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斑鳩

Game Type: Top-view 3D shooter with 2D gameplay.
Hardware: Arcade, Dreamcast, and soon, Gamecube.
Developer: Treasure
Publisher: ESP
Director and Composer: Hiroshi Iuchi
Character Design: Yasushi Suzuki
Release Date: 9/5/2002 (Arcade: 12/20/2001)

Story: (Roughly translated from the manual)

Hourai was once a small nation at the end of mainland Japan. The country had a reputation for peace and democracy but now, this nation calls itself "Jintsuusha", the Prophets, the Avenue for God. They have gained "the power of God" and begun to conquer other nations through military force.

This incident was caused by the "Ubusubagami Ouki no Kai", The Rock of God's Radiance, which a woman named Hourai Tenrou dug from the ground several years ago. Hourai was able to perform miracles after she discovered the Ubusubagami Oukinokai.

An organization called "Tenkaku", Heaven's Square, a group of freedom fighters, went to battle with Hourai. The Tenkaku used a fighter called the "Hitekkai", Flying Iron. The Tenkaku were quickly annihilated.

However, a young man named Shinra survived. He went to fight against Hourai again, and was shot down.

He landed in the village of Ikaruga, where an elderly man named Kazemori helped him. Shinra recovered from his injuries and vowed to fight against Hourai again. Kazemori entrusted the fighter "Ikaruga", the Spotted Dove to Shinra for his fight against Hourai.


Gameplay

One side of your ship is black and one is white. You can change colors almost instantly and at will. Your ship maintains a force field of its color which absorbs all incoming bullets/beams of that color and store the energy. While changing, there is a crucial moment when you have no shields.

The Ikaruga craft contains two weapons: its main guns and its Power Release system. The main guns change between black and white with your ship. Enemies come in these two colors as well. There are pros and cons to fighting an enemy as the same or as a different color. If you use the same color, you are immune to their bullets, can absorb their shots to release later, and when they die they release more bullets to absorb, but enemies can take a long time to die and will fill the screen with bullets so you may have trouble switching colors. If you switch to the opposite color, enemies die faster, don't have time to fire as many bullets, and won't release extra bullets when they die. Because of this, it may take quite a while to fill up the meter for the Power Release system.

When you start playing it is easiest to stay one color and dodge as much as possible, but when you know the enemies you will face, it will be better to switch colors as necessary.

Points are scored per enemy as well as bonuses for "combo-ing" enemies (killing same colored enemies in groups of three), similar to Radiant Silvergun. Bonus points are given per group of three enemies as well as at the end of each level for your longest chain. Playing for these points requires fast switching since some enemies are on screen very briefly and must be killed with the opposite color.

The game has no power-ups and your guns don't seem to become more powerful with the number of points you gain. What you see is what you get. Luckily, you are reasonably maneuverable.


Levels: (Roughly translated from the offical website)

01 - Ideal:

At the time of the test flight, the flying craft seemed unstable but looked like a good match in combat. The existence of Ikaruga's flying craft would soon end the fear of the people of Hourai, and strike a hard blow against the unruly new emperor... now the siege is on! Shinra will determine the ultimate outcome of the combat missions as the counterattack begins.

02 - Trial:

Hourai had already taken this part of Africa. However, the forces that Hourai controls have receded. Shinra must recapture the country by going into the underground to hit the military base, which is under construction. A sudden attack must be carried out while the time is right!

03 - Faith:

With the war in a state of quiet deadlock and the battle wearing thin, the Freedom forces need to avoid a war of attrition. Shinra must now disappear deep within Hourai in order to survive. Following the border to track down the fortress, he will travel through the artificial steel valley where it was built.

04 - Reality:

While Shinra passes over the valley he locates a general with a very large unit under his command. Though the force is overwhelming and extremely powerful, Shinra is proud of his flying craft. Feeling evenly matched, he contemplates his approach strategy and decides which weak points to attack in several places.

05 - Metempsychosis:

As for the conclusion, you will have to see with your own eyes...


Even though released for Naomi hardware in the arcades, this game was originally planned as a GameCube-only release due to the Dreamcast's EOL status. The proprietor of ncsx.com, a major New York City based game importer, asked Treasure if they would release it for Dreamcast if he bought 5000 of them. They agreed, the order was placed, and thanks to dedicated fans, the website had no problem reaching the necessary pre-orders. The Dreamcast release can truly be thought of as a labor of love.

The soundtrack contains 10 tracks; a prologue track, one for each level, 3 boss tracks, and an ending theme. The music does not stand out in form but in being well orchestrated and appropriate for the game. After several hours of play it does get a bit repetitive (think Jurrasic Park and all the reiterations of its theme). There has not been a formally released CD soundtrack yet.

