It’s been years since I’ve played a good 2D shoot-em-up (or shmup, as the kids today seem to call them), but I just couldn’t ignore the release of Ikaruga on Xbox Live Arcade this week. It looks awesome, but the gameplay is definitely old-school, so the closest thing to a save system is that you can choose a specific level to play once you’ve unlocked it.
The concept and controls are simple, with no power-ups or alternate weapons to speak of. Instead, there’s a “polarity” system — enemy ships and bullets can be either black and white, and you can switch the colour of your ship to match. Hitting bullets that match your polarity charges up a smartbomb-style weapon, while hitting opposite bullets kills you instantly. The game is full of moments where it’s all-but impossible to dodge every bullet, so getting through depends on your ability to switch polarities in time with the flow of bullets.
It’s as hard as nails, so I’m not sure why it’s so compelling, but it probably has something to do with the fact that each time you play, you seem to get just a little further, until you find yourself flitting through situations that left you dead dozens of times over before.