4CR Plays Ikaruga (Android)

by Calen Henry

This month the Android version of Ikaruga was quietly released outside of Japan. As a recent convert to bullet-hell shooters, by way of CAVE’s iOS offerings, I immediately bought it for the $9 asking price. Treasure’s influential Dreamcast shooter looks excellent and is a lot of fun on Android, but definitely loses something in the transition to a touch screen.

Ikaruga plays at native resolution on my Nexus 7, and only slows down during the massive nuclear explosions after defeating a boss. It’s definitely one of the better looking bullet hell shooters I’ve played on a mobile device. The art design in CAVE’s shooters is wonderfully insane in comparison to the hard sci-fi designs of Ikaruga. But Treasure’s 3D rendered environments scale up much better than CAVE’s pixel art sprites, and have a very crisp and clean look.

Moving the ship is accomplished by tapping and dragging. It is 1:1 and interpreted as starting from wherever you set down your finger or stylus (which I recommended so you can better see the action). This control method, along with auto-fire, is employed for most vertical shooters on Android and iOS with good reason. It’s responsive, simple, and much better than a virtual D-pad, or arcade stick.

Unfortunately Ikaruga is not a simple game. Gameplay revolves around a polarity mechanic where your ship can be black or white, firing matching projectiles of the corresponding colour. While white you are immune to white bullets, dealing double damage to black enemies, and vice versa when your ship is black. Additionally your score multiplier is built up by destroying like coloured enemies in multiples of three, giving you a multiplier for every group of three you destroy without hitting the other colour.

Both of these mechanics start out simple and quickly ramp up in difficulty. It’s obvious that auto-fire is not the intended method of play, as soon into the game enemy colors start alternating, making chaining with auto-fire very difficult. With an on-screen button to change polarity it’s possible, and lots of fun to play through the levels, largely ignoring chaining, but it’s near impossible to play the game as intended; shooting short controlled bursts to build up chains and simultaneously switching polarity while dodging bullets.

I haven’t played the Dreamcast version much, but it seems that this version only gives you the core game, and strips out some of the additional modes. So bear that in mind. Additionally, the publisher G-Gee has you sign on, or skip the sign on every time you want to play. It’s not a huge deal but it is an unnecessary annoyance.

So, is Ikaruga worth getting? Maybe, it depends on your expectations. G-Gee has done as much as could be expected with the core game, given the limitations of not having any buttons. The game is quite playable and lots of fun, but the nuances of the scoring system are lost. But it’s quite expensive, and CAVE’s offerings, though less pretty, translate better to the smart phone interface and a bit less expensive.