shooters, we're pretty easy to please. All it needs are a few giant bosses, an insane number of bullets and a difficulty curve that goes from easy to insultingly MENTAL in half a level.
The good news is that Ikaruga has all that. This is the stuff we're all about; An alien-looking ship thingy that resembles nothing you've ever seen in real life appears and, no questions asked, unloads a BA-ZILLION bullets in your direction and in the direction you were about to move into. He wants you dead, by the way.
But, for those of you who've never been fortunate enough to have played Ikaruga before, it has so much more than your ordinary crazy shooter.
Ikaruga's special twist revolves around swapping your ship's colour from white to black. Every enemy and every bullet in the game is either white or black, too. Let us explain why this matters (get your brain in gear for this).
Part is about immunity - you cannot be killed by bullets of the same colour. On the contrary, you absorb bullets of the same colour, and those bullets charge up to give you a handy burst of lasers. Hold on though - it gets deeper.
When you're black you shoot black bullets, and vice versa. Shooting enemies of the opposite colour does more damage, which temps you away from the safe tactic of being the same colour as the majority enemy for immunity benefits.
Then there are chains. Shooting three enemies of the same colour consecutively counts as one chain. Continue shooting enemies in batches of three (you can swap from white chains to black chains freely, so long as their in sets of three), and your chains link together, sending your score sky high. This, in turn, earns you those much-needed extra lives.
All of this comes together to make Ikaruga one of the most unique, challenging and mentally taxing shooters (or, dare we say, videogames) in existence.
Most shooters simply have you dodging bullets frantically, but Ikaruga with bend your mental matter as you try to keep up with swapping your colour at the right time. Each time you hit the colour swap button, 'dangerous' and 'safe' does a 180 and you struggle to compute that in your mind. It's almost like a rhythm-action game in places as you pump the black and white button in time with the enemy's attacks.
Treasure's level design exploits this fact with cunning cruelty - bosses fill the screens with swarms of black, then white bullets. Gun turrets shoot bullets in patterned waves, forming insane, mind-breaking (but beautiful - as the videos below show) patterns on your screen.
And now it's all in 720p it looks even better. If you have an LCD TV you can flip that bad boy on its side and, in the options screen, flip the gameplay sideways so you get full-screen up-scrolling action (known in the shooter scene as TATE mode). That's how the purists play (and us).
But that's not the only perk of the 360 version. In addition to the expected achievement objectives, two-player via Xbox Live enhances the multiplayer aspect of the game, and online leaderboards mean you will actually bother trying to master the chain system (unlike before, when staying alive was all you cared about).
Ikaruga is one of our favourite no-messing shooters of all time, so its arrival on XBLA has put big smiles on our faces. With just five chapters it's quite short, but we challenge you (new-to-the-game players, of course) to get through all five levels on normal in your first week of play. Not happening.
Its brutal difficulty will separate the men from the boys, we assure you. See how insane it is for yourself with the videos below - then check out this ego-destroying video of some nutter controlling TWO ships on his own... without dying a single time. Not even once. Bastard.