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Retro Reflection: Ikaruga – travel sickness pills at the ready!

So it’s been a little while since my last blog. Following Kristen Stewart’s relationship status and whereabouts takes up a lot of my time. But I’ve also been suffering from endless frustration and brain-meltingly awful bouts of nausea. In fact, not bouts, but more like marathons; nausea marathons.

And what is at the heart of this? Only one of the best 2D shooters ever. Ikaruga.

It’s taken me a long time to get around to playing Ikaruga. A lot of things have got in the way of me playing this game, the primary reason being fear. I first saw the GameCube version as a work experience kid at Nintendo Magazine in 2003 and it looked terrifying. I couldn’t even make out what was happening on screen and the staff member playing didn’t survive long at all. I’ve never been particularly good at 2D shooters. I’m the person that hasn’t managed to beat the mini Galaga game at the start of Ridge Racer, so I’ve steered clear of Ikaruga. Until now – well, two years ago actually.

In a fit of boredom, I opted to buy the Dreamcast version of Ikaruga. Evidently, I had much more money then as new copies were around £110. I purchased a used version at the bargain bucket price of £50, with an additional 40 odd quid going on the disc that would actually let me play the Japanese import. Similar to Rez, it was another of my “investments”. Clearly, investing in made-up markets and imaginary money hasn’t worked, so buying a rare game makes loads of sense… doesn’t it?!?!

Anyway, I was right to cower in fear for all those years. This game is an introduction to masochism – I can’t even get past the first few levels and I’m not sure I want to. It’s a bit like hitting the town – you’re enjoying yourself, but there are sometimes those moments where you know continuing with the evening’s frivolities is not going to be the best decision you’ve ever made, but somehow you tell yourself it will be worth it. It’s the same with Ikaruga. There’s a strange enjoyment from the suffering it inflicts. After completing a level, and having mopped up the pool of sweat around you, you stupidly opt to continue the terror.

After an evening of Ikaruga, I could handle weeks of being confined in a small space with Dappy, while being forced to admit he is a musical genius and general lovely human being… innit.

The core mechanic of Ikaruga revolves around switching your ship to different polarities. Let’s just say colours though. Your ship can be either black or white – except in this case, it does matter if you’re black or white. When black, Ikaruga (your ship) can absorb energy and damage from black enemy fire, but this mode also deals more damage to the white enemies. The opposite is true when your ship is white. Sounds simple enough. And it is, for a couple of chapters.

Nothing quite prepared me for the hail of black and white bullets (too easy!) that would overload my screen and my sense of balance. Ikaruga puts you on the back foot at every opportunity. You may destroy a few enemies and be feeling pretty darn good, but it won’t be long before you forget about shooting the enemy and simply (!) concentrating on avoiding enemy fire and staying alive.

It’s these moments that seems to make me all cross-eyed and feeling more wobbly than the boob physics in Dead or Alive.

Even though I’m feeling positively sick, those moments are the best parts of Ikaruga. It forces you to concentrate in a way that other games don’t. The concentration goes more into planning and practice. To be good at this game requires patience and replaying the levels a lot – the game offers a practice mode with unlimited lives, allowing you to memorise enemy placements and movement. It’s the sort of game you must be persistent with to get further than chapter 3 (or is that just me?). If you can’t handle seeing the game over screen regularly, then you should probably stick with Angry Birds or something.

To get a sense of the madness that is Ikaruga, watch this video:


Other than the game having an obvious fascination with the pop sensation that is “Liberty X”, the moments after 2:18 are incredible. Watching YouTube was the only way I’d see this chapter, but the level design and sheer improbability that this player actually survived at certain moments is mind blowing. I can’t even keep up and I’m not playing, but I’m beginning to think it makes a good spectator sport.

This is one of my shorter articles. Partly because I can’t get very far with the game so as to discuss it properly, but also because I was hooked straight away. Yes, I was hooked on the same three chapters, but that just reveals the quality of this game. And my total lack of skill.

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