There is a town in Japan named Ikaruga located in Nara prefecture. The name comes from the a spotted (mottled might be a better term) black and white pigeon that once flocked to the area. It was a major center for Buddhist philosphy starting in the 6th century and is home to the famous Horyuji temple.There is a museum there that houses one of the oldest (7th century) wooden shrines (Torii) in Japan as well as a tower that was built of wood in 706 AD. The town has its own website and can be easily reached via JR rail lines from Osaka (Yamatoji Line) or Kyoto (Nara Line).

http://www.town.ikaruga.nara.jp/
http://www.town.ikaruga.nara.jp/ENGLISH12/index-e.html

Warning!
The big enemy is approaching
at full throttle.
According to the data, it is
identified as "Butsutekkai"

There is no refuge.
Unable to avoid firing.

Ikaruga is a vertically-scrolling shoot-em-up for the Sega Dreamcast and the Nintendo GameCube. Created by Treasure, it is the spiritual successor to their earlier game Radiant Silvergun for the Sega Saturn, which is why the opening screens of Ikaruga give its codename as "Project RS2", though the games are related in genre only.

Gameplay

Ikaruga ("IH-kaa-ROO-gaa")'s gameplay revolves around the very basic concept of polarity. Every enemy in the game, and every projectile they fire, is one of two colours: black (tinged with red) and white (tinged with blue).

Your ship, the titular Ikaruga ("Spotted Dove"; all the ships in the game are named after birds) can switch between these colours at will. Also, it has a shield-type thing which will absorb projectiles of the same colour. If a sheet of white lasers are aiming right at you, switch to white and you will breeze through them. Meanwhile, a single contact with a single projectile of the wrong colour will destroy your ship instantly. So, while, for some of the game, it is practical to simply move around and dodge everything on the screen, it is, more often than not, impossible to avoid being hit by some kind of attack, so you have to switch colour rapidly and skillfully to stay alive.

You can defend yourself, of course, by returning rapid fire of the same colour your ship currently has. If you're black, you fire black lasers, white, white. Shooting enemies with the opposite colour is more damaging than shooting with the same colour, though you still do some damage either way. Your gun has infinite ammo but cannot be upgraded in any way.

Already, then, we have some potential tactical conundrums.

A black enemy is coming towards you, spewing black laser fire.

Do you switch to black, to safely absorb the laser fire? Or do you switch to white, the better to kill it faster?

A wave of black dots is sweeping towards you from one direction while a wave of white dots is sweeping towards you from the other direction.

You can't pass through both of them at once, so what do you do?

The boss keeps switching colour.

Do you stick with a single colour of fire, the better to maintain your concentration as you dodge its attacks? Or do you switch colours in synch with it, to wear it down more swiftly before you die?

These are among the most straightforward challenges. The situation becomes much more complicated once you factor in:

Difficulty

Ikaruga is a relatively brief game, consisting of five individual levels, each closing with a boss. The whole game takes about 25 minutes to play all the way through.

Once you get good enough to get that far.

As previously stated, a single shot of the wrong colour will kill you in this game. Combined with a relatively small stock of extra lives and an even smaller stock of continues once all your lives are lost, the average gamer is extremely lucky to live to see the first boss on his first attempt.

The amount of time you spend playing is logged, and as you play for longer, you are granted the option of more continues until eventually you are given infinitely many - enough to get right through to the end. So, eventually, you will get to see the whole thing.

Even if you die horribly once every five or six seconds, which you will.

Consider the opening moments of level 2...

The game mechanics are entirely two-dimensional but the ships and backgrounds are rendered in wonderful 3D, so you're swooping over a lovingly rendered mechanised city at high speed. Tiny fighter jets begin spiralling in from the top left. Fine. Then they come in from the right. And the bottom left and bottom right. At the same time. They spiral in to the centre of the screen and if you still haven't shot them by that point, or collided with them - oh, did I mention that a physical collision with anything solid is fatal in this game? Because it is! - they home in on you. And this entire time, each one of them is shooting at you, small, slow-moving black and white blobs, which you have no choice but to dodge or absorb at the same time.

Anyway, that's one of the easiest parts of the game.

How about the boss of level 3?

