There are very few shooters that can bring a smile to a shooter fan's face quite like Ikaruga can - which brings me to my quandry. What can I say about Ikaruga that hasn't already been said a hundred times before. It's easily one of the greatest shooters ever made. And trust me, it won't take you long to figure out why that is. Ikaruga creates one of the most playable shooter experiences ever crafted and forces you to not only be quick and agile, but also smart as well. As good as its pseudo-prequel Radiant Silvergun is, Ikaruga still manages to step things up a few notches and presents some unique improvements over its predecessor.
While there's still plenty of 'shoot first and ask questions later' style gameplay strung throughout the game, Ikaruga adds a unique element called "polarity" to the mix to stir things up a bit. There are two types of enemies and enemy fire in the game - Dark and Light. It's usually quite easy to tell the difference between the two and it's this unique element that makes the game so difficult to master. Your ship also has these two polarities as well, and when your ship is of the same polarity as the enemy fire, it will absorb these enemy bullets and convert them into energy that can be used for a special attack.
As this energy builds, it will fill up your Homing Missile guage which will allow you to let loose a special attack using these specific missiles. How many missiles that fire off depends on how full your gauge is at the time the attack is executed. The downside to this polarity scheme is that if your ship is hit with a bullet of the opposite polarity, it will explode and you'll lose one of your ships. You can switch polarity on the fly with a quick press of a button and you'll have to learn how to do this early and often if you're to have any chance of surviving for very long in this game.
The play control in Ikaruga is spot on perfect. Your ship is extremely responsive to even the slightest movement, and the hit detection is also very well done in the way a bullet or enemy has to hit the actual cockpit of your ship in order to destroy it. This will allow you to easily maneuver around enemies and their bullets with great ease. Trust me, you'll find this grazing movement very handy going up against some of the relentless attacks of the various bosses in the game.
While there are only five levels in the game, the difficulty is so high you'll spend many hours trying to get through them. It's been said that playing Ikaruga is a bit like standing with your arms down at your side while someone repeatedly punches you in the face. While that might be a bit harsh, it goes to show you how difficult the game truly is. The good news is that while it is extremely difficult, it's difficult in a very playable way that just takes a lot of practice in order to master. There's absolutely nothing cheap about Ikaruga.
The visuals in Ikaruga are breathtaking, to say the least. The 3-D polygonal visuals are superb and show just how talented the Treasure development team is. With all of the gorgeous backdrops and dizzying rotation, there's enough eye candy in this game to last you a lifetime. Even the particle effects are stunning, not to mention the enormous bosses you'll go up against. About the only complaint that could be leveled against the beautiful visuals in the game is the fact that you won't have a lot of time to sit back and admire the scenery. In all honesty, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more visually impressive shooter on the Gamecube console.
As if the responsive play control and gorgeous visuals weren't enough, Treasure still managed to find time to create a wonderful musical score for the game as well. While most of the music is synthesized, it's executed so well that it comes off with more of an orchestrated sound to it. The game even features a really cool, although rather difficult to understand, robotic voice that will announce combo chains and other specific events that are taking place in each level. It's a small touch, but a very nifty one nonetheless. As outstanding as the soundtrack in Radiant Silvergun was, Ikaruga's soundtrack definitely gives it a serious run for its money.
When it's all said and done, there's really nothing more to say except that if you're a shooter fan, you absolutely must own at least one version of this masterpiece. There aren't many shooters on the planet that can stand toe to toe with the mighty Ikaruga and even at the $80+ the Gamecube version of the game sells for on many auction sites nowadays, it's still more than worth the price of admission. One word of advice, though. If you're going to succeed at Ikaruga, you'd better bring your "A" game for this one or you'll get your butt handed to you on a silver platter. Of course, that's what ultimately makes the game so much fun to play. It's very easy to pick up and play, but nearly impossible to master. Just ask anyone that's played it and actually lived to tell about it.