August 10, 2018
Dreamcast20 #18: Ikaruga
I am a huge fan of scrolling shoot-em-up games, in which the player controls a little spaceship shooting at a relentless swarm of enemy spaceships. I say this despite being absolutely terrible at playing them; once they get more frenzied than Galaga or Dragon Spirit (which swapped spaceships out for dragons), I am floundering. That aside, one of my absolute favourites is Ikaruga: an innovative shoot-em-up for arcades and the Dreamcast produced by the Japanese developer Treasure.
Ikaruga is essentially a standard 'bullet hell' game; one where the approaching spaceships or enemies are seemingly endless and frantic. It's the sort of game that seems impossible to play unless one can get into 'the zone', and just cruise their way through the constant hailstorm of bullets. It offers one major innovation beyond the traditional shooter, but it's a really good one.
You can switch the polarity of your ship: you may be black, trying to dodge little white bullets, but you can change the colour of your ship to white and that makes you immune to the white bullets. Of course once you do that, you are no longer immune to black bullets - unless you switch back again. This 'back-and-forth' mechanic makes Ikaruga a wonderfully frustrating classic.
Ikaruga was a difficult game to track down and play outside of Japan, but it did receive a modest Western release. It was also subsequently remade for the Gamecube, and even later as a downloadable release for the PS4, PC, and Nintendo Switch. There's a reason it keeps getting revived: it's utterly brilliant.