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Volume 68, Issue 16, Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Arts & Entertainment

Dreamcast's 'Ikaruga' a worthy shoot'em up

Arcade Resident

Paul Saleeba

The import Ikaruga is the only "shoot'em up" for Sega Dreamcast. Despite the fact Dreamcast is no longer in production, Ikaruga has graphics that easily blow away anything on any current console.

For those out of the gaming loop, a "shoot'em up" is a game where you take a ship or character of some sort and fly them around the screen through various stages blowing stuff up. The most famous of this genre are R-Type and Gradius.

Ikaruga is definitely unique in this field; it has no power ups, no special items and its replay value rests entirely on getting a better score. Naturally, this might not appeal to everyone.

But what it does offer in game play is simple. You have a ship that has two modes (black and white). Each mode allows you to absorb and shoot bullets of that color. Enemies come in only black and white, as do their attacks, so deciding what color to be on determines how much dodging you'll have to do.

Deceptively simple, except that if you're the opposite color of your enemies, you do double damage and gain more points, but you also put yourself at a greater risk.

Be warned, there are a lot of bullets to dodge that come in increasingly complex patterns if you're the wrong color. It's not uncommon to see the entire screen literally covered in enemy fire, all of which is completely avoidable or absorbable depending on how you wish to play it. Go safe and survive easily, or go big and triple that score if you survive.

And unlike every other shooter, you have to be picky on what you shoot for two reasons. One, your score goes up if you chain your kills. Three kills of one color in a row are a chain and the longer the chain, the higher the score.

Also, enemies retaliate when they die by shooting a last few shots right at you. Some areas in this game are made easier by actually not shooting anything while dodging, especially in the third stage. Thankfully, the controls for this game are very simple, so it's easy to pick up. The game controls consist of just three buttons shoot, change color and mega-shot. The mega-shot is charged by absorbing bullets, which fills the meter, and the more full the meter, the larger the blast and damage.

The game has a few secrets to unlock as well, but I won't spoil them for you. Also, past the second stage, the difficulty ramps up very quickly, even on easy mode.

Game play aside, Ikaruga looks beautiful. Its highly detailed graphics and cinematic sensibilities will make you pause as your ship takes off into the sky for a moment before diving back into the fray. The Sega Dreamcast turns 3 years old this month, and with that, the Dreamcast gets its last game in Japan. 

It's a testament to what the Dreamcast was: strong game play married to beautiful graphics.

Diehard fans can import this game from the Internet without worry about the language barrier; it's almost totally in English already. Everyone else will have to wait for the Game Cube and PS2 to get it in May.

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