Tech News on G4
One for the ages, one for the aged on 360's Arcade
April 25, 2008
By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada
There's no need to dance around the fact that Ikaruga is quite possibly the best game on Xbox Live Arcade, as well as the most difficult. This gem first appeared in 1995 on the Dreamcast and later appeared on the GameCube. The fact that it was worth the $40+ back then, it's an absolute steal for 800 Microsoft Points in 2008.
The game is a top-down, old-school shooter that has an absolute genius twist to it - you're able to change your ship's polarity (colour) from black to white and back again as often as you'd like. Each and every enemy, meanwhile, is either black or white. Though hitting any object or enemy automatically results in your death, you can actually absorb enemy bullets that match your ship's colour.
This all may sound pretty tame on paper, but imagine having a hailstorm of black bullets raining down on you from the left side of the screen, while a white enemy pops up on the left and starts shooting white bullets across the entire screen? It's at this point that the game becomes less about shooting things and more about focusing on what's around you and switching colours when necessary to stay alive.
As mentioned earlier, the game is insanely difficult. There are only five levels, but every one is almost nonstop action from the first bullet you shoot right up to the giant boss you take out. Heck, to make things even more difficult, those bosses have a time limit in which to take them out. You don't die if you fail to destroy them in that time, but you'll miss out on plenty of points for your high score.
Of course the big changes with this game being ported over to the Xbox 360 are the Live functions. While you can play Ikaruga side-by-side with a friend, you can also link up with someone over Xbox Live, though this is the only way in which the game loses points. Unfortunately, all the multiplayer sessions I played over Live were plagued with about a half-second lag (if that). It may not seem like much, but in a game as lightning-quick as Ikaruga where the difference between life and death is a split second, any lag whatsoever makes it virtually unplayable online.
In addition to this, you can also save replays to view and show off later on. Make sure you don't change the options to add lives or continues - this causes the replay option to be automatically turned off.
Despite the lag issues, this game is still very, very much worth the piddly few MS Points needed to purchase it. Take a quick look on eBay and the GameCube version is going for anywhere from $25-$50 or more. The Dreamcast version can easily reach the triple digits. It can still be played on 360 with another person in the room and even on its own it's not impossible.
Call this shooter 'old school'; call it whatever you want. Whatever it is, it still holds up today as an absolute gem. As long as you're prepared for a true challenge, you're in for a real treat.
Rating: 9 / 10
There's never, ever any shortage of Tetris-inspired puzzle games, and the latest to hit the video game terrain is 'TiQal', a 360-exclusive title developed by Slapdash Games.
The game takes place behind the backdrop of the Yucatan Peninsula, featuring a story about saving your village - the title of the game - by enlisting the help of the gods. There really isn't any reason to follow the story, as the game always comes down to finishing level after level of rising blocks.
The gameplay, like so many puzzle games, is simple to learn but difficult to master. At the beginning of each level, a set of different-coloured blocks appear at the bottom of the screen and slowly rise over time. You're given different-shaped blocks at the top of the screen and you're tasked with - you guessed it - matching cubes of four like-coloured blocks that then explode. The shapes are similar yet still quite different from the sets of blocks you find in Tetris, and you actually can't rotate the shapes at all - you can only move them left and right and then press a button to drop them to the bottom of the screen. A meter at the bottom of the screen slowly fills up as you destroy blocks. Fill the meter, and the level is finished.
Sounds simple enough, but there's of course much more to it than that - and this is what makes the game quite interesting. When you match up a set of blocks, they don't explode right away - they glow for a few seconds. During this time, you'll have the chance to drop more of the same colour of blocks, resetting the time it takes for the blocks to explode. You can do this as many times as you'd like to earn huge bonus points as well as powerups.
In fact, this is the real hook of the game. On the surface, it's actually quite an unchallenging, simplistic puzzle game. It's rare that even moderately-skilled gamers will end up with a puzzle board filled to the top and even then, extra lives come very easily so there's no real danger if you find yourself having a bit of trouble with a level.
But what is challenging is getting 40, 50 or even more blocks to explode at once, earning hundreds of thousands of points in a level. This game really is only as good as the effort the player puts into it. You could just coast along, beating each level and earning a few achievements here and there and earning minimal points. But if you challenge yourself to make huge combos, it will keep your attention for longer than you might think.
Though you follow a path of numbered levels and 'final stages' in each section, it really is just one puzzle after the other, with a bonus level thrown in every once in a while. It is kind of neat to open up new shapes and powerups though, giving the game a sense of progression.
The powerups are fairly imaginative as well, allowing you to change sections of blocks to new colours, blow up whole sections and blow up entire colours from the screen, among others. Mixing these powerups in with the regular block destruction you're doing gives the game a bit more of a hectic pace, which is a good thing.
The single player game features 120 levels, though there is a co-operative mode and a challenge mode you can play online to add some replayability once you've completed the game.
TiQal is a mish-mash of several old and not-so-old puzzle games, borrowing from some of the most popular and successful ones of all-time. It may not be the most fast-paced game ever released, but it does a decent job at making something different in a genre that is constantly seeing new additions.
Rating: 6.5 / 10
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