When Treasure first announced that one of their next games was going under the working title of "Project RS-2", shmup fans around the world sat up and took notice. After all, the only game Treasure ever did with the initials RS was the legendary Radiant Silvergun, considered by many to be one of the finest overhead shooters ever created. The mere thought of a sequel to Radiant Silvergun was enough to make most hardcore shooter fans salivate. To me and a lot of other people, the thought of Treasure creating a sequel to one of their games was odd (but welcome, of course), considering that Treasure was formed because the programmers were tired of creating endless sequels when they were working for Konami. Because of that, one of Treasure's policies has always been "no sequels", no matter what game it is. Apparently though, Treasure had gone back on that policy, and Radiant Silvergun 2 was going to become a reality.
As it turns out, Radiant Silvergun 2 was not to be. "Project RS-2" was completed, but instead of being the hoped for sequel, it turned out to be an all new game. This new game does borrow a lot from Radiant Silvergun, and it also borrows a concept from another classic Treasure game, Silhouette Mirage. The end result? One of the finest shooters to ever grace arcades - Ikaruga. Unfortunately, to my knowledge the arcade game never made it out of Japan. Then, in a move which made most Dreamcast-owning shmup fans ecstatic, Treasure announced that they would be porting the game directly to the system - which is in itself kind of odd, as the Dreamcast is officially considered to be a dead system. But sure enough, it arrived on the Dreamcast as promised, and even though it too was not intended for release outside of Japan, at least now it's become infinitely more accessible to the average shmup fan.
At first glance, Ikaruga does resemble a much prettier version of Radiant Silvergun. It's an overhead shooter, just like Radiant Silvergun, but aside from that there's many other things in the game that - if you're familiar with Radiant Silvergun - you're bound to notice. For example, the typefont used for the text, the opening launch of the Ikaruga fighter from its mothership, and the design of player one's Ikaruga are all very reminisicent of the earlier game. It's quite obvious that the designers had Radiant Silvergun in mind when they created Ikaruga. However, Ikaruga is definitely a different game. It's more of a twitch affair than RS was. The weapons system from RS is completely gone - instead of having numerous weapons at your disposal, you have one main gun and a special laser attack, which is very similar to the lock-on lasers from Taito's Ray games: Rayforce (aka Layer Section and Galactic Attack), Raystorm and Raycrisis: Series Termination. There is a power meter for the lasers on the screen so you can tell how much attack power you have - the more full it is, the more lasers you can fire at once. You fill up the power meter by absorbing enemy bullets, which your ship can do quite easily, depending on what color it is.
This brings us to the main play mechanic of Ikaruga. This is the concept that was borrowed from Silhouette Mirage: the ability to change colors. Just like Silhouette Mirage's main character Shyna Nera Shyna, who has the ability to switch between Silhouette and Mirage (red and blue) attributes, the Ikaruga can switch colors at the touch of a button. One side of the ship is white, and the other side is black. When you're flying in white mode, you can absorb white bullets but can be killed by black ones, and vice versa if you're in black mode. What color you are will also determine how fast it will take you to destroy the different enemy ships: for example, if you're in black mode you'll rip through white ships like they were tinfoil, but it'll take you longer to destroy black ships. The dual color feature also fits in with the chaining feature in the game, which is a concept that goes back to Radiant Silvergun - in RS, a lot of the enemies were either blue, red or yellow. By blasting enemies that were the same color, you could rack up a large amount of points. The same concept is used in Ikaruga - shooting a number of either white or black enemies in succession will cause you to rack up a nice amount of points. Being able to intelligently use the dual color feature is what will insure your survival (and your high scores) in Ikaruga. This feature can definitely make for one hectic game, as you'll constantly be asking yourself what to do during the course of a game. To quote Luke O'Sullivan: "Do I keep my ship black and continue racking up a large white enemy killing chain combo, or do I make things easier for myself by switching to the white attack mode to absorb the incoming white bullets? Playing Ikaruga becomes a matter of asking yourself such questions much of the time, and the resulting adrenaline rush generated and skill required to master playing this game make it an absorbing, exciting and unique experience."
Graphically, the game is astounding. Since Ikaruga was ported directly from the arcade game, it brought everything it had in the arcades to the Dreamcast, sacrificing nothing. To date, the best looking shooter on the Dreamcast was Giga Wing 2. Ikaruga easily steps in and takes the crown away from it. From the amount of texture and detail in the backgrounds (check out the city in level 2 for a great example of this) to the incredibly realistic boss explosions, Ikaruga just oozes quality. The frame rate is nice and smooth as well. There is some noticeable slowdown when a boss is exploding (the same thing happened in Radiant Silvergun as well), but that doesn't last very long. The control is also spot-on... the Ikaruga is extremely responsive to your commands. The music is quite impressive as well, almost on a par with Radiant Silvergun's. Treasure did include a sound test, although it's only accessible if you either beat the easy mode without continuing or your play time is over 15 hours. Speaking of options, the entire menu is in English. In that respect, Ikaruga is extremely import-friendly.
Here's the downside - the game is tough. Between the sheer amount of bullets of both colors flying at you and the parts of the game that must be memorized to get through them, you'll be using up the three continues you start with very quickly. It's not tough to the point of being completely insane - there is a decent learning curve - but it will test your patience most of the time. The good news is that you can gain more credits the longer you play the game and the higher the score you rack up. Thanks to the save feature, you can keep them too, so you don't have to worry about losing them when you turn off the power.
The big question, of course, is should you go out and get this game? Yes. Absolutely yes. If you liked Radiant Silvergun or you love a good shooter, then definitely find a way to get this game - if you're like me, then it will become one of the crown jewels of your Dreamcast collection. For those of you that want to play Ikaruga but don't have a Dreamcast, take heart - Infogrames has released the game for the Nintendo GameCube in the U.S., and it's just as good as the Dreamcast version.