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SummaryZen and the Art of the 2-D Shooter
The GoodTreasure has a reputation for making good games, but they really outdid themselves with this one. Gameplay is pure simplicity: You control a spaceship. You can move, and you can shoot. There are no fancy-ass power-ups. Ikaruga doesn't need them. The only weapon enhancements are your homing lasers, which you charge up by absorbing enemy shots... but only with the right color bullets. That's right, in Ikaruga you TRY to get shot, which is counterintuitive to every other shooter out there. You can change your ship from black to white at the press of a button, and then you can safely absorb enemy fire of the same color, plus you do double damage to enemies of the opposite color. It definitely takes a little practice to get used to, especially when you've got enemies and bullets of both colors raining down on you. But Ikaruga moves even further beyond the ordinary shooter with its chain strategy: Shooting 3 enemies of the same color in a row gives you a chain bonus. The more groups of 3 you can destroy without breaking the chain, the faster your score increases. This is really challenging and requires loads of practice. But what's great about Ikaruga is you can play it any way you want. You don't have to try for high-scoring chain combos. If you want to just hold down the fire button and blast away, you can. Or if you're really up for a challenge, you can try the "Dot-Eater" technique, where you asorb enemy shots but don't fire any of your own. Think about that: You're playing a shooter, but you're not shooting!
The waves in Ikaruga unfold at a very tight pace. If you don't shoot all the enemies down fast enough, the survivors will flee and the next batch will arrive. If you destroy everything so fast that there would normally be a delay before the next group of enemies, you get bonus enemies to fill the time. Everything is flawlessly choreographed, and enemies are carefully dispatched in creative groups of 3 so that anybody can get decent chain combos with a little practice, but only the very best players will get them all and achieve the highest "S++" rank.
The BadIf you're easily frustrated by dying, you probably won't like Ikaruga. Even on the easiest difficulty setting this is one insanely hard game. You will die more times than you can count before you start getting good at it. It's quite short, with only 5 stages (though they remain challenging for a very long time). It was designed for a vertical monitor, the exact opposite of every gamer's TV set, so there's a lot of black on either side of the playfield. Also it's semi-rare. The Dreamcast release was confined to Japan, and the U.S. GameCube release is out of print now, and getting difficult to find.