Post date: Feb 18, 2014 9:53:49 PM
If Treasure's fantastic shooter Ikaruga had consisted of only game's initial stage, I would have been satisfied. In many ways, I believe it is about as perfect a game experience as possible. The level begins with the bleak, last hope launch of your craft, and soon the game introduces you to a few rudimentary enemies, allowing you to get your bearings learn the mechanics of the Chain scoring system. The music serves as an ideal dance partner to the visuals, with the lush score adapting and intertwining with the mood and intensity of each scene. As you break through the clouds and come into view of a thick forest, for instance, there is a sense of relief and wonder as the bottom of the melody gives way to the surge of your new vantage point.
Everything comes to a beautiful climax when you reach the stage's boss, Butsutekkai. Realizing your humble craft is proving to be more troublesome than expected, the enemy dispatches a monstrous foe to bring your assault to an end. Before your adversary's entrance, the music dims down and a frantic robotic voice warns you of the approaching menace. My absolute favorite moment is when Butsutekkai finally positions itself in front of you, pausing for a moment as if to say, "This?! This is why I was summoned?!" A pounding melody kicks in, and the battle ensues.
Butsutekkai's attack strategy begins rather humbly, firing a conservative amount of shots in your direction, as if the goal is to take you down with as little wasted ammunition as possible. But after blowing Butsutekkai's sword to bits, the situation intensifies. Soon a thick volley of fire is swarming your way, but even this is not enough to halt your advance. As a last ditch effort, Butsutekkai lobs grenades and homing lasers your way, but it is too little, too late. When the final shot hits its mark, a massive explosion causes everything to grind to a halt, and you are granted a few moments to savor your handiwork before heading on to the next level.
Of course, many players would argue that the real game actually begins after the initial stage, but for me, the ideal Ikaruga experience can be found solely in Level One. Perhaps its because I'm simply not good enough of a player to master the Chain system and play effectively on the more difficult stages that follow, but I think that's too easy of an explanation. Rather, I believe the rare feat Treasure accomplished with the first stage of Ikaruga is to capture multiple elements--pleasing visuals, breathtaking music, tight gameplay--and combine them in a way that has a natural, integrated flow elevated above what most game developers are able to accomplish. In short, every component of the game blends in ideal harmony.
I don't think I can ever grow tired of battling Butsutekkai. Often, after I watch my foe go down in flames, I quit the game and begin anew, anxious to face off another time.