The critically-acclaimed Ikaruga has been ported to numerous home consoles since its debut in 2001, wowing millions of fans with its clever twist on an established genre. Publisher Nicalis recently revealed that they're bringing the classic arcade shooter to Nintendo Switch, and today it's up on the eShop. Nicalis provided Gamnesia with an early copy for review, so we've been playing for the past few days. Does Ikaruga stand the test of time on Nintendo Switch?
Well, the first thing to establish is that I'm not looking at this game through nostalgia glasses. I've heard and seen a lot about Ikaruga over the years from its passionate fans, but I've never actually played the game before. Booting it up on Switch was my first experience with the game, and wow was I unprepared.
At its core, Ikaruga is a fairly standard shoot 'em up. The screen scrolls up slowly, forcing you along into wave after wave of enemy fighter pilots. The key mechanic that sets it apart is polarity. You can switch polarities (changing your ship from black to white or vice versa), and each enemy you encounter is either one or the other. Enemies take extra damage from blasts fired in the opposing polarity. While white, you'll absorb white energy blasts (powering up your shots) and be vulnerable to black ones, and vice versa. You're always invincible to half the blasts on the screen, but you'll need to stay sharp and react quickly to your environment to take advantage of this factor.
That's really all there is to the main arcade mode, which isn't a bad thing. The mechanics are simple and intuitive, but the challenge is immense. It's bullet hell to the max, and if you're new, you will die repeatedly. This tough-as-nails approach is perfect for an arcade-style game, and Switch is a perfect fit for it. With just five levels, the game can be beaten in a single sitting, but acquiring the skill level to do that is another story. Ikaruga beckons players to try again and again and again, getting a little better each time. The game also supports a two-player mode, so you can always tag a friend in to help you out. If it's still too tough, you can always go into the settings to give yourself continues and extra lives.
Whether you want to play for hours straight until you've mastered it or just give it your best in short bursts is up to you. Thanks to Switch, you can have the challenge and gradual growth arcade experience anywhere in the world and without a pocket full of quarters. No arcade experience would be complete without an intense competition for the high score, and Ikaruga's online leaderboard offers that on a global scale. Once you've mastered surviving, you can start focusing on racking up a high score by chaining your attacks together and putting yourself in the line of fire to take out more enemies. Will you play it safe or risk it all for a chance at glory?
If you're a fan of shoot 'em up style games, you won't want to pass up Ikaruga. It's a fantastic example of the genre done right and a challenging experience for veteran players with plenty of options to help out newcomers. Ikaruga's praise over the years is warranted, and the ability to take it anywhere you want on Switch makes it even better.