The huge bars on each side of the screen might put you off, but don’t let them. You’ll soon forget all about them – along with the world outside – and if you’re really keen you can rotate your screen physically by 90 degrees and set up the game’s display to match. Meanwhile, remember that size isn’t all important. Ikaruga may not be huge, but you can easily sink more time into its five levels than you would into today’s average FPS, and it’s addictive enough that you’ll want to. The whole polarity thing also makes it a natural for two-player co-op action, so thank goodness Treasure made it a feature.
Despite all this praise, I’ll admit that the game has got a weakness. It’s so demanding and asks you to be so precise in your timing and execution that you never quite get the zen-like feeling of mastery that you may achieve in other scrolling shooters. You’re always thinking, always optimising your play and trying to work out the next bit, and because of this there’s not quite as much ‘flow’ as there is in other, even lesser titles. Even on its easiest settings, Ikaruga is about dedication and continual self-improvement – concepts that sit well with the philosophical underpinnings promoted by the in-game title screens, but concepts that might not sit so well with every gamer. To get anywhere on the harder settings you’ll need godlike gaming skills and an unbreakable will to succeed.
That said, every red-blooded gamer owes it to themselves to give this game a try. Where most scrolling shooters get by on the warm fuzz of retro nostalgia, there’s something hard-edged and modern about Ikaruga that practically demands your respect. You might like it, you might not, but given the low asking price you should find out – and soon.
The last of the legendary scrolling shooters is an Xbox Live Arcade must. The emphasis on precision over seat-of-the-pants style might not be to everyone’s taste, but Ikaruga is one of the genre’s very best.