There's a wide ring of sixteen turrets, alternating black and white, with you trapped in the middle. The ring is constantly rotating and the turrets are all firing inwards. Your job is to switch colours rapidly to absorb the fire of the nearest turret (thus staying alive) while wearing down and destroying each turret, ideally using opposing colours for speed. Easy enough, yes? Just hold down the fire button and concentrate on staying the right colour...
Okay, well, each time you destroy a turret, the ring spins a little bit faster. Also, the ring has a hub, which you also can't collide with. The hub has two heavy lasers mounted on it. The lasers alternate colour while firing outwards at you, while spinning in the opposite direction to the ring. So you have to avoid being shot by clockwise-rotating alternating laser fire AND by anticlockwise-rotating accelerating alternating turret fire. Also, there are eight small solid platforms wandering through the area you're trapped in, which you also must not touch! But which can be used as cover!
YOU ARE IN THE MIDDLE OF A SEETHING MAELSTROM OF BLACK AND WHITE LASER FIRE AND INSTANT DEATH.

You need two entirely separate craniums to keep track of everything on the screen in this game, let alone stay alive, let alone keep shooting at the right thing. Hard? It's often enough to panic you into submission. And it's a long way from the end of the game.

It's true: it takes real dedication and the devotion of significant time to get good at Ikaruga. But put in the effort and it will start to yield. The game does play out exactly the same way every time, so it is possible to learn the patterns and respond with safe strategies - and after time passes, a perceptual transcend will occur and you can leave the "switching colour" business to an entirely autonomous part of your brain - then, you're in for some fun.

But finishing Ikaruga isn't even a tenth of the point of the game.

This is an arcade game. This is about SCORES.

Scoring

Points are accumulated by several obvious methods and some other, rather more cunning ones.

Firstly, you get points for shooting stuff. That's easy. Boss battles are subject to a time limit and you get bonus points for killing them quickly. Some areas of the game are set up so that if you kill everything REALLY quickly, extra enemies appear, so finding and taking advantage of these triggers is a must for maximum points.

Secondly, you get points for absorbing enemy fire. That's much more cunning, since it encourages you to 1) deliberately put yourself in harm's way and 2) take more time over killing some creatures in order to absorb more of their attacks. (For example, one of the last bosses attacks you so violently and powerfully that it is actually more profitable, points-wise, to sit still and absorb its attacks before killing it at the last second, than it is to kill it as quickly as possible for the time bonus. However, this is also INSANELY difficult and dangerous; very, very few people employ it as a tactic because the risk of death is just too great.) So it's a balancing act.

Thirdly and most importantly: you get points for chains.

Every enemy is either black or white. If you kill three black or white enemies in a row, you get a 100 point bonus. If you then kill three black or white enemies in a row, you get 200 points (2 chain). Keep up the chains (you can switch colours, but you must always kill stuff in threes) and the bonus builds to 25,600 points ("max chain"). Break the chain and the bonus goes back to 100 as before.

Once you realise this, something magical occurs. You take a look at the game through fresh eyes. And you realise that all the enemies in the game can be cunningly grouped into threes.

And that each level contains over a thousand individual enemies.

And that it is possible to complete every single level without "breaking chain".

Figuring out how to best do this is an amazingly tactical process. Some chains are easier to get than others; some require extremely sharp shooting. For the first time, will you discover situations in which it is not a good idea to simply hold down the fire button permanently.

This, then, is the true magic of Ikaruga. Once you start to play for chains, you begin to realise that each of the five levels is, in fact, incredibly carefully constructed, providing huge varieties of scoring opportunities for almost every level of player. There are truly unbelievable and highly profitable tactics possible all over these 25 minutes of play, and to find them all is not only challenging but hugely entertaining and rewarding.

If you have what it takes, Ikaruga will return to you fourfold everything you put into it.

And if that wasn't enough...

Then you add in the amazing "smart bomb" attack which you can use if you absorb enough enemy fire.

Then you discover that all this time you've been playing on Easy mode; and that Normal and Hard are totally different, even more tactical experiences where even higher scores are possible.

You unlock the shockingly difficult Prototype Mode, in which your smart bomb can be used multiple times in a row for devastatingly high-scoring attacks, and discover the highly amusing "Dot Eater!" rank, which can be obtained by surviving a whole level without touching the fire button.

You try out cooperative two-player mode.

You buy the "Ikaruga Appreciate" DVD, an official Treasure release containing three essentially perfect runs through the whole game: one for each difficulty level.

You find that you can use passwords to rank your scores alongside those of other people online.

You find the video of those guys who get all the way through Normal without losing a life or breaking chain.

You find the video of the lunatic who plays as two ships at once.

You download the soundtrack to your computer and find yourself humming it at work...

Useful links

http://www.ikaruga.co.uk/
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-163280885783523408
http://maddox.xmission.com/c.cgi?u=ikaruga
or just Google for Ikaruga...

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