Ikaruga, developed by Treasure and now available on Xbox Live Arcade, is a member of the top-down vertical shooter genre. The game play upon first glance is fairly simple in concept; you fly a little plane with hordes of bullets and bad guys coming at you. The bad guys shoot black or white bullets, while your ship can change between black and white (“changing polarity”). You absorb the bullets of whatever color you currently are (black absorbs black, for example) and die by getting hit with the opposite color. Similarly, you do more damage to enemies by hitting them with their opposite color (although unlike your ship, they still take some damage if you hit them with the same color). As far is learning curbs go, the game play is easy to understand.
Storyline wise, top-down shooters are not exactly renowned for their plots, and Ikaruga is no exception. In this case, it’s a standard “one man swears revenge against an evil empire” story. I’ll be upfront with you in that you won’t be playing this game for the storyline or the character development. There are some “ying-yang” elements, which make a lot of sense considering the core game play. If anything, this actually makes the plot a bit more palatable, as it brings attention back to the unique element of switching polarity, which keeps you from dying. The lack of a good plot is the main flaw which I found in this game, which is more reflective of the genre as a whole rather than just this case.
From an overall presentation standpoint, the game itself looks and sounds as one may expect on a current-gen console. Vibrant colors, smooth animation, the overall presentation is well done. That said, you won’t find any high definition cut scenes or anything like that, which is a good thing because you’ll be too busy dying. The sound for the game serves its purpose; it draws you into the frantic game play. You almost notice it as an afterthought, which is good in this case as you need to concentrate on not dying. Once you stop and listen to it, you’ll find that the overall score is very fitting. The sound effects are like any top-down shooter; PEW PEW LAZORS AND TEH EXPLOSIONS. Hard to mess those up, especially when people are dying.