Japanese arcade flyer
|Genre(s)||Shoot 'em up|
|Mode(s)||Single-player, 2-player cooperative|
|Arcade system||Sega NAOMI|
Ikaruga (斑鳩?, lit. Japanese grosbeak) is a vertical manic shoot 'em up video game developed and published by Treasure. It was originally released in Japanese arcades in 2001 on the Sega NAOMI platform, and is the spiritual sequel to Radiant Silvergun. The gameplay consists primarily of a polarity mechanic. All enemies and bullets in the game are either black or white, and the player may switch between these polarities at will. Bullets which are the same color as the player are absorbed while the other will kill the player. The game features both single-player and cooperative modes.
Ikaruga was developed with a core team of only three people for over two years. All the characters and enemies in the game were named after various bird species. The game was well received by critics and is considered one of the best shoot 'em up games of all time. Ikaruga was ported to consoles first in Japan on the Dreamcast in 2002, and then worldwide on the GameCube in 2003. An enhanced port was released for the Xbox 360 in 2008 and later ported to Microsoft Windows in 2014.
Many of the ships in the game are named after bird species. Ikaruga (斑鳩), the titular ship which is controlled by player one, is named for the Japanese grosbeak. The name of player two's ship, Ginkei (銀鶏), refers to the Lady Amherst's pheasant.
Ikaruga's gameplay centers primarily around the polarity mechanic. Only bullets of an opposite polarity can kill the player. Same-color bullets are absorbed and converted into energy for the game's special weapon, a homing laser. Switching the ship's polarity also changes the color of the ship's bullets, and shooting an enemy using opposite-polarity bullets will cause double damage. Thus, much of the challenge of Ikaruga comes from careful polarity-switching, choosing between high damage and (relative) invulnerability. This is especially true when fighting bosses, as they often fire bullets of both colors in overlapping patterns. The game also presents navigational challenges where the player must maneuver through continual streams of weapons fire, using their shields to absorb one color while avoiding the others.
Skilled players may also perform combination "chains" for points. A chain occurs when three enemies of the same polarity are destroyed consecutively. The more sets of three enemies that are dispatched in a row, the more points are acquired, eventually rewarding the player with an extra chance/life. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the entirely original "bullet eater" or "dot eater" strategy, wherein the player does not shoot enemies, including bosses, which retreat after a set period.
Despite the fact that only four people are responsible for its creation, Ikaruga features full three-dimensional landscapes and a soundtrack. The home console releases also feature TATE mode - the ability to rotate the game's display by ninety degrees while the player's monitor rests on its 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 display in a normal orientation (YOKO mode), the sides of the screen are blank because the game field itself is taller than it is wide. If it is turned on its side, it can take up the whole screen and still have the same aspect ratio. An interesting feature of the arcade release, which is also included in the home formats, is the 'Trial Game' mode, where infinite lives are awarded for a single credit on the first level, but only the first two chapters of the game can be played, offering a good way to practice.
In addition, Ikaruga features a two-player simultaneous mode, an in-depth slow-motion tutorial mode, with stage tutorials 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, who did designs for Treasure's Sin and Punishment: Hoshi no Keishōsha for the Nintendo 64.
Several years prior, one of the most powerful men in the small island nation of Horai, Tenro Horai, discovered an incredible magical power deep within the ground that gave him god-like strength, the Ubusunagami Okinokai. Tenro and his followers used this power to conquer other nations in the name of peace. A rebel federation called Tenkaku emerged to challenge the Horai. They fought to free the world of Horai's conquests, but lost battle after battle. Eventually they were almost completely wiped out, except one young man survived named Shinra.:6
Shinra set off to battle Horai again, but he was shot down and crashed in a remote village called Ikaruga. The village was inhabited by people exiled due to the Horai expansion. Kazamori, the village leader, and the other inhabitants saved Shinra from the plane wreckage and nursed him back to health. After healing, Shinra stated that he was still determined to continue the battle against Horai. The villagers entrusted him with a fighter plane they had built themselves called the Ikaruga. The ship was specially designed and hid away in a secret underground location beneath the village. It was the first ship built to utilize and switch between two energy polarities, black and white.:6
Shinra shot down a rescued one of the assassins Horai sent for him, Kagari. She soon joined Shinra in the fight against the Horai. Kagari enjoyed the design of her ship, the Ginkei, and had the village of Ikaruga upgrade it to meet the same specifications as the Ikaruga fighter.:6
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 in 2004. 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. A version for Taito's NESiCAxLive arcade digital distribution system was released on August 8, 2013 which included a 3-button control mode an supported 3 different game modes (arcade, prototype, chapter select). In October 2013, Treasure placed the title on the Steam Greenlight process to bring the game (based on the Xbox 360 version) to Microsoft Windows, with hopes to bring their other titles to the platform later.
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 86%. 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. 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.
Though the official online scoreboard is now defunct, players to this day exchange high scores and game play videos in online forums. 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. Another testament to Ikaruga's enduring popularity are the model kits created by Japanese model manufacturer Kotobukiya. Three models of the Ikaruga have been released, and in September 2012, the second-player ship, Ginkei, was made available.
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