Ikaruga - Treasure - ESP

Treasure/ESP - Dreamcast (jp only) - 2002

Reviewed by Rodrigo Girão

"I don't die not to live. I don't yield if my wish is not fulfilled. I never die with regrets." The mighty Dreamcast also lived and died under this oath, and, even near the end, it was blessed with one more among many masterpieces - a truly special game, one of the best shmups ever.

Ikaruga, the "spiritual sequel" to Radiant Silvergun, is an unusual game. It is not colorful or upbeat like most shmups; instead, it looks, sounds, and plays like a shmupping epic war drama. Solemn, oppressive, overwhelming at times. Expected anxiously by Dreamcast fans and shmuppers everywhere, this was seen then as the final blast for Sega's little white box that could.

Its original version was a NAOMI-powered arcade, with a vertical screen. There are three ways to play the Dreamcast port: with black borders on the sides (a bit like Truxton on the Mega Drive), as a side-scrolling shmup, or with the TV turned to the side, for a pixel-perfect arcade experience. Which reminds me, it is time for the...


I never had any problem, and this is the best way to play. Still, according to some people, flipping your TV may damage it. There, you have been warned, so, in case things go wrong, do not expect me to give you a dime. Now, on with the review.

GRAPHICS - 10 of 10

Ikaruga is probably the best-looking shmup of all time. Even Psikyo's excellent Zero Gunner 2 is no match to it. Everything in this game is polygonal, designed with amazing attention to details; the sceneries are fantastic, the players' ships are as beautiful as StarFox's arwings, and the reward for defeating the bosses is to witness the most awesome explosions ever seen on a videogame.

SOUND - 10 of 10

The beautiful pseudo-orchestral music (actually synthesized, not that anyone will notice a difference) fills the stages with dramatic power, and the sound effects are subtle and pleasant - although the robot-like voices are a bit hard to understand.

STORY - 9 of 10

Very good, especially taking in account that shmups are not known for plot depth...

The small nation of Hourai has unearthed an artifact of unknown origin and nearly unlimited power. They called it "the power of God". With it, they have started a military campaign to take over the whole world. A resistance group called Tenkaku tried to fight back, but their struggle was useless. All of them were annihilated.

All except one young soldier called Shinra.

He somehow managed to escape and crash land by a remote village called Ikaruga. The people there helped him, and he rested to heal his wounds. Along came Kagari, a Hourai mercenary who was defeated by Shinra but had her life spared, and decided to change sides on this war.

They could just hide for the rest of their lives, but they would not. Shinra still had a mission to accomplish. Kagari wanted redemption from her dark past. They would fight for freedom, no matter what the cost might be.

Kagari still had her ship, the Ginkei. But what was Shinra to fly? The village elders had the answer; they gave him a new ship, their best - and last - weapon. Just like the village, it was called Ikaruga.

CONTROL - 8 of 10

The directional is very responsive, and buttons are fully customizable. The only gripe is the lack of analog stick support (yes, the exact same flaw as Zero Gunner 2), but that is no big deal, actually. The digital pad is better for this kind of game, anyway.

GAMEPLAY - 10 of 10

A little ship blasting its way through waves of enemies and bullets, that is what people expect from any shmup. But never expect Treasure to do something that has already been done a thousand times; they always seem to add some magical spice to whatever genre in which they work. Hence, the polarity system.

All enemies are of either "black" or "white" polarity, and players can switch their ships' polarities any time. Everyone fires according to the polarity. Being the same polarity as an enemy means being able to absorb its attacks to charge the special attack. Being the opposite means delivering double damage, but being vulnerable. The enemy fire patterns quickly grow complex, so dodging is impossible, and polarities are the only way to survive.

Too complex? Well, that is just the "easy" level. On "normal", destroying an enemy with equal polarity makes it release "suicide bullets", which makes polarity switching more dangerous. On "hard", every enemy releases them, so even experienced shmuppers will have a hard time. Of course, the jam is even more intense with two simultaneous players.

And there is also the chain system. A group of three enemies of equal polarity is a "chain"; blast chain after chain, and score big points. Chaining is fun and challenging, even if not necessary for beating the game.

Finally, the power-ups... or, more precisely, the complete lack of them! This game has only a regular, non-upgradeable shot, and the special attack mentioned above. This is, surprisingly, a very nice touch, as this one weapon is adequate for all levels.


This is a mature, challenging and amazingly well-designed game, with fast action, loads of fun, and a lot of replay value. It is not merely on par with classics like Taito's Gunlock and Yumekobo's Blazing Star, it even surpasses them with ease; Ikaruga has set a new standard for shmupping.




The Ikaruga are gone...

Although they are persecuted,
they stand up and fight.
They have a firm will to live.






As your will is firm,
you shall suffer many trials.
It goes without saying that you can
avoid and escape from the trial.

But the true meaning of trial
is to overcome all your weaknesses.




There is nothing absolute in
this world, so you may be
at loss when you encounter

You must have faith, an insight,
and some power of action
to overcome the impasse.






Reality has come in sight.

What did you seek for?
What did you see?
What did you hear?
What did you think?
What did you do?




Before long by one's destiny,
the will shall be returned and
awaken the memory of origin.

This is what drives the Ikaruga...



Ikaruga also had a Gamecube port, published in USA and Europe by Atari/Infogrames. I had no chance to play it, but I have read that it looks and plays just the same, and different modes have been added. On the other hand, texts were removed rather than translated (isn't that stupid?), and some people have reported occasional glitches.


Interestingly, this was not the last Dreamcast game; G.Rev (which was also involved in the making of Ikaruga), a team of former Taito employees, later ported their arcade side-scrolling shmup, Border Down. Also, the "homebrew" scene is alive and kicking, with new ports, original games, emulators, and even whole operating systems.




shmups!   © 1997 - 2007  Malcolm Laurie