There’s no getting around the fact that Ikaruga is immensely challenging. By default, the game gives you three lives, normal difficulty level and no – I repeat, no – continues, but if you’re just starting off, forget it. Go to the options menu, switch continues on and up the lives to five and you might just see the end of Level 2 on your third or fourth attempt. Leave the default settings, which are a necessity if you want a place on the leaderboards, until you’ve got to grips with the game and the levels.
Tricky spots are everywhere. How do you tackle the tight corridors and shifting, beam-firing blocks at the start of Level 3? How on earth can you destroy the ship that’s spitting out simultaneous black and white arcs of pure destruction? Is it really possible to defeat that boss? Always, Ikaruga seems to be asking the impossible, but eventually – or after checking out an FAQ – you’ll discover that the impossible is just about possible if you take it from a new perspective. Ikaruga is punishing, but it’s not actually unfair. Like many scrolling shooters it needs precision and a memory for waves and patterns, but even the toughest obstacles can be overcome. To help, there’s no need to play it all on one go. You can select any level you’ve already played from the game setup screen, crack it, then go back to the full game and apply what you have learnt.
But why go to all this effort? Because the experience is still as thrilling as it ever was. Built for the Dreamcast, Ikaruga is one of the most beautiful shoot-em-ups ever, benefitting from a clean, anime-influenced aesthetic and a remarkably coherent style. Background visuals and enemy design are amongst the best the genre has ever thrown up. The music and sound effects are awesome, and the eye candy provided by the set-piece boss battles and beam effects quite delicious. Play it on a big screen, whack up the volume and Ikaruga is everything that great games used to be: loud, bombastic, colourful and relentless.