Ikaruga’s Gamecube port became a collector’s item here in the States. It was impossible to find at used game stores and fetched a high price on the online secondary market. An Xbox Live re-release brought it to thousands more fans, but now the doors have been blown wide open; it’s now on Google Play, and that means modern Android tablets and smartphones around the world are about to launch one of the hardest, most exhilarating shooters ever made.
In case you haven’t heard of it …

Ikaruga is a top-down Bullet Hell shooter, sort of like Raiden or Silpheed, where you pilot a spaceship through waves of bullets or other projectiles. What set Ikaruga apart are its intense soundtrack, bleak monochromatic atmosphere, and its unique “polarity” game mechanic, where there are two colors of projectiles and you can make your ship immune to one of them at a time. Absorb enough energy this way, and you can fire a swarm of homing missiles.

Polarity-switching only feels like an unfair advantage up until the second level or so. At that point you have to flip back and forth constantly, sometimes multiple times per second, in order to keep from exploding. You get infinite “continues,” though, so there’s virtually no penalty for dying except for a second or so’s delay. The boss fights end after a couple of minutes even if you haven’t beaten them, so you can technically play through the whole game without even pressing the fire button.

$9 may sound steep for a game you can beat in about a half-hour, but beating it isn’t the point; the point is to keep playing until you can dance in and out of the bullet swarms, as though they weren’t even there. It’s a rush once you get the hang of it.

So how’d the Android adaptation fare?

Fans of the original will note that things have been cut out. Gone are the practice mode, the unlockable extras, the “walking to the ship” difficulty selection scene, and the “tunnel of light” high score screen. You can still view high scores and change the game’s difficulty, but you’ll do so through a spartan interface.

The main game is intact, however. And while it ran with a bit of slowdown on my low-end smartphone, some might see that as useful! My Nexus 7 ran it at full speed, at any rate.

What about the controls?

The controls are about as precise as they can get without a gamepad. Drag your finger outside of the “buttons” area, and your ship will move with it. It keeps the same distance and relative position, so while you’ll have to double-swipe a few times you’ll be able to move very accurately. There are a couple of alternate modes, and there are also multiple ways to position the buttons or even replace them. You can also set it to auto-fire.

Hold that thought …

The most annoying thing about the Android port of Ikaruga is that it’s tied to some kind of social games service. It asks you to create a password and log in the first time you run it, and it puts an icon in the notifications area that doesn’t go away until you force-quit the game. You also have to skip through its screen each time you start the game.

Is the Android version of Ikaruga worth $9?

If you have an Xbox at home, the Xbox Live version is worth getting instead unless you really want your Bullet Hell fix on the go.

Does it deliver, though? Heck, yes. Have fun!