The series so far: The Definitive 50 GameCube Games.
Shmups had largely faded from glory and popularity by the time of the GameCube era. Outside of Japan, the genre was nearly extinct. One true gem did manage to sneak through, however, and that was Ikaruga.
Ikaruga started in Japan as an arcade, and later, Dreamcast game. It finally made it to the west a couple years later exclusively on the GameCube.
Put simply, Ikaruga is one of the most intense games you will ever play. Its ingenious polarity mechanic adds a mighty dose of strategy to the already demanding world of shoot-em-ups.
You take on the heavy burden of freedom fighter, Shinra. He’s a fighter pilot entrusted with a powerful, but tiny, ship known as the Ikaruga. It’s his job to take on the entire Horai empire, which wields divine powers and has conquered much of the world.
The great advantage of the Ikaruga is that it can switch between black and white polarities, and thus avoid taking damage from same coloured enemy weapons, while dealing double damage to opposite colour opponents. Levels look deceptively like your shmup standard: vast quantities of enemies and their bullets streaming everywhere, with obstacles feeding you through tight corridors. Well, with polarity switching, these challenges double as an ongoing series of clever puzzles. In Ikaruga, the player must continuously and carefully decide where to move, and when to switch.
Boss battles demand special attention. Maneuvering around the great hulking mechanical nemeses, dodging streams of differently polarized bullets, while trying to hit weak spots, even dodging in and around the boss’ structure.
Ikaruga may last just five chapters, but that count is deceptively short thanks to the game’s extreme, but profoundly satisfying difficulty. Hey, Shinra’s task is a tough one, that’s the point. I wouldn’t expect a one man mission against an entire empire to be any easier.
The game boasts three difficulty settings, two player co-op, and an ammo-limiting Prototype mode that might be worth checking out for the especially self-loathing. Of course, the need for more points, spurred on by chaining kills, is also a driver for obsessive play.
Oh yeah, if you want to be really hardcore, don’t play like me with the game on its side. Instead, turn your TV sideways, and play the game the way it was meant to be, horizontally.