I loves me some space shooters.
Foh’ real man, if a game is vertical scrolling, and involves a great deal of shooting, chances are I’ve either played it, or would very much like to play it.
Ikaruga stands as a game that is at or near the apex of quality and ingenuity for the vertical scrolling shoot ‘em up subgenre.
Developed by legendary team over at Treasure, Ikaruga is an intensely complex and difficult game, that while actually quite short, even by shoot ‘em up standards, is very difficult to complete, even for the most seasoned of veterans.
I myself have never managed to beat Ikaruga, only getting far enough to get to the first step of the final boss’ stoop.
Set somewhere amid the same mythology as the one conceived in Treasure’s earlier Radiant Silvergun, Ikaruga is one of the rare shoot ‘em ups that actually has a legitimate backstory, albeit one that is completely omitted from the actual gameplay.
Similar to many of the older generation games, Ikaruga’s storyline was told, in detail; within the game’s instruction manual, as well as in cryptic messages that would flash on-screen briefly between each of the games 5 stages.
The basic setup is that of a powerful empire discovering the power of God, only to wield it against it’s own people in an attempt to create absolute peace.
This of course leads to a rebel faction taking up arms, only to be nearly completely annihilated in the process.
One pilot though, whom the player assumes control of, crash lands in village called Ikaruga (Mottled Finch).
The old people there, living in exile from the empire grant this pilot a ship imbued with a power similar to the power of God discovered earlier, though broken down into 2 separate polarities, black and white, or Yin and Yang.
With this power at your command, you the player dash headlong into the maw of the enemy forces on a suicide mission to turn the tide of the war.
The Yin and Yang concept mentioned above serves as the very core of Ikaruga’s unique gameplay.
Basically, every enemy and bullet in Ikaruga belongs to one of the 2 polarities of black or white.
With the touch of a button, the player is able to change their ship’s polarity back and forth between black or white alignment.
When in either color state, the player’s ship becomes immune to all enemy bullets sharing it’s color.
Not only that, but purposely absorbing bullets of the same polarity slowly charges one’s special attack meter, which can be unleashed in the form of a massive homing laser attack that serves as Ikaruga’s equivalent to the classic shoot ‘em up bomb attack.
At the same time, the player also has to take into consideration the fact that enemies take twice as much damage when struck by a laser of the opposite polarity.
This leads to occasional mental overload on the part of the player due to the constant possibility to trade the security of fighting an enemy of the same polarity, in favor of potentially destroying them faster by switching to the opposite polarity.
As mentioned earlier, Ikaruga is a very short game, at only 5 stages in length, however it’s difficulty stems from the intense level of strategic thinking necessary to maneuver each stage.
A huge element of the difficulty in Ikaruga springs from the fact that, in order to played correctly, one must effectively reprogram their most basic shoot ‘em up instincts.
The one basic rule that is a constant in the vast majority of scrolling shooters, (well, except maybe Giga Wing) is that bullets are bad, and should never be touched due to the distinct potentiality that they might, I don’t know, KILL YOU.
Ikaruga takes this most basic of concepts and throws it out the 3rd story window.
I think it goes without saying, I’m not very good at Ikaruga.
The game makes no attempt to cover-up the fact that it’s a shoot ‘em up made exclusively for seasoned players of the genre with big hairy stones.
Hell, the game goes so far as to include a tiny animation for when you skim bullets with your ship, serving as a visual indicator as to exactly where the ship’s hit box is located.
Not only that, the game also grants the player special point bonuses for defeating enemies of the same polarity consecutively, as well as a particularly difficult to obtain bonus called “Dot Eater” that can only be obtained by beating a stage without shooting down a single enemy.
How is this possible?
Well, the stage bosses of Ikaruga all come with time limits attached, resulting in epic battles that can end in stalemate due to the retreat of the enemy unit.
Speaking of bosses, Ikaruga’s got some pretty neat ones.
They lack personality for sure, but from a gameplay standpoint they are expertly crafted masterpieces of the genre.
The real star of the show during the boss fights though, is of course; the music!
That being said, let’s get down to our best boss track in Ikaruga:
Stage 1 Boss Theme: Butsutekkai
Though Butsutekkai gets the gold in terms of overall energy, I honestly feel that this next track is on par with it in terms of musical quality while adopting more of a sweeping dramatic sound.
Stage 2 Boss Theme: Recapture
Anyway, those are my 2 picks for the Best Boss Music in Ikaruga.
Tune in next time!