Ikaruga has long been considered a classic within the shoot’em up (SHMUP) genre, and it is not hard to see why after playing it only a short time. The genre itself is almost as old as video games, and before Ikaruga it had not changed much. Most changes to the genre came simply in how many bullets were flying at once, and in what directions they are going. Ikaruga was one of the few games in the genre that really added a truly different mechanic, which is “polarity”. To be fair, Ikaruga was not the first game that used that mechanic, but it was the first one that crafted it into an iconic experience that has endured for nearly two decades.
Originally released in arcades in 2001 and then on the Sega Dreamcast in 2002 Ikaruga has aged well over the years as it has gradually been re-released on new systems. The most recent console to be graced by its presence is the Nintendo Switch, and as it turns out this is the perfect system for Ikaruga. In fact, if the game was not so old I could easily be convinced that it was designed for the Switch from the beginning. The game features a simple three-button control system which works perfectly with the Joy-Cons, and runs beautifully in both docked and portable modes. The short nature of individual runs in the game also lends itself to road trips. Lastly, thanks to the simple controls it is an excellent two-person co-op game with each player using a single Joy-Con (Pro controllers are also supported).
It is worth keeping in mind that Ikaruga is brutally difficult. The game is easy to pick up and learn, but the twitch reflexes needed to survive the hail of bullets coming from all sides only come after hours of practice. This is all thanks to the polarity system, which assigns each enemy and bullet one of two colors. You much switch your ship’s polarity to match the incoming colors of the bullets, while also being the opposite color of the enemy ships so you can deal bonus damage. The system is simple to understand, but when hundreds of bullets are on-screen your ability to flip between polarities at the right time will become tested quickly. I recommend playing the game in docked mode to begin with so you do not accidentally throw your Switch in frustration (like I almost did a few times). If you do play in portable mode you can choose to play it horizontally or vertically, which is a nice touch.
This latest release of Ikaruga adds some new features to the game which will make it a bit more appealing to the casual crowd. The options menu is surprisingly robust and even gives you the option of having unlimited continues. While not as game-changing as a rewind feature like in the Disney Afternoon Collection, it does give any player a chance to beat the entire game regardless of their skill level. On the flip side, that does disable the game’s leaderboards, which are arguably one of the game’s biggest selling points. Once you are good enough at the game that you can start posting respectable scores it can be wildly addictive. Just hope your friend who has been playing Ikaruga since 2001 does not decide to grab the game and make you question all of your life decisions when they post impossibly high scores. If you do happen to be one of those gamers who has already mastered Ikaruga there is something new for you, too. The “Prototype” mode takes away your unlimited ammo and makes you conserve your precious resources. If you are able to handle this mode then I do not think we can ever have a decent conversation because you are clearly not human.
Ikaruga Nintendo Switch Review Final Thoughts:
The bottom line is that Ikaruga for the Nintendo Switch is the definitive version of the game. They wisely did not change the core game at all, but merely gave you new ways to play it. The graphics have aged far better than you would expect for such an old title. Although the aspect ratio leaves a lot of unused screen real estate the game does not suffer from it. However, having said all that it is worth keeping in mind that Ikaruga is a niche title, and it will not be for everyone. Much like Monster Hunter World, it is a near perfect representation of what its genre can offer, but it will do little to convert you to the genre if you are not already a fan. If you are into SHMUPs then this game is a no-brainer and you should buy it without hesitation. If you are a more casual fan or curious about the genre then waiting for a sale is not a terrible idea, although $14.99 is a reasonable price for this title. Although no physical version of the game has been announced, this seems like a shoe-in for a company like Limited Run Games to snatch up and do a special edition of, so keep that in mind if you prefer physical media.
Ikaruga on Nintendo Switch
- The definitive release for this title.
- Great co-op experience, even in portable mode.
- One of the best SHMUPs of all time.
- Variety of options to make it more palatable for a casual audience.
- The brutal difficulty in the default settings can be off-putting.
- Lots of wasted screen space due to the original aspect ratio.
- May cause you to break your Switch in frustration.